A Midsummer Night's Dream | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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A Midsummer Night's Dream | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Elsewhere in the woods, Puck gleefully tells Oberon that after he had transformed one of the "rude mechanicals" into a donkey-headed man, "Titania waked and straightway loved an ass." He also says he has put the magic flower nectar on the eyes of the Athenian youth as Oberon wanted. However, just then Demetrius and Hermia enter, and since Demetrius is still longing after Hermia, Oberon can clearly see that Puck must have enchanted the wrong Athenian man.

Hermia runs off, and Demetrius falls asleep on the ground. Oberon instructs Puck to bring Helena to him. After Puck goes to get her, Oberon anoints Demetrius's eyelids with the flower nectar. Puck then returns, telling Oberon that Helena and Lysander are coming. Puck, amused by what is occurring, exclaims, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

As Lysander professes his love for Helena, Demetrius wakes up and sees Helena. He instantly falls in love with her also. Helena is convinced that the two men are mocking her. Hermia enters and is completely confused and dismayed because Lysander and Demetrius are now head-over-heels in love with Helena. The two men begin fighting over Helena. Hermia becomes angry with Helena for stealing her lover. The men leave to duel, and the women run off in different directions.

Oberon and Puck watch the feuding, and Oberon is a bit annoyed with Puck for causing all the confusion. Puck claims it was an honest mistake, but he's enjoying himself anyway. Oberon tells him to prevent the duel, and he gives Puck a flower to use on Lysander to reverse the enchantment.

Oberon then says he will once again ask Titania to give him the changeling boy and then use the second flower on her, too. Puck tells him it is almost dawn, so they will need to work fast. After Puck creates a fog, he leads the Athenian men around in confusion by imitating their voices. The men become exhausted and finally lie down to sleep. Helena and Hermia also enter and fall asleep on the ground. With the four lovers all asleep on the ground near each other, Puck puts magic flower nectar on Lysander's eyelids to reverse the spell.

Analysis

One of Shakespeare's plot-development devices is the layering of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows more than the characters do, creating a sense of tension or suspense. The plots of Shakespeare's Love's Labor's Lost, Much Ado About Nothing, and Twelfth Night also all rely on the audience knowing that characters are sneaking behind each other's backs. In this play, the dramatic irony begins as soon as Helena decides to tell Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander are planning to escape to the woods. The audience knows that her plan is not going to work. Then, separately, the mechanicals decide to rehearse in the woods. Now the audience knows that a whole bunch of Athenians are going to end up in the woods at the same time. When it becomes clear that Oberon has seen only one Athenian man, the audience, having seen a second Athenian man, knows that his plan could go very awry.

In this climactic scene, all the pent-up tension comes to fruition as the mortals are hopelessly confused and caught up in the quarrel between Oberon and Titania. The lovers become perplexed and angry. Love as a magical force, which causes people to act irrationally, is now operating at maximum intensity. The argument devolves quickly into a brewing brawl. Hermia accuses Helena of stealing away Lysander's love, and Helena refers to Hermia as a "puppet." Meanwhile, the men plan to duel over Helena.

In the dreamlike fairy woods, the line between actor and audience is blurred, just as the line between reality and dream is blurred. Throughout the scene, Puck and Oberon watch the unfolding insanity. Puck is especially amused at the foolishness of the lovers in a way that is similar to how the nobles will later be amused by the foolishness of the mechanicals. Oberon and Puck are the audience for the lovers' play. In a reversal, Puck becomes an actor in the lovers' play as he imitates the voices of Lysander and Demetrius to lead them astray.

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