A Midsummer Night's Dream | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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A Midsummer Night's Dream | Plot Summary

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Summary

The play begins as Theseus, duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, discuss their upcoming wedding. Egeus soon enters with his daughter Hermia and two men who are in love with her—Demetrius and Lysander. Hermia prefers Lysander, but Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius. Egeus demands that Theseus force his daughter to marry Demetrius by invoking Athenian law, which requires a daughter to obey her father or face death as punishment. Theseus agrees that she must obey her father, but he says he will not have her put to death; instead, she will have to remain chaste for the rest of her life if she does not marry Demetrius.

Later, Lysander and Hermia make a plan to meet in the woods on the following night and run away together, away from Athenian law. The two reveal their plan to Helena, who is in love with Demetrius but whose love is not returned. Instead of keeping their confidence, Helena decides it would be a good idea to tell Demetrius the plan, hoping it will make him like her.

Meanwhile, some Athenian tradesmen begin planning a play they hope will be chosen for performance during the marriage celebrations of Theseus and Hippolyta. Peter Quince has written a play based on the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, lovers who die tragically. Nick Bottom enthusiastically agrees to the plan, and the others—Francis Flute, Tom Snout, Snug, and Robin Starveling—warm up to it despite early hesitations. They propose to meet and rehearse the play in the woods the next night.

The next night in the woods, Oberon, king of the fairies, and Titania, his queen, are in the midst of a quarrel. Titania has a servant child that she will not give to Oberon despite Oberon's demands. To get back at Titania, Oberon instructs his mischievous servant, Puck, to fetch him a magic flower. Oberon plans to use it to enchant Titania. The flower has a juice inside that causes a sleeping person to fall in love with the first living creature he or she sees upon waking. He wants to make her fall in love with something vile. As Puck is fetching the flower, Oberon overhears Demetrius and Helena talking. Demetrius has followed Hermia and Lysander into the woods, and Helena has followed Demetrius. Demetrius is very rude to Helena, and Oberon feels bad for her. So when Puck returns with the flower, Oberon gives him some of it to use on the Athenian man, trying to help the poor Athenian woman.

As Titania falls asleep later that night, Oberon uses the magic flower on her eyelids. Puck, however, seeking the Athenian that Oberon had described, finds a different one: Lysander. Lysander has met Hermia in the woods as planned and is sleeping on the ground a little ways from her. After Puck leaves, having anointed Lysander's eyelids, Helena enters and wakes him up. Of course, he falls instantly in love with her, to both Helena's and Hermia's confusion.

The Athenian tradesmen are also in the woods, rehearsing. Puck thinks it would be funny to change Bottom's head to a donkey head, which he does. The rest of the men run off, and just then, Titania wakes and sees the donkey-headed Bottom. Having been anointed with the magic flower's juice, she falls instantly in love.

As Puck and Oberon meet again in the woods to discuss how their plans have gone, Demetrius and Hermia enter. After Hermia angrily runs away, making it clear that Puck did not apply the flower juice to Demetrius, Demetrius falls asleep. Oberon applies the flower juice to Demetrius's eyes to try to fix the problem. He sends Puck to bring Helena so that when Demetrius wakes, she will be there. Helena does arrive, followed by Lysander, who proclaims his love for her. As they argue, Demetrius wakes and falls instantly in love with Helena. When Hermia returns, confusion reigns, and everyone argues.

Oberon gives Puck another flower to undo the spell on Lysander. Puck does this, lifting the enchantment from Lysander but not from Demetrius.

Meanwhile in her bower, Titania, who has fallen in love with Bottom, praises his donkey ears and his fuzzy fur. Oberon, having had his revenge, tells Puck to restore Bottom's human head. Oberon takes the spell off Titania.

The next day, Theseus, Egeus, and Hippolyta enter the woods and find the four lovers—Demetrius, Helena, Lysander, and Hermia. Everyone is surprised that Demetrius now loves Helena, but Theseus agrees that the two couples can marry.

After the marriage ceremony, the newly wedded couples watch Bottom and the other tradesmen perform their play. Then they all go off to bed. The fairies enter and bless the house with music and dancing. Puck, last to leave, asks the play's audience to think of the whole play as if it were just a dream.

A Midsummer Night's Dream Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Demetrius and Lysander are both in love with Hermia.

Rising Action

2 Theseus insists Hermia marry Demetrius.

3 Hermia and Lysander run away to elope.

4 Helena and Demetrius pursue them.

5 Oberon and Titania argue.

6 Oberon puts magic nectar in Titania's eyes.

7 Puck mistakenly puts magic nectar in Lysander's eyes.

8 Oberon puts magic nectar in Demetrius's eyes.

9 Titania falls in love with donkey-headed Bottom.

10 Both Demetrius and Lysander fall in love with Helena.

Climax

11 Utterly confused, the four lovers get into a huge fight.

Falling Action

12 Puck reverses Bottom's and Lysander's enchantments.

13 The lovers are found; Theseus consents to marriages.

14 The mechanicals perform "Pyramus and Thisbe."

Resolution

15 The fairies bless the marriages.

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