A Midsummer Night’s Dream Summary/Text of play

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (full text can be found here!)

Act I, Scene 1

“The Course of true love never did run smooth…”
Theseus, duke of Athens and Hippolyta, his fiancée are planning their wedding, which is to take place in 4 days. Theseus orders Athens to be made ready for his wedding and asks that entertainment be prepared.
Egeus (Ee-jEE-us) a nobleman brings his daughter Hermia and two young men Lysander and Demetrius into the room to ask Theseus to order Hermia to marry Demetrius. Hermia loves Lysander and she doesn’t want to marry Demetrius. Egeus asks Theseus to follow Athenian law which states that if a child disobeys his or her father, he or she will be put to death. Theseus gives her the following options: 1. Marry Demetrius, 2. Lock yourself away in a nunnery and never marry or 3. Die.
Lysander reminds everyone that Demetrius used to love Helena, and she still loves him, but he abandoned her because he is fickle. Theseus tells Helena she must make her choice before his wedding.
Lysander and Hermia decide to run away together that night and elope (get married in secret somewhere else where they will be free of Athenian law).
Helena walks in on them making these plans. They tell her their plans and wish her luck with Demetrius. When they leave to prepare for their escape, Helena decides she will tell Demetrius the plan, hoping it will convince him to love her back.

Act I, Scene 2

•In another part of the city, a group of laborers from Athens meet to plan a play they will put on for the Theseus’s wedding. They’ve chosen The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe. They discuss the plot, which is the tale of two youths in love, kept separate because their families and feuding…they speak through a hole in the wall separating their properties. A lion shows up and surprises Thisbe, tearing her cape. When Pyramus finds the torn cape, he thinks she is dead, and kills himself. When Thisbe finds Pyramus dead, she kills herself. Bottom keeps interrupting Quince, the “director” of the play. They cast the various roles, and agree to meet in the woods later to rehearse.

Act II, Scene 1

In the forest, the fairies are talking about the feud between Titania and Oberon. Titania and Oberon are fighting over a human child taken away by the fairies…Titania wants to keep him as her attendant but Oberon wants him to be his knight. Titania does not want to give up the boy. Titania and Oberon have a verbal confrontation…their disagreement over the child becomes a larger case of bickering between a married couple. Titania and her attendants leave, and we are left with Oberon and Robin Goodfellow  (Puck). Oberon tells Puck his plan to prank Titania in revenge and tells Puck to go find a particular purple and white flower called “love-in-idleness” whose nectar, when rubbed on a sleeping person’s eyelids, will cause the person to fall in love with the first thing they see upon waking up. He tells Puck they will do this to Titania to embarrass her by making her fall in love with something ridiculous, and while she is confused, they’ll convince her to give the child to Oberon, and they will only reverse the potion’s effects when she gives up the kid.

Act II, Scene 2

As Puck leaves to find the flower, Demetrius and Helena enter the forest…Oberon makes himself invisible to watch and hear them. Demetrius tells Helena he doesn’t love her, will never love her, does not want to see her, and tells her to stop following him. He curses, saying he will kill Lysander and marry Hermia. Helena keeps declaring her undying love and loyalty to Demetrius, who continues to insult her. They continue walking, Demetrius fleeing Helena, Helena sadly following him. Oberon re-appears and declares that before the night is through, Demetrius will be the one chasing Helena. Puck returns with the flower, Oberon says he’s going to go to a stretch of the forest near a river where Titania sleeps to put some nectar in Titania’s eyes…he tells Puck to put some nectar into the eyes of a “young Athenian man being followed by a young Athenian lady.” He tells Puck that the guy is being rude to her and she loves him, so to be sure to make him love her back…and that he will recognize him by his Athenian clothing. Right after Oberon leaves, Lysander and Hermia wander into the glade. Lysander admits that they’ve lost their way, and that maybe they should sleep because it would be easier to find their way in the daylight. Lysander wants to sleep next to Hermia, but she insists that they sleep apart to respect custom and propriety. Puck re-enters, sees them both asleep apart and thinks that Lysander is the young Athenian man being chased by the lady. He puts the nectar in Lysander’s eyes and departs. After he leaves, Demetrius comes running through the glade…shouting insults behind him to Helena, saying he will abandon her in the woods. She complains that she’s afraid of the dark but he doesn’t listen, and leaves. Helena has lost him…she monologues about how awful unrequited love is. Lysander wakes up and sees her…the potion immediately takes effect and he falls in love with Helena. He begins to praise her beauty and declares his undying passion. She thinks he is teasing her, and reminds him he loves Hermia. He insists this is not true, she thinks he’s making fun of her and storms off angrily. Lysander follows. Hermia wakes and is shocked and afraid to find Lysander gone. She stumbles into the woods to find him.

Act III, Scene 1

The townsfolk meet in the woods to rehearse the play…they talk about how they are worried that the women in the audience will be afraid of the lion’s roar and disturbed by the “deaths” of the characters, so they come up with ridiculous solutions to these problems which involve interrupting the play to remind everyone that it is only a play. They also decide that to make sure people understand that it takes place at night, someone will have to play “moonlight” and someone else will have to play a wall with a hole in it. As they are rehearsing their awful play, Puck enters unseen and is entirely amused by how ridiculous they are. He decides to create more mischief. When Bottom steps “offstage” behind some trees, Puck transforms Bottom’s head into that of a donkey (ass). When the ass-headed Bottom re-enters the scene, the other men are terrified and run for their lives. Puck, delighted, chases after them creating more mischief. Bottom stays behind, confused. This happens to happen near to the place where Titania is sleeping.  The loud noises of the terrified townspeople wake her. She sees ass-headed Bottom and instantly falls in love with him. She embraces him and orders her fairy attendants to see to his every wish. Bottom is confused but goes along with it, commenting to her that his friends acted like “asses” in leaving him behind.

Act III, Scene 2

“Shall we their fond pageant see? Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Puck reports back to Oberon about the Titania/Bottom situation. Oberon thinks it’s hilarious, and is happy that his plan is working so well. While they’re talking, Hermia enters their glade with Demetrius. Puck is surprised to see her with a different man from the one he enchanted. Oberon is surprised to see the guy he TOLD Puck to enchant, un-enchanted and with a different girl. They realize there has been some mistake and tells Puck to fix it. In the mean time, Hermia is yelling at Demetrius, demanding to find out Lysander’s whereabouts, afraid that Demetrius killed him. Demetrius is refusing to help her because he is bitter that she prefers Lysander over him. Hermia is getting angrier and angrier. She storms off. Demetrius realizes it’s pointless to follow her and decides to take a nap. Oberon sends Puck to find Helena, and puts the potion into Demetrius’s eyes himself. Puck returns saying Helena is on her way. Helena enters with Lysander still following pledging his undying love. She still thinks he’s mocking her so she’s angry and hurt. Their noise wakes up Demetrius, who sees Helena (luckily) and immediately falls in love with her. Demetrius and Lysander are now both declaring their undying love. Lysander argues that Demetrius doesn’t love Helena because he left her for Hermia, Demetrius says “no, you love Hermia.” Helena cries because she thinks they’re both mocking her. Hermia enters, hearing both guys arguing “no, you love Hermia!” and is shocked, hurt and infuriated. Helena accuses Hermia of being in on the joke, and tells her off for caring so little about her and their friendship. Lysander and Demetrius are ready to fight one another for Helena’s love…Hermia tries to hold back Lysander, and he curses at her. Hermia thinks that Helena managed to steal Lysander’s love and says “It’s because I’m short, and you’re tall! You must have used your height to seduce him!” She threatens Helena. Helena is afraid of her saying

“Oh, when she’s angry, she is keen and shrewd!
She was a vixen when she went to school.
And though she be but little, she is fierce.”

(She seems all nice and sweet, but when she gets angry, she can be vicious…I remember how she was at school, she may be short, but she’s fierce)

Being called “little” angered Hermia even more. She lunges at Helena. Helena runs away with Hermia chasing. Meanwhile Demetrius and Lysander decide to have a duel to prove who loves Helena more and run off into the forest to fight. Oberon dispatches Puck to prevent the fight, saying “oh-oh, we’ve got to fix this…preferably before the morning.” Puck flies throught he forest, hurling insults in the voices of Lysander and Demetrius, confusing them until they are totally lost. The fairies trick all four of them into the same part of the forest, make an enchantment that makes them fall asleep.

Act IV, Scene 1

As the Athenians are asleep, Titania enters with Bottom, who still has an ass-head. Titania asks Bottom to lie in her lap and sleep so she may braid roses into her hair and kiss his “fair large ears” They both fall asleep. Puck and Oberon enter the glade commenting on how successful Oberon’s revenge was because they were able to take the child for Oberon. Oberon and Puck brought with them the antidote to the nectar, which they place in Titania’s eyes and in Lysander’s eyes, but they chose to keep Demetrius enchanted and in love with Helena. Titania awakes and is shocked and kind of disturbed that she was in love with the half-donkey Bottom. She and Oberon go off together to dance before the sun rises. Puck undoes the enchantment on Bottom to restore his normal head, and follows Oberon and Titania. As the sun rises, Theseus, Hippolyta, Egeus and some attendants enter the woods and are startled to find the 4 youths asleep on the ground. They wake them up, demanding their story. The youths can’t remeber a lot of it, it all seems “insubstantial like a dream”. All that is clear to them is that Demetrius and Helena love each other, and Lysander and Hermia love each other. Theseus is happy and decides that the two couples will get married at the same time as him and will partake in the grand wedding feast. Egeus isn’t too happy, but who cares.

As they leave, Bottom wakes up, saying “I had the craziest and best dream!” He decides he will have Quince write a ballad (song/poem) about it to be performed at the end of their play.

Act IV, Scene 2

The actors are at Quince’s house, worried about Bottom, still terrified of the donkey-headed creature in the woods. They think he was killed by the terrifying creature. One suspects fairies. Bottom appears just in time to put on the play…

Act V, Scene 1

At the palace, Theseus speaks to Hippolyta about the strange story told by the youths, that it doesn’t make sense and he doesn’t believe in it. Hippolyta says “but if they were confused, how did they all remember the same thing?” The youths, now married, enter. They all sit down to watch the play. Quince presents the prologue which he does awfully…he puts pauses in weird places, which changes the meaning of the words…for example “Our true intent is. All for your delight we are not here. That you should here repent you, the actors are at hand.” What he meant is “Our intent is to delight you. We are not here to make you sorry. The actors are ready…let the play begin!” It ended up meaning “Our intent is: We are not here to delight you. The actors are ready to make you sorry. Let the play begin!”

The actors perform a truly embarrassing, clunky, hilariously awful play. The noblemen and women in the audience joke amongst themselves and make sarcastic comments about the play. Bottom in particular makes some hilariously weird statements like: “I SEE A VOICE! I can hear my Thisbe’s face!” The actor playing the wall holds up two fingers to represent the hole they speak through. Snug, the lion, roars and then reassures the audience they shouldn’t be afraid because he’s not really a lion. The suicide scene is hilarious…when Bottom pretends to kill himself he screams “die, die, die, die, die…” Bottom asks the audience if they would like an epilogue or a dance….Theseus replies they’d like a dance. So everyone dances, and then Theseus sends them all to bed.

Act V, Scene 2: Epilogue

“If we shadows have offended,
think but this and all is mended:
that you have but slumbered here,
while these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
no more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck,
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long.
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Puck enters at the end saying that now that night has fallen, the fairies will come to the castle and bless the palace and the newly married couples with fair song, which will make the lovers always be true to one another, to have beautiful children, and no harm will visit them. Oberon and Titania leave, and Puck makes the final address…he breaks the fourth wall, and speaks directly to the audience:

If you were offended by this play and the stuff that happened, tell yourself it was all a dream, and applaud, and leave it to Puck to fix the situation •winky face•

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