A Midsummer Night's Dream | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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A Midsummer Night's Dream | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

The next night, King Oberon's fairy servant, Puck (also called Robin Goodfellow), meets another fairy, who is a servant of the fairy queen Titania. Puck boasts about the practical jokes he plays on humans. Oberon and Titania enter, arguing about a changeling boy who is Titania's. Oberon wants Titania to give him the boy, and she refuses. Their quarrel has been causing chaos in the natural world, including wind, fog, and flooding, which is affecting the crops.

Oberon tells Puck that he is going to play a trick on Titania. Cupid, he says, once shot an arrow that went awry and hit a flower instead. The juice of the flower can be placed on a sleeping person's eyes, and the person, waking up, will fall in love with "the next live creature that it sees." He sends Puck to get him the flower, planning to use it on Titania so that she may fall in love with something hideous.

After Puck leaves, Demetrius and Helena enter, and Oberon secretly watches them. Demetrius is searching for Hermia and Lysander, and Helena follows along, expressing her love for him. He tells her harshly to go away, but she keeps following him.

Puck brings the flower to Oberon, who tells Puck to use some of its juice to make the Athenian man he has just seen fall in love with the poor woman who has been treated so badly. He tells Puck he will recognize the man "by the Athenian garments he hath on." They both leave to use the magic flower nectar.

Analysis

Act 2 shows what happens when humans enter the fairy realm of the woods. This world does not obey the same rules as the human Athenian world, as shown through the opening conversation between two fairies discussing their everyday activities as if magic is a typical occurrence. The woods, especially at night, is a place where magic turns reality into a dream.

The feud between Oberon and Titania develops the theme of gender roles. Oberon is peeved not just because he wants the changeling boy, but also because Titania is defying him. He calls her "rash wanton" and asks her, "Am not I thy lord?" Their argument, and the disorder it is unleashing on the natural world, emphasizes the connection between the fairy realm and nature. The unseasonable weather Titania describes has its origin in the tension between the fairy king and queen.

Gender roles are also emphasized in the interaction between Helena and Demetrius. Helena's utter devotion to Demetrius is a caricature of subservience: "Use me but as your spaniel: spurn me, strike me, / Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave / (Unworthy as I am) to follow you."

Oberon's decision to take pity on Helena, the "sweet Athenian lady," is the action that first intertwines the human and fairy plots. Puck, who already has experience playing tricks on humans, moves between these two plots, weaving them together.

The theme of love as a magical force finds its most concrete symbolic representation in the flower that was shot by Cupid's arrow. The juice of this flower actually puts a spell on a person, causing him or her to fall in love with the first living thing he or she sees upon waking. The living thing can be anything—animal, fairy, human—showing how irrational love's magic can be.

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