Study Guide

A Midsummer Night's Dream Quotes

  • Love

    Act 1, Scene 1

    Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
    Could ever hear by tale or history,
    The course of true love never did run smooth. (1.1.134-136)

    This is one of the most famous lines of the play, and for good reason.  Lysander's declaration pretty much sums up the play's notion that lovers always face difficult hurdles on the path to happiness—whether it's a disapproving parent, rival lover, or something else. In the play, Shakespeare makes this "love is an obstacle course" metaphor very literal when the young Athenians go chasing each other around the wood in pursuit of love. We're also interested in the way Lysander locates his love for Hermia in a long, rich "tradition."  For Lysander, love is epic and the stuff of great literature and history. 

    Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
    War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it,
    Making it momentary as a sound,
    Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
    Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
    That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
    And ere a man hath power to say "Behold!"
    The jaws of darkness do devour it up.
    So quick bright things come to confusion. (1.1.143-151)

    Here, Lysander lists the obstacles that can separate lovers: "war, death, or sickness." Lysander also knows that, even though love can be explosive like "lightening," it's usually short-lived: "So quick bright things come to confusion."  

    P.S. The idea that love is transient, by the way, is a major theme in Romeo and Juliet, where Friar Laurence  says the following about Romeo's passion: "These violent delights have violent ends" (2.6.1). 

    Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head,
    Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena,
    And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,
    Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,
    Upon this spotted and inconstant man. (1.1.108-112)

    Hmm. This is interesting. Here, we learn that Demetrius was once engaged ("made love to") to another girl, Helena, before dropping her to be with Hermia. Long before the fairies' love juice causes Demetrius to fall back in love with Helena (2.2; 3.2), we learn that lovers can be fickle and erratic, even without the help of some magic potion.


    Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword
    And won thy love doing thee injuries,
    But I will wed thee in another key,
    With pomp, with triumph, and with reveling. (1.1.17-20)

    Yikes! In the play's opening scene, we discover that Theseus and Hippolyta are about to be married because Theseus conquered Hippolyta and her people (the Amazons). Although Hippolyta seems pretty pleased with the engagement, we're left with the uneasy feeling that Theseus sees love as something that can be won by sheer force.  This idea resurfaces again just a few moments later when Theseus determines that a young woman must marry (against her will) the man her father has chosen for her. Otherwise, she'll face the death penalty or life as a celibate nun. 


    How happy some o'er other some can be!
    Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
    But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so.
    He will not know what all but he do know.
    And as he errs, doting on Hermia's eyes,
    So I, admiring of his qualities.
    Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
    Love can transpose to form and dignity.
    Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
    And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
    Nor hath Love's mind of any judgment taste.
    Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste. (1.1.232-243)

    When Helena admits that she loves many of Demetrius's "base and vile" qualities, she recognizes that her love has made her "blind" in that her judgment has been skewed by her passion. This idea resurfaces throughout the play, especially when Titania literally falls in love with a "base and vile" creature—an "ass."

    We also want to point out that Helena is acting a little immature here when she complains that most people think she's prettier than Hermia. Apparently, love also makes us self-absorbed. 

    Full of vexation come I, with complaint
    Against my child, my daughter Hermia.—
    Stand forth, Demetrius.—My noble lord,
    This man hath my consent to marry her.—
    Stand forth, Lysander.—And my gracious duke,
    This man hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child.—
    Thou, thou, Lysander, (1.1.23-29)

    Here, we learn that Hermia and Lysander are in love but unable to marry because Hermia's father (Egeus) has engaged her to another man (Demetrius). Still, the play is sympathetic toward a young person's right to choose a marriage partner based on love and not the whims and desires of parents. (Shakespeare returns to this subject in several other plays like Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and The Taming of the Shrew.)

    Act 2, Scene 1

    Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew'd thee once.
    The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
    Will make or man or woman madly dote
    Upon the next live creature that it sees. (2.1.175-178)

    As Oberon explains here, when the magic love juice is sprinkled into someone's eyes, it causes the person to fall instantly in love with the first creature he or she sees. Hmm. This seems to be symbolic of "love at first sight," don't you think? Go to "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" for more on this.

    Act 3, Scene 2

    Hang off, thou cat, thou burr! Vile thing, let loose,
    Or I will shake thee from me like a serpent.

    Why are you grown so rude? What change is this,
    Sweet love?

    Thy love? Out, tawny Tartar, out!
    Out, loathèd med'cine! O. hated potion, hence! (3.2.270-275)

    After Lysander has been drugged by Oberon's love juice, he falls instantly in love with Helena and violently out of love with Hermia.  What's interesting is that, when characters fall out of love in this play, their love turns into hate rather than indifference. What's up with that?

    Act 4, Scene 1

    Fair lovers, you are fortunately met.
    Of this discourse we more will hear anon.—
    Egeus, I will overbear your will,
    For in the temple, by and by, with us,
    These couples shall eternally be knit.— (4.1.184-188)

    In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the seemingly natural course of love ends in marriage. (This is true of all Shakespearean comedies; head over to the "Genre" section for all the deets.) Here, Theseus's wedding day has finally arrived and the two sets of Athenian lovers have been paired up, despite Egeus's objections. Still, this seemingly happy ending leaves us a little nervous, if not skeptical. After all, the only reason Demetrius loves Helena is that he's under the spell of the magic love juice.  


    My Oberon, what visions have I seen!
    Methought I was enamoured of an ass.

    There lies your love.

    How came these things to pass?
    O, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now! (4.1.77-81)

    When Titania awakens from the love spell, she has a classic "What was I thinking?" moment. Not only does she realize that she was literally in love with an "ass" (Shakespeare's little joke), she also admits that she can no longer stand the sight of the creature of which she was once "enamour'd." Some things never change. 

  • Foolishness and Folly

    Act 1, Scene 1

    By all the vows that ever men have broke
    (In number more than ever women spoke),
    In that same place thou hast appointed me,
    To-morrow truly will I meet with thee. (1.1.178-181)

    Shakespeare pokes a bit of fun here at love—men break vows faster than women can make them.  Not only does Hermia know this, she chooses to swear on it.  For Shakespeare, one thing that you can depend on in love is the foolishness it brings.


    But herein mean I to enrich my pain,
    To have his sight thither and back again. (1.1.256-257)

    Helena wants to see Demetrius, even if it is only to have him scorn her.  In love, Helena shows complete foolishness and lack of judgment regarding whom she gives her affection to.


    Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires,
    Know of your youth, examine well your blood,
    Whether (if you yield not to your father's choice)
    You can endure the livery of a nun,
    For aye to be shady cloister mewed,
    To live a barren sister all your life,
    Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
    Thrice-blessed they that master so their blood
    To undergo such maiden pilgrimage,
    But earthlier happy is the rose distilled
    Than that which withering on the virgin thorn,
    Grows, lives, and dies, in single blessedness. (1.1.169-180)

    Theseus explains to Hermia what her options are, but thinks that a vow of chastity would be a poor choice.  For Theseus, choosing love over practicality is foolishness.

    Act 1, Scene 2
    Peter Quince

    Marry, our play is "The most lamentable comedy and most
    cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe."

    A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a merry. (1.2.11-15)

    Bottom's misspeakings and misunderstandings are a running joke in the play, but sometimes from items like this, you get the sense that he is really oblivious. The Mechanicals are usually the butt of the joke, but they seem to be happily having their own fun here.  In some cases foolishness can be a source of enjoyment, at least when paired with ignorance.

    Act 2, Scene 1
    Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

    Through the forest have I gone,
    But Athenian found I none
    On whose eyes I might approve
    This flower's force in stirring love.
    Night and silence! Who is here? (2.2.72-76)

    When Puck dumps the love juice in the wrong guy's eyes, we're reminded that even fairies are prone to foolish mistakes.


    You do impeach your modesty too much
    To leave the city and commit yourself
    Into the hands of one that loves you not,
    To trust the opportunity of night
    And the ill counsel of a desert place
    With the rich worth of your virginity. (2.1.221-226)

    Once again, we see love causing characters to act foolishly.

    Act 3, Scene 1

    I see their knavery.  This is to make an ass of 
    me, to fright me, if they could. (3.1.122-123) 

    Of course, when Bottom accuses his friends of trying to "make an ass" of him, it's funny to us because we know something that Bottom doesn't—he literally has been made into an ass.  (Also, his name, Bottom, becomes very fitting.) 


    On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee.

    Methinks, mistress, you should have little
    reason for that. And yet, to say the truth, reason
    and love keep little company together nowadays. (3.1.143-146)

    Here we see Shakespeare's usual little trick where the fool of the play is sometimes given to the wisest insights. Here, Bottom sums up Titania's silliness by pointing out that there's no reason for her to be in love with him.

    Act 3, Scene 2
    Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

    Captain of our fairy band,
    Helena is here at hand,
    And the youth mistook by me,
    Pleading for a lover's fee.
    Shall we their fond pageant see?
    Lord, what fools these mortals be! (3.2.112-117)

    Though the Athenian lovers are suffering, for an observer like Puck, the lovers' foolishness is source of entertainment.


    "Puppet!" why so? Ay, that way goes the game.
    Now I perceive that she hath made compare
    Between our statures; she hath urg'd her height,
    And with her personage, her tall personage,
    Her height, forsooth, she hath prevail'd with him.
    And are you grown so high in his esteem
    Because I am so dwarfish and so low?
    How low am I, thou painted maypole? Speak!
    How low am I? I am not yet so low
    But that my nails can reach unto thine eyes. (3.2.304-313)

    Hermia believes Lysander has fallen out of love with her simply because she is short.  Here we see the folly of the female characters' behavior—without the excuse of enchantment that the males can claim.

  • Gender

    Act 1, Scene 1

    Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword
    And won thy love, doing thee injuries,
    But I will wed thee in another key,
    With pomp, with triumph, and with reveling. (1.1.17-20)

    It turns out that Theseus and Hippolyta are getting hitched because Theseus conquered Hippolyta's people, the Amazons. As we know, the Elizabethans were fascinated by classical myths about Amazons, women who cut or burned off their breasts so they could shoot a bow and arrow more efficiently, raised their daughters to be warriors, dominated their husbands, and treated their sons badly by sending them away, making them do "girlie" housework, and/or by killing them. 

    Why does this matter?  Well, because Amazons dominate men, they flip the traditional European gender system on its head.  In Shakespeare's play, though, men regain their positions of power over women. (Theseus marries the Amazonian Queen he won in battle and, also, Oberon humiliates Titania and takes away her foster child). At least that's how literary critic Adrian Montrose sees it. He  argues that A Midsummer Night's Dream "eventually restores the inverted Amazonian system of gender and nurture to a patriarchal norm."

    Brain Snack: In one of Shakespeare's major sources (Plutarch's "The Life of Theseus"), Theseus easily beats the Amazons in battle and captures Hippolyta after luring her onto his boat.  (According to Plutarch, Theseus is the McLovin of the ancient world, so Hippolyta could hardly resist his charms.)  You can read the story here.

    Take time to pause; and, by the nest new moon
    (The sealing day betwixt my love and me,
    For everlasting bond of fellowship),
    Upon that day either prepare to die
    For disobedience to your father's will,
    Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would;
    Or on Diana's altar to protest
    For aye austerity and single life. (1.1.85-92)

    Hermia is left with very few choices if she refuses to marry the man her father has chosen for her.  Here, we learn that she must either wed Demetrius or choose from the following: 1) become a nun, or 2) die.  It seems that Egeus and Theseus attempt to control Hermia's sexuality by trying to force her into an unwanted marriage or, alternatively, a nunnery, where she will be forced to live a life of "austerity." 

    O, methinks how slow
    This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires
    Like to a stepdame or a dowager
    Long withering out a young man's revenue. (1.1.3-6)

    This is weird and kind of random, don't you think?  When Theseus gripes about having to wait so long for his wedding night with Hippolyta, he compares the moon to a greedy stepmother ("step-dame") or widow ("dowager"), spending all of her son's inheritance.  Theseus's complaint seems directed at women in general, so we're immediately aware that the play will dramatize some gender tension.

    What say you, Hermia? be advised fair maid.
    To you your father should be as a god,
    One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
    To whom you are but as a form in wax
    By him imprinted and within his power
    To leave the figure or disfigure it.
    Demetrius is a worthy gentleman. (1.1.47-53)

    Theseus says that fathers are like "gods" and daughters are like globs of wax.  (This is a pretty common idea in 16th-century literature, where kids are often said to look like their fathers because they're "imprint[ed]" by their dads' images, much humans are said to be made in God's image.)  Here, Theseus's metaphor is sinister because he says that, because Egeus had the power to make Hermia in his own image, he also has the "power" to "disfigure" her (body/face) if he feels like it. 


    You have her father's love, Demetrius.
    Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him. (1.1.95-96)

    Lysander makes a pretty good point here—Egeus and Demetrius get along far better than Demetrius and Hermia.  In fact, Hermia has been left out of the marriage negotiations altogether.  The contract has been put together by two men.

    I beg the ancient privilege of Athens:
    As she is mine, I may dispose of her,
    Which shall be either to this gentleman
    Or to her death, according to our law
    Immediately provided in that case. (1.1.42-46)

    Egeus has arranged for his daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius, but Hermia refuses because she's in love with Lysander.  Egeus is enraged because, according to him, he can "dispose" of Hermia as he pleases. (Yikes!)  Hermia's struggle against her father dramatizes the kind of situation in which young Elizabethan women often found themselves. In Shakespeare's day, young, unmarried women were considered their parents' property and were encouraged to obey their parents' wishes when it came to choosing a husband.  

    FYI – Shakespeare dramatizes this struggle between daughters and parents repeatedly: in The Taming of the Shrew, Baptista arranges Kate's marriage to Petruchio against her wishes; in The Merchant of Venice, Portia's dad sets up a lottery to determine who his daughter will marry; in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet's parents try to force her to hook up with Paris.

    Act 1, Scene 2

    What is Thisbe?—a wand'ring knight?

    It is the lady that Pyramus must love.

    Nay, faith, let me not play a woman. I have a beard coming.

    That's all one. You shall play it in a mask, and
    you may speak as small as you will.

    An I may hide my face, let me play Thisbe too, I'll
    speak in a monstrous little voice: "Thisne,
    Thisne!"—"Ah, Pyramus, lover dear! thy Thisbe dear,
    and lady dear!" (1.2.43-52)

    When the Mechanicals discuss how Flute will cross-dress and play the role of Thisbe, we're reminded that all female roles were played by male actors on Shakespeare's stage.  Usually, these parts were given to prepubescent boys with high-pitched or "monstrous little" voices.  Shakespeare is always joking about this in his plays.

    Act 2, Scene 1

    Ay, in the temple, in the town, the field,
    You do me mischief. Fie, Demetrius!
    Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex.
    We cannot fight for love, as men may do.
    We should be wooed and were not made to woo. (2.1.245-249)

    Here, Helena points out that, even though it's not socially acceptable for women to be aggressive in the pursuit of love, she doesn't care. On the one hand, Helena acts like a creepy stalker when she chases Demetrius around after the guy's made it perfectly clear that he's not in love with her.  On the other hand, Helena's point about double standards raises an interesting question: Why is it OK for men to "fight for love" when women are expected to be passive?  Remember, Theseus literally won Hippolyta with his "sword" when he conquered her people (see quote #2).


    Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.

    What, jealous Oberon? Fairies, skip hence.
    I have forsworn his bed and company.

    Tarry, rash wanton: am not I thy lord?

    Then I must be thy lady. But I know
    When thou hast stolen away from fairy land,
    And in the shape of Corin sat all day (2.1.62-68)

    King Oberon and Queen Titania's tumultuous relationship is often described as the ultimate "battle of the sexes."  Like Kate and Petruchio in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, the fairy King and Queen are constantly at each other's throats.  Their feud over Titania's foster child (Oberon wants him to be his private page but Titania won't give him up) is so fierce that it throws nature into disarray and causes the worst weather imaginable.

    Act 3, Scene 2
    Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

    My mistress with a monster is in love.
    Titania waked and straightway loved an ass.

    This falls out better than I could devise. (3.2.6; 36-37)

    Remember when we said that A Midsummer Night's Dream restores social order by reinstating traditional gender hierarchies?  Well, here's the evidence.  By sloshing the magic love juice in Titania's eyes, Oberon manages to make the Fairy Queen 1) fall in love with the ass-headed Bottom, and 2) give up her foster child to Oberon.  In other words, Oberon wins the battle of the sexes by humiliating Titania and stripping her of the mother-son relationship she enjoyed with the little "changeling" boy. 

  • Transformation

    Act 1, Scene 1

    With cunning hast thou filched my daughter's heart,
    Turned her obedience (which is due to me)
    To stubborn harshness. (1.1.137-139)

    According to Egeus, Lysander has used his charms and "cunning" to transform his once obedient daughter into a stubborn girl. 


    Before the time I did Lysander see
    Seem'd Athens as a paradise to me.
    O, then, what graces in my love do dwell
    That he hath turned a heaven unto a hell! (1.1.209-212)

    It's clear from Hermia's ranting that love also has the capacity to change the way we view our surroundings.  According to Hermia, her love for Lysander has transformed her own home into a nightmare world. 


    Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword
    And won thy love doing thee injuries,
    But I will wed thee in another key,
    With pomp, with triumph, and with reveling. (1.1.17-20)

    Theseus believes love has the transformative power to change him from Hippolyta's enemy to her lover and to change Hippolyta from an Amazon Queen to a happy wife.


    He will not know what all but he do know.
    And as he errs, doting on Hermia's eyes,
    So I, admiring of his qualities.
    Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
    Love can transpose to form and dignity.
    Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
    And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind. (1.1.235-241)

    Here, Helena admits that she loves many of Demetrius's "base and vile" qualities. It seems that love has the capacity to blind us (figuratively speaking) to the truth. This idea comes up again when Titania literally falls in love with Bottom—a "base and vile" creature.

    Act 2, Scene 1

    Fetch me that flower; the herb I showed thee once.
    The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
    Will make or man or woman madly dote
    Upon the next live creature that it sees. (2.1.175-178)

    Oberon tells us that, when the magic love "juice" is sprinkled into someone's eyes, it causes the person to fall instantly in love with the first creature he or she sees. Shakespeare seems to have borrowed this concept from Book 14 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, where Circe uses a magic potion to transform men into beasts. 

    Act 3, Scene 1
    Peter Quince

    Bless thee, Bottom! bless thee! thou art

    I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of  
    me, (3.1.120-123)

    After Puck has "translated" Bottom's head into that of an ass, Bottom becomes the butt of Shakespeare's biggest joke about transformation. Clueless that he's been transformed, Bottom declares that his friends have run away from him in fear because they're trying to "make an ass" out of him (3.1.16).  Shakespeare probably got the idea from Apuleius's Golden Ass, a hilarious and ancient story about a guy who's turned into a donkey.  Bottom's conversion is also key to the play's theme of transformation, a concept Shakespeare borrowed from Ovid's Metamorphoses.


    Out of this wood do not desire to go.
    Thou shalt remain here whether thou wilt or no.
    And I will purge thy mortal grossness so
    That thou shalt like an airy spirit go. (3.1.154-155; 162-163)

    There's a dark element of coercion here, where Titania informs Bottom that he'll remain in the wood with her, regardless of whether or not he wants to. What's more, Titania is ready to use her magic to physically transform Bottom's mortal body into that of an "airy spirit." 

    I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again.
    Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note,
    So is mine eye enthrallèd to thy shape,
    And thy fair virtue's force perforce doth move me
    On the first view, to say, to swear, I love thee. (3.1.139-143)

    Bottom has literally been transformed into an ass, but here it's obvious that Titania has undergone a transformation as well.  Oberon's love juice has turned the once-feisty and intelligent queen into a silly, love struck woman with no ability to judge appearances.  Though we know that Bottom's voice and appearance as a donkey are particularly unappealing, Titania's love for him seems to have changed his faults into virtues (in her mind anyway).  We remember that Helena said pretty much the same thing about Demetrius's character flaws back in Quote #4.

    Act 3, Scene 2

    Lysander, keep thy Hermia. I will none.
    If e'er I loved her, all that love is gone.
    My heart to her but as guest-wise sojourned,
    And now to Helen is it home returned,
    There to remain. (3.2.72-76)

    Demetrius has been enchanted, which should excuse him, but remember that this will be his second transformation in love. First he loved Helena, then he loved Hermia, and now he loves Helena again. Though we know this last transformation was caused by magic, he was fickle even before being enchanted.


    Why are you grown so rude? What change is this,
    Sweet love?

    Thy love! Out, tawny Tartar, out!
    Out, loathèd med'cine! O hated potion, hence! (3.2.172-175)

    In this play, female characters have a harder time accepting the transformation of their loved ones.  Here Hermia refuses to believe Lysander does not lover her, and earlier Helena had difficulty comprehending Demetrius's change of affections.

  • Art and Culture

    Act 1, Scene 1

    Go, Philostrate,
    Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments.
    Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth.
    Turn melancholy forth to funerals;
    The pale companion is not for our pomp. (1.1.12-16)

    Here, Theseus orders his Master of the Revels to drum up some entertainment and a general party atmosphere.  In Shakespeare's day, the Master of the Revels was the title of the royal court's official party planner.  He was in charge of hiring entertainers and deciding which plays could be performed on public stages in and around London.  He also had the authority to censor plays that were offensive or potentially rebellious in theme or content. 

    Act 1, Scene 2
    Peter Quince

    Here is the scroll of every man's name which
    is thought fit, through all Athens, to play in our
    interlude before the Duke and the Duchess on his
    wedding-day at night. (1.2.4-7)

    Here, we learn that the Mechanicals (craftsmen) want to perform a play to help celebrate Duke Theseus's marriage to Hippolyta.  When Shakespeare wrote <em>A Midsummer Night's Dream</em>, craftsmen didn't usually run around putting on plays like this.  Back in early medieval England, though, guilds of craftsmen got together each year and put on plays for the Corpus Christi festival.  Shakespeare's "Mechanicals" are a shout-out to the medieval craftsmen who moonlighted as amateur actors each year. 

    Marry, our play is, "The most lamentable comedy, and
    most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe."

    A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a
    merry. Now, good Peter Quince, call forth your
    actors by the scroll. Masters, spread yourselves. (1.2.11-16)

    Quince announces that the Mechanicals want to perform Pyramus and Thisbe, the classic story of two young lovers who meet a tragic end after trying to elope. It's obvious that Quince and Bottom don't know anything about the difference between the genres of comedy and tragedy. They imagine performing Pyramus and Thisbe as a "lamentable comedy" and Bottom even suggests the play will be "merry." As it turns out, their performance in Act 5, Scene 1 is pretty hilarious, but only because the Mechanicals are terrible actors and know nothing about staging plays.

    We also want to point out that the basic story line of Pyramus and Thisbe echoes what happens to Hermia and Lysander in Act 1, Scene 1 when they're forbidden to marry. (Yes, Shakespeare also had Pyramus and Thisbe in mind when he wrote Romeo and Juliet.)  Shakespeare likely read the story of Pyramus and Thisbe in Book 4 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, which was translated from Latin into to English in 1565 by a guy named Arthur Golding. You can check out our summary of Book 4 of the Metamorphoses here.


    An I may hide my face, let me play Thisbe too, I'll
    speak in a monstrous little voice. 'Thisne,
    Thisne!' 'Ah, Pyramus, lover dear! thy Thisbe dear,
    and lady dear!' (1.2.49-52)

    When Bottom volunteers to play the role of Thisbe and make his voice high-pitched, Shakespeare alludes to the fact that all female roles were played by male actors on Shakespeare's stage.  Usually, these parts were given to boys with high-pitched or "monstrous little" voices.

    Act 4, Scene 2

    Masters, the Duke is coming from the temple,
    and there is two or three lords and ladies more 
    married. If our sport had gone forward, we had all
    been made men.
    O, sweet bully Bottom! Thus hath he lost sixpence a day during his life; he could not have sixpence a day: an the duke had not given him'scaped six pence a day for playing Pyramus, I'll be hanged. He would have deserved it. Six pence a day in Pyramus, or nothing. (4.2.15-24)

    Snug is excited at the prospect of getting to perform before the Duke because he thinks it's an opportunity for social advancement. He imagines his crew becoming "made men" and earning "sixpence" for their efforts.  

    Brain Snack:  Technically, Shakespeare the actor/playwright was a commoner, but he was so successful that he was able to buy property and even applied for a coat of arms.  However, it doesn't seem like the Mechanicals are headed in the same direction, does it?

    Act 5, Scene 1
    Peter Quince

    If we offend, it is with our goodwill.
    That you should think, we come not to offend,
    But with goodwill. To show our simple skill,
    That is the true beginning of our end.
    Consider then, we come but in despite.
    We do not come, as minding to content you,
    Our true intent is. All for your delight
    We are not here. That you should here repent
    The actors are at hand, and, by their show,
    You shall know all that you are like to know, (5.1.108-117)

    Quince butchers the prologue with bad punctuation, lousy rhymes, obvious statements, and by telling the entire story before it happens.  Typically, this kind of information was reserved for the epilogue at the end of the play.  In fact, the Epilogue (speech at the end) of A Midsummer Night's Dream has a lot in common with the Mechanicals' prologue. What's up with that?

    Thus die I, thus, thus, thus.
    Now am I dead;
    Now am I fled;
    My soul is in the sky.
    Tongue, lose thy light!
    Moon, take thy flight! [Moonshine exits.]
    Now die, die, die, die, die.  [Pyramus falls.] (5.1.316-322)

    This death scene is pretty ridiculous, but it is a play on what we have seen before in Shakespeare. The Pyramus and Thisbe story is a parallel to Romeo and Juliet, playing on the double-suicide of lovers who go to their deaths because of a misunderstanding. Shakespeare is proving here that all that stands between a comedic ending and a tragic one is good poetry and better acting.


    The kinder we, to give them thanks for nothing.
    Our sport shall be to take what they mistake;
    And what poor duty cannot do, noble respect
    Takes it in might, not merit. (5.1.95-98)

    Here, we're reminded that, even though the amateur actors are pretty lousy, they certainly mean well.  We can also see that, if you want to be an actor (like Bottom and Peter Quince do), then you've got to put yourself out there and be willing to humiliate yourself in the process. 

    What are they that do play it?

    Hard-handed men that work in Athens here,
    Which never laboured in their minds till now,
    And now have toiled their unbreathed memories
    With this same play, against your nuptial.

    And we will hear it.

    No, my noble lord,
    It is not for you: I have heard it over,
    And it is nothing, nothing in the world,
    Unless you can find sport in their intents,
    Extremely stretch'd and conn'd with cruel pain
    To do you service. (5.1.75-86)

    When Philostrate refers to the Mechanicals as men who have "never labour'd in their minds till now," he suggests the craftsmen are incompetent actors because they're uneducated.  Is this the play's overall attitude toward acting and the theater?  It certainly seems that way, because the Mechanicals are clueless about common theatrical conventions (basic staging, use of props, and so on) and butcher the names of classical places and figures during the performance.  Is Shakespeare being a snob or, is he depicting his profession as a craft that requires skill and intelligence?

    Come now; what masques, what dances shall we have
    To wear away this long age of three hours
    Between our after-supper and bed-time?
    Where is our usual manager of mirth?
    What revels are in hand? Is there no play
    To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?
    Call Philostrate. (5.1.34-41)

    A lot of literary critics have pointed out that, in terms of plot, the craftsmen's actual performance of Pyramus and Thisbe (Act 5, Scene 1) isn't even necessary because, by the time the Mechanicals perform their play, Shakespeare has already wrapped things up by marrying off all of his couples and assuring us of a happy ending.  So, why does Shakespeare bother with the Mechanicals' performance?  Is it just to torture his newly married couples by delaying their wedding night?  Something else? 

    Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
    The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
    Are of imagination all compact: (5.1.4; 7-8)

    After hearing the young Athenians' stories, Theseus says that madmen, lovers, and poets have a lot in common—they're all highly imaginative and also a little nuts. 


    This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard.

    The best in this kind are but shadows; and 
    the worst are no worse, if imagination amend
    them. (5.1.223-226)

    Hippolyta thinks this play is really bad, but Theseus counters that all plays are probably bad, because they are by nature so far removed from reality. In other words, Theseus suggests that theater is far removed from real life and therefore cannot teach us anything about it. Still, is this really true?

    Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

    If we shadows have offended,
    Think but this, and all is mended:
    That you have but slumbered here
    While these visions did appear.
    And this weak and idle theme,
    No more yielding but a dream, (5.1.440-445)

    In the Epilogue to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck encourages the audience to think of Shakespeare's play as nothing "but a dream." Why make such a comparison?  Like dreams, plays aren't real— they're the product of imagination and fantasy and involve the momentary suspension of reality.  

  • The Supernatural

    Act 2, Scene 1
    Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

    And sometime lurk I in a gossip's bowl
    In very likeness of a roasted crab,
    And, when she drinks, against her lips I bob,
    And on her withered dewlap pour the ale.
    The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
    Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
    Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
    And "tailor" cries, and falls into a cough,
    And then the whole choir hold their hips and laugh,
    And waxen in their mirth and neeze and swear
    A merrier hour was never wasted there. (2.1.49-59)

    Puck's magic is less mean-spirited than mischievous.  He likes to play practical jokes that have the same homespun, playful nature of the villagers he teases.  Most importantly, his magic, though naughty, is not wicked.  The point is to make people be merry, as laughter is its own kind of magic.

    How now, spirit! whither wander you?

    Over hill, over dale,
    Thorough bush, thorough brier,
    Over park, over pale,
    Thorough flood, thorough fire;
    I do wander every where,
    Swifter than the moon's sphere.
    And I serve the Fairy Queen,
    To dew her orbs upon the green.
    The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
    In their gold coats spots you see;
    Those be rubies, fairy favors;
    In those freckles live their savors. (2.1.1-13)

    It is important to note that the fairy is not talking about magic here, but about the natural world.  The magic is not about what the fairies do to nature, but about the beauty they see in it instead.  In this way, the wood makes for the perfect pastoral, as it's magical and beautiful by the very nature of its setting.


    Come, now a roundel and a fairy song;
    Then, for the third part of a minute, hence—
    Some to kill cankers in the muskrose buds,
    Some war with reremice for their leathern wings
    To make my small elves coats; and some keep back
    The clamorous owl that nightly hoots and wonders
    At our quaint spirits. (2.2.1-7)

    Titania describes her fairies as being at odds with the natural world, which is new.  Up to this point, there is much emphasis on the natural world complementing the fairies' magic. However, the picture becomes more rich and complex when we realize that the fairies have struggles (or at least inconveniences) in the natural world as well.


    That very time I saw (but thou couldst not)
    Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
    Cupid, all arm'd; a certain aim he took
    At a fair vestal, throned by the west,
    And loos'd his love-shaft smartly from his bow
    As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts.
    But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
    Quench'd in the chaste beams of the wat'ry moon,
    And the imperial vot'ress passèd on,
    In maiden meditation, fancy-free.
    Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell.
    It fell upon a little western flower,
    Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,
    And maidens call it "love-in-idleness."
    Fetch me that flow'r, the herb I showed thee once.
    The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
    Will make or man or woman madly dote
    Upon the next live creature that it sees. (2.1.1561-178)

    Oberon explains why the pansy has a magical quality.  His explanation reveals magic's complexity, and how many strange factors magic relies on, especially the natural world. Cupid's arrows, aimed at a royal virgin, were misdirected by the beams of the moon, as the moon is personified by Diana, the virgin goddess.  As a result, Cupid's arrow hits the pansy, which becomes magic.  Shakespeare thus reveals that magic is not just some cheap tool that can easily explain away holes in a plot—it is actually the intersection between the mythic and natural worlds.

    seek through this grove.
    A sweet Athenian lady is in love
    With a disdainful youth; anoint his eyes,
    But do it when the next thing he espies
    May be the lady. Thou shalt know the man
    By the Athenian garments he hath on.
    Effect it with some care, that he may prove
    More fond on her than she upon her love. (2.1.267-274)

    At first, it seems Oberon means to do good with his magic, but it turns out there is a streak of mischief in him after all.  He wishes Demetrius to fall in love with Helena, but he wants Demetrius to be so in love with Helena that she will get annoyed. This raises the question of whether magic always has to be a little devious. Magic does not come from the natural world, so it makes sense that it plays out in a slightly twisted (or unnatural) way.

    Act 3, Scene 2
    Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

    My fairy lord, this must be done with haste,
    For night's swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,
    And yonder shines Aurora's harbinger,
    At whose approach ghosts, wand'ring here and
    Troop home to churchyards. Damned spirits all
    That in crossways and floods have burial,
    Already to their wormy beds are gone.
    For fear lest day should look their shames upon,
    They willfully themselves exile from light,
    And must for aye consort with black-browed night. (3.2.399-409)

    Puck reminds us that there is more than just white magic and the natural world's beauty. For the ghostly dead spirits, the night is not a time of merriment, but a good time to hide themselves in shame from the light of day. The supernatural element of black magic is not central to the play, but is still used as yet another way to contrast different worlds.


    But we are spirits of another sort.
    I with the Morning's love have oft made sport
    And, like a forester, the groves may tread
    Even till the eastern gate, all fiery red,
    Opening on Neptune with fair blessed beams,
    Turns into yellow gold his salt green streams.
    But, notwithstanding, haste, make no delay.
    We may effect this business yet ere day. (3.2.410-417)

    Oberon points out that the fairies are not dark spirits cursed to stay out of daylight.  He and the fairies wander freely morning, noon, and night.  These habits contrast with those of Puck, who is always trying to get out of morning's way.  By pointing out that fairies can be out during the day, Oberon casts suspicion on Puck's nocturnal limitation.  Puck, like the graveyard ghosts, seems to have some element in his magic that's more sinister than that of the others.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Act 2, Scene 1

    These are the forgeries of jealousy;
    And never, since the middle summer's spring,
    Met we on hill, in dale, forest, or mead,
    By paved fountain, or by rushy brook,
    Or in the beached margent of the sea,
    To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
    But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
    Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
    As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
    Contagious fogs; which, falling in the land,
    Hath every pelting river made so proud
    That they have overborne their continents.
    The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
    The plowman lost his sweat, and the green corn
    Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard.
    The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
    And crows are fatted with the murrain flock.
    The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
    And the quaint mazes in the wanton green,
    For lack of tread, are undistinguishable.
    The human mortals want their winter here.
    No night is now with hymn or carol blest.
    Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
    Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
    That rheumatic diseases do abound.
    And thorough this distemperature we see
    The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
    Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
    And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
    An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
    Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer,
    The childing autumn, angry winter, change
    Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world
    By their increase, now knows not which is which.
    And this same progeny of evils comes
    From our debate, from our dissension;
    We are their parents and original. (2.1.84-120)

    Titania, Queen of the Fairies, reveals that it isn't the magical realm, but the natural world that is disturbed by her quarrels with Oberon. The relationship between magic and the natural world is highlighted here. This long list of what's gone wrong in the world could very well be a list of unfortunate occurrences in the natural world: the weather is bad, hardworking farmers find their corn is rotting, and the seasons are all screwed up. It all points to the fact that things must be right in the magical world if there is to be balance in the natural world.  Man can see the effects of magic on his environment, but he is likely to interpret them as some natural failing, not a magical one.

    Act 3, Scene 1
    Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

    I'll follow you. I'll lead you about a round,
    Through bog, through bush, through brake, 
    through brier; Sometime a horse I'll be, sometime a hound,
    A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire,
    And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
    Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn. (3.1.107-113)

    Puck lists off a group of truly fearsome things, but you'll note that none of them are magic. They are all little terrors that abound in nature.  Nature itself, without the aid of magic, can be terrifying to humans.


    Be kind and courteous to this gentleman.
    Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes;
    Feed him with apricocks and dewberries,
    With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries;
    The honey bags steal from the humble-bees,
    And for night-tapers crop their waxen thighs
    And light them at the fiery glow-worm's eyes
    To have my love to bed and to arise;
    And pluck the wings from painted butterflies
    To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes.
    Nod to him, elves, and do him courtesies. (3.1.170-180)

    Again the Fairy Queen, who has access to magic, calls for the finest things of nature to be given to her lover.  These luxuries are at their best when they are natural, so there is no need for magical enhancement. Further, it makes sense that Titania's fairies are all named for natural and country things.  It adds to the evidence that the natural world complements the magical one, rather than contrasts it.

    Act 3, Scene 2
    Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

    And the country proverb known,
    That every man should take his own,
    In your waking shall be shown.
    Jack shall have Jill;
    Nought shall go ill;
    The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be
    well. (3.2.487-493)

    Puck quips that he is setting matters back to their natural state.  However, there is a hint of inequality about the natural states here.  Men "take" their "own" women, and men shall have their "mares" to ride. The natural state here is not just one of love, but also of masculine ownership of women.  It is about the nature of the pastoral too—when women are in the wood, they gain a certain amount of freedom that they would not have at court. Once the young women go back to Athens—though they will return with their respective loves—they will leave behind some of their freedom and equality.  In Shakespeare's day, this ownership was part of a woman's "natural state."

    Act 5, Scene 1

    Now, until the break of day,
    Through this house each fairy stray.
    To the best bride-bed will we,
    Which by us shall blessèd be,
    And the issue there create
    Ever shall be fortunate.
    So shall all the couples three
    Ever true in loving be,
    And the blots of Nature's hand
    Shall not in their issue stand.
    Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar,
    Nor mark prodigious, such as are
    Despised in nativity,
    Shall upon their children be. (5.1.418-431)

    Right before this speech of Oberon's, Puck gave a pretty dark view of the rest of the world. Oberon rescues the play from a dark ending by giving a lighter, happier account of man's place in the natural world.  The Fairy King touches on man's natural means to immortality: the act of procreation.  Though the characters will naturally die, their love will live on in their children.  Again, Oberon is responsible for showing magic in the natural world.

  • Versions of Reality

    Act 2, Scene 1

    Help me, Lysander, help me; do thy best
    To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast.
    Ay me, for pity! What a dream was here!
    Lysander, look how I do quake with fear.
    Methought a serpent eat my heart away,
    And you sat smiling at his cruel prey. (2.2.152-157)

    Hermia's dream is a mirror for reality; while Hermia sleeps, Lysander deserts her and renounces his love for her.  In the dream, Hermia is abandoned (which is true), but she is also betrayed by Lysander.  The dream is also a reflection for what's about to come.  Hermia battles the snake (Helena) in the dream and in the actual wood, though Lysander is really at fault for letting Hermia get hurt, both in the dream world and in reality.

    Act 3, Scene 2

    Then crush this herb into Lysander's eye,
    Whose liquor hath this virtuous property,
    To take from thence all error with his might
    And make his eyeballs roll with wonted sight.
    When they next wake, all this derision
    Shall seem a dream and fruitless vision.
    And back to Athens shall the lovers wend,
    With league whose date till death shall never end. (3.2.387-394)

    Oberon posits that this night's crazy events will seem like a dream tomorrow, which will hopefully cause the four Athenian lovers to forget everything and go back to Athens as proper pairs.  The Athenians are thus able to choose their own version of reality – they can consider the night either real or a dream.

    Act 4, Scene 1

    And, gentle Puck, take this transformèd scalp
    From off the head of this Athenian swain,
    That he awaking when the other do
    May all to Athens back again repair
    And think no more of this night's accidents
    But as the fierce vexation of a dream.
    But first I will release the Fairy Queen. (4.1.65-71)

    Oberon again hints that, if all of the young Athenians think of the past night as a dream, everything will be forgotten.  This way, not only do the lovers have some easy resolution, but Puck and Oberon are absolved of any blame for their mischief and manipulation.  The dream world, in this respect, is as much a remedy as an excuse.

    Act 5, Scene 1
    Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

    Now the hungry lion roars,
    And the wolf behowls the moon,
    Whilst the heavy ploughman snores,
    All with weary task fordone.
    Now the wasted brands do glow,
    Whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud,
    Puts the wretch that lies in woe
    In remembrance of a shroud.
    Now it is the time of night
    That the graves, all gaping wide,
    Every one lets forth his sprite
    In the church-way paths to glide.
    And we fairies, that do run
    By the triple Hecate's team
    From the presence of the sun,
    Following darkness like a dream,
    Now are frolic. (5.1.388-407)

    Puck draws attention back to the darkness of the play.  In the courtly world, the feuds have ended, the lovers have all wed, and everything seems to be moving toward a happily-ever-after. Puck reminds us, though, that another reality still exists, one where nighttime is not for lovemaking and fairies, but for terrifying animals and the dead.  Puck is the perfect candidate to make this reminder, as he is neither fairy nor human, but one who straddles both worlds and thus has an arguably more objective perspective about each of their versions of reality.

    If we shadows have offended,
    Think but this, and all is mended:
    That you have but slumbered here
    While these visions did appear.
    And this weak and idle theme,
    No more yielding but a dream,
    Gentles, do not reprehend.
    If you pardon, we will mend.
    And, as I am an honest Puck,
    If we have unearned luck
    Now to scape the serpent's tongue,
    We will make amends ere long,
    Else the Puck a liar call.
    So, good night unto you all.
    Give me your hands, if we be friends,
    And Robin shall restore amends. (5.1.440-455)

    Puck's final speech is a good indication of where Shakespeare was in his writing career. This is not the best storyline he has created, but he writes it when he is at the peak of his comic form.  In this way, it is a frothy piece, but beautifully written and worthwhile for that reason.  While it does not meet the high standards of drama that his tragedies do, he would like to present it to you as a dream, which excuses him from creating a moving and amazing storyline and lets him just revel for a bit in the magic of his art as a poet.


    More strange than true. I never may believe
    These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
    Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
    Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
    More than cool reason ever comprehends.
    The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
    Are of imagination all compact.
    One sees more devils than vast hell can hold:
    That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
    Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt.
    The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
    Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to
    And as imagination bodies forth
    The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
    Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
    A local habitation and a name.
    Such tricks hath strong imagination
    That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
    It comprehends some bringer of that joy.
    Or in the night, imagining some fear,
    How easy is a bush supposed a bear? (5.1.2-23)

    Theseus points out that there is no single reality, but different realities depending on your perspective.  In particular, the lover, the madman, and the poet all suffer from too much imagination, which distorts their versions of reality. The implication is that Theseus is without imagination, and so his version of reality is more practical and thus closer to the truth. Still, we know from Oberon's earlier speech that Titania has helped Theseus on more than one occasion, so he is as subject to magic as anyone else and might be more foolish than the lover, madman, and poet for not being able to see reality as broader than his narrow worldview would have it.

    "The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung
    By an Athenian eunuch to the harp."
    We'll none of that: that have I told my love
    In glory of my kinsman Hercules.
    "The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals,
    Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage."
    That is an old device, and it was played
    When I from Thebes came last a conqueror.
    "The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
    Of Learning, late deceased in beggary."
    That is some satire, keen and critical,
    Not sorting with a nuptial ceremony.
    "A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
    And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth."
    "Merry" and "tragical"? "Tedious" and "brief"?
    That is hot ice and wondrous strange snow!
    How shall we find the concord of this discord? (5.1.48-64)

    All of the possible entertainments are art in some form or another, a retelling of "true" events for a different purpose. In this list, we see that art might also be the act of presenting different versions of reality. It is entertaining for the mind to stretch this way, to consider more than what comes naturally to one's own version of reality.


    But all the story of the night told over,
    And all their minds transfigured so together,
    More witnesseth than fancy's images
    And grows to something of great constancy,
    But howsoever strange and admirable. (5.1.24-28)

    Hippolyta touches on an interesting element of reality: The more a story is repeated and confirmed from multiple sources, the more true it seems, no matter how wondrous it is.  On one hand, it is about the power of numbers, but on the other, it's the same justification for the belief that the Emperor is wearing new clothes. If anything, her statement is proof that no version of reality is more real than another.