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A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare

Act 1 | Scene 1

The Duke of Athens, Theseus, is preparing to wed a woman that he captured in battle. When Egeus, Hermia, and Lysander enter the Duke’s presence, Egeus reveals the situation with his daughter; Hermia is in love with Lysander, but Egeus wants Hermia to marry Demetrius. The problem is that Hermia loves Lysander and not Demetrius. Egeus demands that Hermia either marry Demetrius or die. The Duke supports Egeus. When Hermia and Lysander are left alone, they decide to run away and get married. They divulge their plan to Helena, Hermia’s close friend. We learn that Helena loves Demetrius, and that she is frustrated that Demetrius does not reciprocate her love. Instead, he loves Hermia. With hopes of gaining Demetrius’s favor, Helena decides to tell Demetrius about Lysander’s and Hermia’s plan to get married in the woods.

The poem opens in the midst of a wedding preparation, which describes an irate and resolute father, and the poem also introduces entangled love emotions among 4 Athenians. This is clearly a poem about love. Will it be a tragedy or will the conflicts be resolved? Right now, the conflicts seem too many and too entangled to be resolvable without supernatural intervention.

Act 1 | Scene 2

In this scene, a play, “Pyramus and Thisbe,” is being prepared for the wedding ceremony of Duke Theseus and his bride. The leader of the players, Quince, assigns the parts. Bottom will play Pyramus, the lover. Flute will play Thisbe, the woman that Pyramus loves. Snug will play the lion. Bottom provides comic relief with this passionate desire to play each of the major roles.

I learned that “Pyramus and Thisbe” is a well-known tale from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” Two lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe, who are forbidden to marry one another, agree to meet under a mulberry tree. When Thisbe arrives, she sees a lion and flees in terror, but she forgets her cloak. When Pyramus arrives at the mulberry tree, he notices the lion ravaging Thisbe’s cloak, and assuming that Thisbe was devoured by the lion, kills himself with his sword. When Thisbe arrives back on the scene, she sees that Pyramus is dead, so she kills herself too. This romantic tragedy was used as the basis for Romeo and Juliet.

Act 2 | Scene 1

The first time that I read this scene, I did not understand how the fairy world was connected to the 4 lovers and the rest of the story. The purpose of this scene was unclear to me. But after reading it a second time, this scene was actually lots of fun! I think that this poem, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one that needs to be read more than once to fully grasp its meanings. For me, the second reading was much more enjoyable.

This scene opens with another conflict, one between a fairy king, Oberon, and his fairy queen, Titania. They are quarreling over possession of a young Indian boy, and their fighting has affected the seasons in the human world. Neither fairy is willing to yield. Oberon tries to demand, using his authority as King, that Titania hand over the boy. When Titania refuses, Oberon tells Puck, his mischievous servant, to collect part of Cupid’s flower and rub it on Titania’s eyes while she is sleeping so that she falls madly in love with the first thing that she sees. Oberon, while waiting for Puck to fetch the flower, witnesses a conflict between Demetrius and Helena. Helena told Demetrius about Lysander and Hermia’s plan, and now Demetrius is in the woods searching for the two lovers. Severely annoyed by Helena’s presence and constant doting, Demetrius ridicules her and speaks harshly to her, saying such things like he will never love her. Despite Demetrius’s nasty words, Helena continues to pursue him. After watching this exchange, Oberon also instructs Puck to place the flower on Demetrius’s, “the Athenian’s,” eyes so that Demetrius will fall in love with Helena.

Not only is Oberon meddling with his wife, he is also meddling in the affairs of the human lovers. It seems like Cupid’s love flower is going to complicate the situation, but the flower, if used correctly, also has the potential to resolve the conflicts introduced in the opening scene. What will the effect of Cupid’s power be? Will Helena’s continued pursuit pay off? Or will this story be a tragedy, like “Pyramus and Thisbe”? What will happen when Demetrius encounters Lysander and Hermia in the woods?

Act 2 | Scene 2

After the fairies bless the fairy queen’s sleep, they leave her to rest alone. Oberon approaches her and rubs the flower on her eyes so that she will be cursed to love the first living thing that she sees when she awakes.

Then, in the woods, Lysander and Hermia decide to sleep separate from one another. Puck mistakes Lysander for “the Athenian,” Demetrius, that Oberon told him about. Therefore, Puck anoints Lysander’s eyes with Cupid’s flower, instead of Demetrius’s.

Next, Demetrius and Helena enter the woods with Helena still chasing Demetrius. Helena spots Lysander sleeping, and she wakes him. Under the influence of the flower, Lysander immediately falls in love with Helena. Helena thinks that he is mocking her.

Finally, Hermia awakes from a frightful dream, and she laments that she cannot find Lysander.

Act 3 | Scene 1

The comedic players start rehearsing their play and addressing some of the challenges of performing “Pyramus and Thisbe” such as: scaring the ladies, the lack of moonlight, the need for a wall, and Pyramus killing himself with a sword. By chance, they are rehearing the play near the location where Titania is sleeping. Therefore, Puck decides to play a trick. In the next scene, we learn that Puck transformed Bottom’s head into an ass’s head. When Bottom’s friends saw his transfigured head, they ran away in fear. Alone, and with an ass’s head, Bottom becomes the first thing that Titania sees when she wakes up. Hence, the fairy queen falls deeply in love with Bottom. They exit to the queen’s bower.

Act 3 | Scene 2

It stood out to me in this chapter that the fairy king wants the best for the Athenian mortals. He wants love to prevail. Yet despite his overarching desire for the best outcome, he permits Puck to have fun and use the humans for entertainment. Oberon tells Puck to rub the flower on Lysander’s eyes so that Lysander falls back in love in Hermia, allowing true love to prevail. But before true love prevails, Oberon and Puck observe a lengthy argument among the four lovers: Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander. The two men, both under the effects of Cupid’s poison, love Helena. Therefore, they quarrel to gain Helena’s affection. Helena thinks that both of the men are cruel and detestable, because neither one of them loved her moments earlier. Furthermore, Helena believes that Hermia is also teasing her. Therefore, the two women bicker about betraying one another. Many harsh words are exchanged between the lovers, but before any physical injury occurs, Puck intervenes, and they all fall asleep. Puck, trying to set things right and under direction from Oberon, wipes the flower in Lysander’s eyes again so that he will wake and fall back into love with Hermia.

I wonder how the lovers will recover from their argument? Perhaps it is significant to note that these quarrels occur late at night, and that the reason everybody falls asleep is because they are bone-weary from fighting. Is it possible that they will think all the fighting was but a dream?

Act 4 | Scene 1

While Titania is enchanted, Oberon gets the Indian boy back; therefore, Oberon removes the spell from Titania so that she no longer loves an ass head. When she awakes, like the others that were enamored by Cupid’s flower, she thinks that she had a dream about loving an ass head.

Then, the scene returns to Theseus, Hippolyta, and Egeus, the characters at the beginning of the play. They stumble across the four lovers, who are all asleep. Upon waking, the lovers declare that Hermia and Lysander love one another as before, and now Helena and Demetrius love one another as they did in the past (Demetrius and Helena were originally lovers before Demetrius became enchanted by Hermia’s charms). Egeus does not want his daughter to marry Lysander, but Theseus, seeing that all four of the lovers are content, overrides Egeus, and blesses the marriages of Hermia and Lysander, and of Helena and Demetrius.

Finally, Bottom wakes up from his “dream.” He thinks that his experience as an ass head was but a dream.

In this scene, all the conflicts involving the lovers are resolved. Although it was not a smooth journey, true love prevailed. Oberon and Titania resolved their conflict about the Indian boy, Lysander and Hermia are in love, Demetrius and Helena are in love, and Egeus is placated by the Duke. Cupid’s flower caused some entertainment, but ultimately it helped true love win. The poison allowed Oberon to claim the Indian boy, and it allowed Demetrius to love Helena.

Act 4 | Scene 2

The players for the romantic comedy, “Pyramus and Thisbe,” lament, because Bottom is gone, and they cannot do the performance without him. Suddenly, Bottom appears and triumphantly declares that they will perform the play at the Duke’s wedding.

Act 5

In the final act, Duke Theseus selects the play, “Pyramus and Thisbe,” to be performed at his wedding. During the play, Theseus and the four lovers mock the play’s performance. After the play, all of the couples retire to bed, and their marriages are blessed by the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” concludes with Robin Goodfellow (Puck) blessing the night and wishing peace on all of the human lovers. I think that the blessing provided by Robin is interesting. Let me try to articulate. Puck used Cupid’s flower to significantly impact the feelings of love that characters had for one another. For example, Puck caused both men to switch from loving Hermia to both loving Helena. This switch caused strife among the lovers in Act 3, Scene 2. But Puck concludes the play by apologizing for any wrongs that he caused and asking that the lovers view the calamities and arguments as nothing more than a dream. Since the events of this book occurred primarily during the night, and the solution was reached before dawn, it is reasonable for the lovers to think that the events were a dream. Therefore, it appears that Puck has nothing but good intentions for the mortals, although he does enjoy using them for his personal entertainment. Furthermore, it is worth noting that this play has a happy ending, unlike the story of “Pyramus and Thisbe.” All of the conflicts are resolved and true love prevailed.

  • Theseus and Hippolyta are married

  • Demetrius and Helena are married

  • Lysander and Hermia are married

  • Egeus’s anger is tempered by Duke Theseus

  • Oberon and Titania resolved their conflict over the Indian boy

One of the themes that stood out to me is that love is messy. Although love can be messy, it can still work out in the end. Sometimes it just takes an act of God. The four mortal lovers had a messy situation, in which one person was liked by the majority, and in which loving feelings were not reciprocated. How often do we see this in friend groups? Person A likes person B, but person B likes person C, and person C likes person A. It seems like feelings of love are often not reciprocated. However, I think that one of the conclusions of this play is that true love will prevail. Eventually love wins. Take Helena’s pursuit of Demetrius for example. She relentlessly pursues Demetrius, and although her advances are initially despised, eventually Helena and Demetrius are wedded and their wedding is blessed by the gods. It was not a clean situation, but it reached a happy conclusion. With a story like this, I am certain that there are many, many themes that can be extracted. That’s why Shakespear’s stories have been hailed throughout English history.

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