William Shakespeare

1564 – 1616
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Theseus, Duke of Athens, enlists Philostrate (an imaginary character) to organize a four-day festival to celebrate his marriage to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons.

Theseus receives a visit from Egeus (an Athenian nobleman) with his daughter Hermia and two young men, Demetrius and Lysander. Egeus wants Hermia to marry Demetrius, who loves her but Hernia does not have the same feelings for him. She loves Lysander, who also loves her, and will not obey her father.

Egeus asks Theseus to punish his daughter if she doesn’t obey. Theseus gives her until his wedding to reconsider, with a warning that her refusal could have her sent to a convent or even death.

Hermia and Lysander plan to elope to Athens and get married in the house of Lysander’s aunt. They tell Helena, who only pretends be Hermia’s friend. She was engaged to Demetrius but he stopped the engagement after he fell in love with Hermia.

Helena, in an effort to win back Demetrius’ favors, tells him about the escape plans. At the appointed hour Demetrius sneaks into the woods to confront the couple. Helena follows close behind.

The woods are inhabited by the fairy king Oberon with his band of fairies and his wife Titania, just back from India to be a part of the wedding celebration.

A group of Athenians are also in the woods, rehearsing a play they want to perform for the duke and his bride.

Oberon and Titania quarrel over a beautiful young Indian prince given to Titania by his mother. Oberon wants to make him a knight, Titania refuses.

In retaliation Oberon sends his servant, Puck, to find a magical flower that, applied over the eyelids, will make a person fall in love with the first thing he or she sees upon waking.

Once Puck finds the flower Oberon tells him of his idea to spread the juice on Titania’s eyelids while she’s sleeping. At the same time, upset at the unpleasant way Demetrius spoke to Helena, tells Puck to spread some juice over his eyelids as well.

After he put the ointment over Titania's eyes, Puck sees Lysander and Hermia. He thinks that Lysander is Demetrius and puts the love potion over his eyes. Lysander wakes up, sees Helena, and falls in love.

Puck, seeing his mistake, puts the potion on Demetrius who sees Helens and falls in love. Helena thinks they’re mocking her and Hermia gets so jealous she wants to challenge Helena to a fight. Demetrius and Lysander also nearly reach blows but Puck mimics their voices which confuses them so they get lost in the woods.

When Titania wakes first person she sees is Bottom, the most ludicrous of the amateur comedians. Puck had given him, for the occasion, an ass’ head. Titania courts him with abandon.

By morning things fall into place, Oberon is given the Indian prince, Puck spreads the love potion again on Lysander, who falls in love again with Hermia.

Theseus and Hippolyta find the two young couples sleeping the forest and take them back to Athens to be married, Demetrius to Helena, and Lysander to Hermia.

After the group wedding Bottom and his actors perform their play, a bumbling version of Pyramus and Thisbe.

After the play the couples go to sleep. The fairies bless them and disappear. Puck stays and asks the audience forgiveness and approval, and to remember the play as a dream.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare anticipates Freud’s notion of the dream world as an outlet for the subconscious. There are no main characters, however the fairy Puck (King Oberon’s prankster servant) dominates the story.

Between his boss’s orders, his own embellishments and mistakes the already thorny plot is writhe with complications. If there are discrepancies Puck reminds us that in the end it’s just a dream.
The amateur actor Bottom stands out for his enormous ego and misplaced self-confidence. He thinks he’s the best in all things when in fact he’s a bungler. He is bad at everything he does, in particular the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe that is so pathetic it ends up being funny. Shakespeare used the same mythological couple as the base for Romeo and Juliette, written around the same time.