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A Mid-Summer Nights Dream

William Shakespeare wrote “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in approximately 1596. It is a play of fairies and fantasy and love and confusion, and it is one of his finest comedies. The play opens on Theseus, Duke of Athens, and his betrothed, Hippolyta, having a conversation when they are interrupted by Egeus. Egeus is angry because his daughter, Hermia, refuses to marry the man he has chosen for her, Demetrius. Even though an old Athenian law states that she must marry the man chosen by her father or die, Theseus allows her another choice, lifelong chastity as a nun of the goddess Diana. Hermia chooses neither

Hermia is in love, in fact, with another man, Lysander, and they make plans to escape through the forest and elope. However, when Hermia shares this with her friend Helena, it is told to Demetrius to win his favor to Helena who loves him. Demetrius chases Hermia and Lysander into the forest, and Helena runs off after the three of them.

Meanwhile, Oberon, the king of the fairies, and his queen are nearby to attend the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. They are estranged presently because of Hippolyta’s reluctance to allow Oberon to use her Indian changeling as his henchman. To punish her, Oberon calls on Puck, the mischievous and precocious goblin. He orders Puck to make a potion that will cause Titania, the queen, to fall in love with the first thing she sees when she awakes. And then he advises Puck to use this same potion on Demetrius, because he is displeased with his behavior toward Helena. However, Puck mistakenly places the potion on the eyelids of Lysander who wakes to see Helena and falls deeply in love with her. Realizing his mistake, Puck puts the potion also on the eyelids of Demetrius. He also sees Helena on awakening and falls in love with her.

Helena does not believe either gentleman is in love with her, because both were in love with Hermia previously. And Hermia is naturally angered that Lysander now loves Helena. All the arguing leads to arrangement of a duel in the forest for Helena’s hand. However, Oberon orders Puck to remove the spell from Lysander so that he loves Hermia again, but the spell remains on Demetrius so his affections remain on Helena.

There came six minstrels to the forest in costumes practicing to perform for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. When Titania, Oberon’s queen, awakes, she sees before her one of the minstrels, named Bottom. However, at Oberon’s instruction, the performer was given the head of an ass to make the love potion more punishing to her. Because Titania is so in love with him, she is distracted and gives the Indian boy to Oberon. The spell is removed; the minstrel is returned to normal.

When Theseus and Hippolyta arrive in the forest and find that Demetrius loves Helena and that Hermia loves Lysander, he rules that Egeus allow the marriage. There is a group wedding amongst all, and the minstrels perform the play they were practicing in the forest. The day leaves everyone feeling as if perhaps it was all just “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” indeed.

  • Shakespeare - full text of the play

  • Folger's Shakespeare – synopsis of the play with links to other Shakespeare works

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream – Gilbert Keith Cherston’s critical analysis of the play

  • Midsummer Night's Dream - Ballet Notes – synopsis of the play as well as historical context of the time the play was written, the theatre of Shakespeare’s day, and notes on how to interpret “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as a ballet

  • A Shakespeare Timeline – a timeline of William Shakespeare’s works and life

  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – complete texts of all the writings of William Shakespeare