Introductory Lecture and Objectives

A Midsummer Night's Dream eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

A Midsummer Night’s Dream transports us to a fantastical world where fairies reign supreme and humans are merely a source of fun to be trifled with from time to time. While it is a love story—it is believed that Shakespeare wrote the play for a wedding—romance is sometimes eclipsed by the ethereal and magical world of fairies and the spirit of farcical comedy woven into the fabric of the play. When the play opens, the humans’ world is out of balance. Four young Athenians (Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena) are enduring romantic problems. Both men love Hermia, but she loves only Lysander, of whom her father disapproves. 

Discord exists also in the world of the fairies, whose king and queen have been fighting. A third group of characters, a band of six craftsmen, is planning a play for the upcoming wedding. Almost all the characters—humans and fairies alike—end up in the woods after nightfall, where the king of the fairies sets in motion a series of events that wreaks havoc on his wife and the lovers over the course of the night. By morning, however, he has restored harmony to one and all; he and his wife have made up, and the four lovers are happily paired off. After they have married, alongside Theseus and Hippolyta, the humans gather at Theseus’s palace to watch the craftsmen’s disastrously hilarious play. A world that was woefully out of balance at the play’s outset has been brought back into alignment. 

This was an early comedy of Shakespeare’s, written in 1594 after he joined Lord Chamberlain’s Men and just as they were on the cusp of becoming the most popular theatrical troupe in London. The powerful female figures of Hippolyta and the fairy queen Titania evoke in some form Queen Elizabeth herself, who may have seen the play. As with most comedies, order is restored in the end, through three marriages and their promise of happiness and fertility, but over the course of the play, authority is challenged, the nature of love is revealed, and comic anarchy is unloosed. Even though authority prevails, the play is nevertheless a magnificent celebration of poetry, of love, and of youth. 

One of the intriguing elements of this play is that the romantic plot is in some ways secondary to the play’s ethereal setting. Although the play shines a spotlight on the nature of love—and the irrational quality of young love in particular—it focuses equally on the relationship between reality and dreams and on a beautiful, magical world that exists beyond the concrete, orderly confines of reality. Perception and misperception, the suspension of disbelief, and the questioning of what is real and what is a dream are all addressed here, with varying degrees of seriousness. 

The play is a lush, playful lark, richly woven with vivid imagery and some of Shakespeare’s most lyrical language. Students will easily grasp the simple plot structure and be able to focus on how language can contribute to creating a certain mood and developing a character. Some of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters feature in this play; the mischievous and nimble Puck and the nonsensical donkey-faced Bottom are two of the most memorable characters in literature. Students are likely to relate to the spirit of youthful rebellion inspired by the Athenian royals and will enjoy thinking about the madness of young love in contrast to the sober reality of mature love. Finally, students should enjoy debating whether love is akin to madness, where the line exists between reality and dreams, and whether we humans are indeed at the mercy of forces beyond our control. 

By the end of the unit the student will be able to: 

1. Identify the primary themes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

2. Describe Shakespeare’s many motifs and their significance, particularly the meaning of nature and sight. 

3. Determine what makes A Midsummer Night’s Dream such a timeless and popular work. 

4. Explain the play’s messages about love. 

5. Describe the role of magic in the play and its significance. 

6. Describe the fantastical world of the fairies and explain how Shakespeare went about creating it. 

7. Describe how Shakespeare’s use of language distinguishes among the Athenian royalty, the Athenian craftsmen, and the fairies. 

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.

Student Study Guide

• The Study Guide is organized for an act-by-act study of the play. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.

• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each act and to acquaint them generally with its content.

• Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.

• Study Guide vocabulary lists...

(The entire section is 609 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. In Act One, Helena says, “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.” In what way does this statement represent one of the central themes of the play?

2. The play suggests that love exists in a realm beyond reason, that we are at the mercy of love and cannot control it. Give several examples within the play that express this idea. Do you agree with Shakespeare or not?

3. What literary techniques does Shakespeare employ to create the mood of this alternate world?

4. What does Theseus think that “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet” all have in common? Why?

5. Consider the role of sight in the play. What statement might Shakespeare be making about the...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

Act One, Scene One


abjure: to abandon, to reject

avouch: to affirm beguiled: charmed, tricked

beseech: to beg

beteem: to allow

conceits: trinkets, baubles

derived: obtained, came from

dowager: a widow (often elderly and dignified) who holds property or a title from her deceased husband

extenuate: to lessen the seriousness or strength of something, to relieve

filched: stolen

forswear: archaic to renounce, to give up

livery: clothing

lodestars: guiding stars

mirth: joy, merriment

nimble: spry, agile

patent: privilege

perjured: lied

pert: jaunty


(The entire section is 1022 words.)

Act One, Scene Two


con: to commit to memory

condoling: sympathizing

discretion: sound judgment

entreat: to plea

extempore: improvised

interlude: a pause, an intermission

lamentable: unfortunate

Study Questions

1. Who are the characters in Scene Two, and what are they trying to accomplish?

The characters who appear in Scene Two are craftsmen from the city, who work in a variety of industries, including carpentry, weaving, and tailoring. They want to put on a play for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding celebration.

2. What impression of the craftsmen and their project is...

(The entire section is 392 words.)

Act Two, Scene One


adamant: noun a legendary rock or mineral once believed to be unbreakable

amend: to fix, to put right

brakes: archaic bushes

buskined: wearing high hunting boots

chaplet: a garland, a wreath

chide: archaic to rebuke angrily

dewlap: loose skin around the neck

disdainful: contemptuous

dissension: disagreement

distemperature: archaic illness, disorder

dulcet: sweet

forgeries: lies

griffin: a legendary beast that is part lion, part eagle

henchman: a page, a royal servant

impeach: to discredit, to call into...

(The entire section is 1031 words.)

Act Two, Scene Two


beshrew: archaic to blame

cankers: plant parasites

churl: a rude, boorish person

dissembling: deceitful, false

eyne: archaic eyes

flout: to insult, to treat with disdain or contempt

heresies: opinions that are at odds with general beliefs

languish: to yearn

marshal: the director, the leader

reremice: archaic bats

roundel: a dance in a circle

sphery: starlike

surfeit: excess

tedious: dull

troth: archaic truth

Study Questions

1. What does Lysander try to...

(The entire section is 487 words.)

Act Three, Scene One


abide: to endure

auditor: audience

bower: an arbor, a leafy glade

brisky: archaic lively

casement: a window frame

enamored: in love with

gambol: to leap

gleek: archaic to taunt, to insult

grossness: unrefined nature, coarseness

hempen: made of hemp, rustic

homespuns: homemade clothing

juvenal: a young man

lamenting: mourning

odious: hideous

parlous: archaic perilous

purge: to remove

Study Questions

1. What do the craftsmen’s concerns about the play suggest about their outlook on life?

In contrast to...

(The entire section is 578 words.)

Act Three, Scene Two


asunder: apart

barren: arid, empty

choughs: archaic clowns

confederacy: a group

consecrated: blessed

counterfeit: fake

curst: archaic angry, bad-tempered

derision: mockery, ridicule

disparage: to criticize, to insult

dote: to lavish attention on someone

engilds: embellishes

ensue: to follow (figuratively), to happen next

entreat: to persuade, to beg

espy: to catch sight of

esteem: to consider, to believe to be

extort: to wring from a person by violence, intimidation, or abuse of authority

forsook: abandoned

forsooth: archaic in truth,...

(The entire section is 872 words.)

Act Four, Scenes One and Two


amity: friendship

bewail: archaic to cry

conjunction: union

coy: archaic to caress

discharge: archaic to act, to play the role of

discord: disagreement

flewed: large-cheeked

gaud: archaic a trinket

marred: ruined

overbear: to overwhelm, to overrule

paramour: a lover

peradventure: archaic perhaps

provender: archaic feed, fodder

vaward: archaic foremost part, vanguard

venturous: archaic adventurous

Study Questions

1. What is Oberon’s plan now with regard...

(The entire section is 943 words.)

Act Five


abridgement: entertainment

audacious: bold

beguile: to influence by trickery or flattery, to charm or divert

compact: made up, composed of

concord: an agreement

constancy: consistency

discourse: archaic discussion

dole: archaic one’s fate or destiny

lanthorn: archaic lantern

mote: a speck of dust, a trifle

quail: to overpower, to destroy

quell: archaic to kill

repent: to regret, to be sorry

reprehend: to rebuke, to censure

tarrying: waiting, lingering

videlicet: that is to say

Study Questions


(The entire section is 1082 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. Who is Theseus?

A. the king of the fairies

B. Oberon’s servant

C. Hermia’s future husband

D. the duke of Athens

E. the king of Greece

2. What event are Theseus and Hippolyta discussing as the play opens?

A. Oberon and Titania’s wedding

B. their honeymoon

C. Puck’s mischief

D. Hermia’s engagement

E. their own upcoming wedding

3. Why is Egeus upset with Hermia?

A. She is going to marry Demetrius.

B. She is about to elope with Theseus.


(The entire section is 1034 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. The fairies are characters in the play, but they are also a motif that relates to several themes throughout the play. Identify three themes that the fairies represent, develop, or dramatize in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Most explicitly, the fairies represent the natural world. The first fairy we meet is one of Titania’s servants. She is in the midst of getting ready for her queen’s arrival, and she describes the cowslip flowers as her bodyguards, while the flowers’ spots are fairy jewels: “Those be rubies, fairy favors.” The fairies make crowns of flowers, hide in acorn cups, and use flowers for potions. They are a metaphorical embodiment and extension of the natural world.


(The entire section is 3006 words.)