A Midsummer Night's Dream Summary
As the play opens, Duke Theseus is hanging out at his palace in Athens with his bride-to-be, Hippolyta, the Amazon queen who was recently defeated by Theseus and his army. Theseus is VERY excited about getting hitched (in just four days) and spending his wedding night with Hippolyta. He promises her that getting married will be a lot more fun than being conquered in battle. Uh, let's sure hope so.
Egeus, an Athenian citizen, arrives at Theseus's palace with a crisis. He's made plans for his daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius, but this other guy named Lysander has managed to steal his daughter's heart. Now Hermia refuses to marry Demetrius. Egeus is outraged and wants Theseus to give Hermia the death sentence for her disobedience, per Athenian law. Because that's not an overreaction or anything.
Duke Theseus wants to be reasonable, so he advises Hermia to be a good girl and listen to her father. Hermia flat-out refuses, so Theseus gives her two alternative options: 1) accept the death penalty as punishment for disobedience, or 2) become a nun and remain a virgin forever. Hermia has four days to decide her fate. Yep—that's Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding day. Coincidence? We think not.
Demetrius and Lysander bicker over who should get to marry the lovely Hermia. Demetrius thinks he should have dibs because Hermia's dad likes him the best and has already given him permission to marry his daughter. Lysander argues that he should get Hermia because Hermia actually loves him. Plus, Demetrius has way too much baggage—he used to go steady with Hermia's friend Helena, who is still in love with Demetrius.
Secretly, Hermia and Lysander make plans to meet in the nearby wood. Once there, they'll run off to Lysander's aunt's house (which is outside of Athenian jurisdiction) and get married. Just as the couple decides to elope, Hermia's friend Helena trips in. Helena is a mess because she still loves Demetrius—she's crushed that he wants to marry Hermia. The young lovers assure Helena that she has nothing to worry about because they're planning to elope, which means that Demetrius will be single and ready to mingle.
After the happy couple leaves, Helena decides to squeal to Demetrius about Hermia and Lysander's plan to run away. That way, Demetrius is sure to follow the runaway lovers, and then Helena can follow Demetrius, which will be fun and cost her nothing but her dignity. With that, we have the makings of a romantic chase.
Meanwhile, a group of Athenian craftsmen (called "the Mechanicals") are preparing to perform a play for Theseus's upcoming wedding. The play will be the tragic tale of two young lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe (think Romeo and Juliet storyline). However, it's clear the Mechanicals are horrible actors and are clueless about how to stage a play. The group decides to practice the play in the wood.
Cut to the woods, where we meet Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow), a mischievous sprite known for the tricks he likes to play on women in the nearby village. This charismatic sprite serves Oberon, King of the Fairies. Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, and Oberon also show up; they're in a fight, which has turned the entire natural world upside down. We're talking seriously bad weather that has caused flooding and famine, which is something Shakespeare's original audience dealt with in the 1590s.
The source of the quarrel is a "lovely" Indian boy that Titania has been raising as a foster son. Oberon is jealous and wants the boy to be his personal page (errand boy). Oberon refuses to dance, revel, or otherwise engage with Titania until she agrees to give up the child. Titania flat-out refuses and says that she'll raise the boy as her own as a favor to the kid's dead mother, who was chummy with Titania back in India.
Oberon makes plans to enchant Titania that evening with a magic love "juice" that will make her fall in love with the first creature she sees. Oberon hopes that when Titania wakes up, she'll see a monstrous beast and fall in love. Hopefully, Titania will be so crazy in love that she'll lose interest in the little boy and hand him over to Oberon. Also, Titania will be totally humiliated.
That evening, Helena and Demetrius wander into the woods. Demetrius tries desperately to get rid of Helena. The problem is that Helena's a clinger—she won't leave him alone because she wants to be his one true love. Watching Helena's pathetic display, Oberon declares that, before the pair leaves the forest, their roles will be reversed: Demetrius should be fawning over Helena. Mischief is afoot! Oberon leaves to enchant Titania with the love potion. He also instructs Puck to find this young man in Athenian clothes (traveling with a girl) and enchant the heck out of him. Little does Puck know that there is more than one young Athenian man in the woods tonight.
Elsewhere in the forest, Lysander and Hermia are lost. It's about time they went to bed, and Lysander suggests that they share a bed on the forest floor. Hermia isn't having it, and tells Lysander to lie a good distance from her. The two fall asleep.
Puck runs into the sleeping pair and, seeing that Lysander is a young man dressed in Athenian clothes, Puck dumps the love juice in his eyes. (Whoops.) Then Helena shows up and accidentally trips over the sleeping Lysander while pursuing Demetrius. Lysander wakes up, immediately declares his love for Helena, and follows her further into the woods.
Meanwhile, Hermia has slept through the love-juice dumping, the tripping and falling, and the declaring of love. When she wakes up and realizes Lysander is gone, she heads off into the woods in search of him, clueless that her boyfriend has fallen in love with her friend Helena.
As the four young lovers chase each other around the forest, the Athenian craftsmen (the Mechanicals) practice their play nearby. It's immediately clear that our crew of amateur actors is pretty incompetent, which amuses Puck, the mischievous sprite who is watching the rehearsal from the sidelines. Puck decides to play a joke on Bottom, one of the worst actors, by transforming the guy's head into that of a donkey.
Once Puck completes his little prank on Bottom, the Mechanicals are terrified of Bottom's donkey head and run away in horror. Bottom, who is oblivious to his transformation, declares that his friends are just trying "to make an ass" of him. (Hehe.) The commotion awakens Titania, who's been sleeping nearby and has been dosed with the magic love juice. She takes one look at Bottom and instantly falls in love.
Meanwhile, Oberon comes across Demetrius and Helena and dumps some love juice in Demetrius's eyes. Uh-oh. Trouble Alert! When Oberon finds out that Titania has fallen in love with an ass, he's thrilled. But then Demetrius and Hermia show up, and Oberon soon figures out that Puck sprinkled the love juice in the wrong Athenian's eyes. (Remember, Puck put the potion in Lysander's eyes instead of Demetrius's.)
Puck returns, leading Helena, who is followed by the lovesick Lysander. Demetrius wakes up and immediately declares Helena to be his goddess. Just in time, Hermia wanders in, lured by the sound of Lysander's voice. Now that the four are together, Lysander declares that he too is in love with Helena. Poor Hermia. Before the four humans entered the woods, both men were in love with her and now Lysander and Demetrius are hot for Helena.
Helena thinks this is just a prank and begins to argue with Hermia. Then the boys fight some more over Helena and challenge each other to a game of fisticuffs. They run off to duke it out somewhere in the wood. Helena decides to take off before Hermia gets violent and scratches her eyes out or something. Hermia chases after her.
Puck and Oberon have been watching all of this. Oberon instructs Puck to cast a shadow over the night, so the feuding boys can't find each other. Once the boys are asleep, Puck is to apply the remedy for the love potion on Lysander's eyes, so that he will fall back in love with Hermia. The hope is that lovers wake up in happy pairs. Puck follows all of these instructions accurately, finally.
Meanwhile, Titania is still having fits of love over Bottom, who is happily being tended to by fairies and the Fairy Queen. Oberon easily got the Indian boy from the love-crazed Titania earlier that evening. Now he sees Titania as pitiful, and reasons that it's time to bring her back to her senses. He asks Puck to transform Bottom to his natural self as well. Oberon un-enchants Titania, and she awakens as if from a dream. Oberon points to donkey-faced Bottom beside her and promises to explain later. Talk about a rough morning-after.
The next morning, Theseus shows up in the woods with Hippolyta (his bride), Egeus (Hermia's dad), and a hunting party. Theseus discovers the four Athenian youths sleeping on the ground in the woods. He wakes them up and wonders what could've brought them all together. Lysander admits his plan to elope with Hermia, and Demetrius also explains that he's now in love with Helena. So both couples are happily in love and seem to have forgotten last night's events. Egeus demands that the death sentence be carried out, but Theseus overrides him, declaring that the youths will all be married alongside him and Hippolyta this evening.
After the older folks leave, the foursome talks about the previous night, admitting it was dreamlike. Bottom wakes up as the young lovers exit and speaks of the strange dream he had. He then hurries back to Athens, where he pleasantly surprises all the Mechanicals with his presence. By this time, the Duke and other couples have all been married, and it's about time for them to seek their celebratory entertainment. The Mechanicals get ready to perform their play.
The play begins. It is the well-known tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, two lovers separated by a wall. They speak through a hole in said wall, and decide to meet by moonlight at Ninus's tomb. Thisbe gets there early, but encounters a lion, which makes her run off, accidentally leaving her cape behind as a chew toy for the lion. Pyramus finds Thisbe's cape all torn and looking like a lion mauled it. He stabs himself, assuming his girl is dead. Thisbe then shows up and also chooses suicide. So everyone's dead, but the audience doesn't take it too seriously because it was so poorly performed. Following the entertainment, Theseus wishes the couples to bed.
Puck returns to the stage to talk about the scary things of night, and to sweep the doorstep, promising the couples will be happy and the house protected. He ends the play by saying that if you feel the play (A Midsummer Night's Dream) was absurd, you need only applaud and imagine the whole thing was a dream.
Act 1, Scene 1
- We meet Duke Theseus at his swanky palace in Athens and learn that he's going to marry Hippolyta (Queen of the Amazons) in four days, during the new moon.
- Our groom-to-be is in a VERY big hurry to enjoy his wedding night, but time is passing way too slowly for Theseus, who lashes out at the moon for being a slowpoke.
- Hippolyta is more reasonable. She assures Theseus that four days will go by in a jiffy and says the moon will "behold the night of [their] solemnities." (Translation: When the moon looks down on Theseus and Hippolyta on their wedding night, it's going to get an eyeful.)
- Theseus sends this guy, Philostrate, the Master of the Revels, to go out into the streets of Athens and get the youth of the city to party so that the time passes quickly.
- Brain Snack: In Shakespeare's day, the Master of the Revels was the title of the royal court's official party planner. Basically, the Master of the Revels 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 didn't kiss up to the monarch enough.
- Theseus turns to Hippolyta and promises her that their wedding will be more joyful than the circumstances under which they got engaged. (As every mythology buff knows, Theseus is alluding to the fact that he captured Hippolyta when he conquered her people, the Amazons. We're guessing the wedding will be a much happier occasion.)
- An Athenian man named Egeus shows up and greets Theseus. Egeus has brought along his daughter Hermia and two guys named Lysander and Demetrius.
- Egeus is not a happy camper.
- He lodges a formal complaint to the Duke against his disobedient daughter, who refuses to marry Demetrius, the guy Egeus has chosen to be her husband.
- According to Egeus, Hermia's been "bewitch'd" by Lysander and refuses to marry Demetrius. (Hmm. Is it just us, or did Desdemona's dad use the same "this guy put a spell on my daughter" argument in Othello?)
- Egeus then cites the wrongs Lysander has committed: Lysander has presented Hermia with various love-tokens, serenaded her by moonlight, and even given her a lock of his hair. (Who does this guy think he is, Romeo?)
- Egeus points out that Hermia is his daughter and therefore his property. Athenian law dictates that Hermia has to marry the guy of his choice... or be put to death.
- Brain Snack: In Shakespeare's England, parents really liked to pick out their kids' spouses. Sometimes, parents even filed lawsuits to try to force their kids into arranged marriages.
- Theseus puts on his Dr. Phil hat and tries to reason with Hermia, but our girl flat-out refuses to marry Demetrius.
- Hermia asks the Duke what the worst-case scenario would be if she didn't marry Demetrius.
- Theseus (who is also Athens's resident Judge Judy) says that, if Hermia refuses to marry Demetrius, she has only two other options: 1) Become a celibate nun or 2) Be put to death.
- Things aren't looking good for Hermia.
- Theseus warns that being a nun is not so great and suggests that Hermia just bite the bullet and marry Demetrius.
- Hermia declares she would rather die a virgin than marry a guy she doesn't love.
- Theseus tells her she should really reconsider and gives her four days to declare her own fate. In other words, Hermia has until Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding day to decide if she'll get married, become a nun, or be sent to the chopping block.
- Demetrius tries to get Hermia and Lysander to give in, but Lysander points out that since Hermia's dad loves Demetrius so much, maybe the two of them should get married.
- Lysander defends his right to marry Hermia: he's equal to Demetrius in pedigree, better off financially, and besides, Hermia actually loves him.
- Furthermore, Lysander claims that Demetrius is known to have previously courted Hermia's friend, Helena, who still has a crush on Demetrius.
- Theseus says he's heard about this and meant to have a talk with Demetrius about it.
- Theseus calls Egeus and Demetrius away with him so he can give them some advice.
- Before the men leave, Theseus advises Hermia to be a good girl and listen to her dad, or deal with Athenian law.
- Lysander and Hermia are left to discuss their bad luck.
- Hermia is really upset by the whole death/nun ultimatum.
- Lysander tries to take everything in strideand famously declares "the course of true love never did run smooth."
- Hermia declares that they should be patient because they're destined to be together.
- Lysander then pipes up that he has a rich, widowed aunt who lives outside of Athens and loves him like a son. They can run away to auntie's house and get hitched because she lives outside the reach of Athenian law. (How convenient.)
- Hermia agrees to meet Lysander in the woods tomorrow night. From there, they can run off and pull a Romeo and Juliet (a.k.a. elope, not commit a double-suicide).
- Hermia's friend Helena then shows up. Helena's a mess because she loves Demetrius but Demetrius wants to marry Hermia.
- Helena says she wishes she could be more like Hermia—pretty, sweet-voiced, and good at making men fall in love with her.
- Hermia points out she hasn't done much to inspire Demetrius. The more she frowns, curses, and hates him, the more he loves her. Go figure.
- Helena has done the opposite, and Demetrius won't give her the time of day.
- Hermia then tells Helena to relax—Demetrius won't be distracted by Hermia anymore because Hermia's going to run off and get hitched to Lysander.
- The lovers explain their plan to Helena: Tomorrow night, they'll meet up in the woods and then run away to get married.
- The happy lovers exit after wishing Helena good luck with Demetrius.
- Helena, now alone, feels sorry for herself for being in love with a guy who won't give her the time of day.
- Helena tries to understand why Demetrius fell out of love with her (and fell in love with Hermia).
- Helena decides the best thing to do is tattle to Demetrius that Hermia plans to elope with Lysander. She reasons that she's got nothing to lose and thinks that maybe Demetrius will be so grateful that he'll change his mind and fall in love with her again. (Um. OK.)
Act 1, Scene 2
- Elsewhere in Athens, a group of "Mechanicals" (a.k.a., craftsmen) meet up to practice a play they plan to perform at Theseus and Hippolyta's upcoming wedding.
- Individually, they are Peter Quince the carpenter, Snug the joiner, Bottom the weaver, Flute the bellows mender, Snout the tinker, and Starveling the tailor. ( FYI—All of the men's names are a clever play on their professions. You can read more on this by going to "Tools of Characterization.")
- Quince is the brains of the operation, and he'll lead the Mechanicals as they rehearse and then perform the chosen play, The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe.
- Brain Snack: Pyramus and Thisbe is a story from Roman mythology about two young lovers who die tragically after running off to elope. Sound familiar? It's one of the major literary sources for Romeo and Juliet, which Shakespeare wrote around the same time as A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare got the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from Book 4 of Ovid's Metamorphoses.
- Bottom, who is definitely not the brains of the operation, announces that it sounds like a happy piece of work for the wedding night. We're guessing that Bottom missed the whole "cruel death" part.
- Quince proceeds to assign each man his role.
- Bottom is to be "Pyramus," the male lead. Bottom asks if Pyramus is a lover or a tyrant. Quince responds that Pyramus is a lover who dies for love. Bottom promises to bring the audience to tears, though he thinks he'd be better at playing a tyrant. He's also sure he could put on a good Hercules. Bottom delivers some really bad poetry to prove the point.
- Quince keeps reading down the role assignments.
- Flute will be "Thisbe." Unfortunately, Thisbe is not the wandering knight Flute had hoped, but a woman in love (remember, in Shakespeare's day, women's roles were played by young men). Flute claims he can't do this role because he's sure his beard will grow in soon. Anyway, Quince points out that the peach fuzz is irrelevant; Flute will play Thisbe in a mask. Deal with it.
- Bottom heartily volunteers to play Thisbe, too, and claims he can make his voice tiny, womanly, and beautiful.
- Quince continues to assign the roles: Starveling will be Thisbe's mother and Quince, her father. Snout will play Pyramus's father, and Snug will play the part of the lion, which is nothing but roaring.
- After hearing about the roaring, Bottom offers to play the lion, too, as he can roar quite fearsomely. Still, the terrifying noises might upset the ladies, so Bottom volunteers to roar as gently as a dove.
- Quince cuts off all of this nonsense: Bottom must play Pyramus because he's the prettiest and most gentlemanly of the group.
- Then there's a long discussion about what kind of beard Bottom should have for the role.
- Bottom wonders if he should wear a "French-crown-colour beard" (a.k.a. a beard that's the color of a French gold coin or "crown").
- Quince takes this opportunity to crack a dirty joke about there being so many bald "French crowns" in the world. (This is a reference to "the French disease," syphilis, a STD that causes your hair to fall out if it's left untreated.)
- After this little exchange, Quince tells his crew to memorize their lines and meet in the woods tomorrow night. Since it's private and shielded from the Athenian court, it's the perfect rehearsal spot.
- Bottom confirms the plans, as well as his commitment to act obscenely (we don't think that word means what he thinks it means), and the craftsmen depart.
- Brain Snack: When Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream, 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. So, Shakespeare's "Mechanicals" are a shout-out to the craftsmen who moonlighted as amateur actors each year.
Act 2, Scene 1
- In an enchanted wood, we meet a "puck" (mischievous sprite) named Robin Goodfellow. (Note: In some editions of the play, he's referred to simply as "Puck." We use Puck and Robin interchangeably in our discussion.)
- Puck greets a fairy, who says she's been busy wandering "over hill, over dale, / Thorough bush, thorough brier, / Over park, over pale." Translation: She flies around the woods running errands for the Fairy Queen (Titania).
- The fairy announces that she needs to collect some more dewdrops and deposit pearls in some flowers because her boss, the Fairy Queen is on her way and she wants the place to look nice.
- After this lovely and enchanting speech, the fairy insults Puck by calling him a "lob" of spirits, which is basically means that Puck is the hillbilly of the spirit world.
- Puck snaps back that the Fairy King (Oberon) is also having a fairy party that night, so the Fairy Queen better watch her back and stay out of Oberon's way. (We're sensing some tension here, kids.)
- Pucks says that Titania and Oberon have been fighting over a "lovely boy stol'n from an Indian king." Oberon wants the kid to be his personal page (errand boy), but Titania wants him for herself—she spends all her time crowning him with flowers and doting on him.
- We learn that Titania and Oberon are supposed to be a couple, but they don't even spend time together anymore.
- The fairy recognizes Puck and tells us all about his infamous pranks: frightening village girls, ruining batches of homemade butter, leading people astray as they travel at night, and so on.
- Puck brags that his boss, Oberon, loves his pranks and tricks. Puck also tells us about the good times he's had making old ladies spill their drinks and fall on the ground (by pretending to be a stool and then disappearing when they try to sit).
- Just then, Titania and Oberon enter from opposite sides of the stage and face off like a couple of cowboys at the O.K. Corral instead of the King and Queen of Fairy Land.
- Titania orders her fairies to scram and tells us that she's no longer sharing a bed with Oberon.
- Titania accuses Oberon of sleeping around with other women—she knows for a fact that Oberon disguised himself as a shepherd so he could hook up with a country girl.
- Titania then accuses Oberon of being Hippolyta's lover. (Remember, Hippolyta is the Queen of the Amazons and she's about to marry Theseus.)
- Oberon fights back. He accuses Titania of having the hots for Theseus and of stealing Theseus away from a bunch of his other mistresses (Perigouna, Aegles, Ariadne, and Antiopa, to name a few).
- Titania says he's just jealous—so jealous that he hasn't let her and her fairies do any of their special nature dances since spring, which has the natural world all messed up. Because he keeps interrupting their rituals, it's been windy and foggy, and the rivers are all flooding, which is causing serious damage to the local crops.We learn that Titania and Oberon's big feud has thrown the natural world into chaos. Lately, it's been windy, foggy, and the rivers are all flooding, which is causing serious damage to the local crops.
- Brain Snack: Some literary scholars (like Gail Kern Paster and Skiles Howard) say that this is a reference to how, in Europe during the 1590s, seriously bad weather ruined crops, which caused food shortages, which, in turn, caused inflation, hunger, disease, and so on.
- Oberon says Titania has the power to fix everything, if she would only turn over the "little changeling boy" to him.
- Brain Snack: A "changeling" is a child that's been secretly switched with another, usually by mischievous fairies.
- Titania claims that she didn't steal the kid from anyone. She says she's raising the boy as a favor to his dead mother, a human who was a good friend of Titania's back in India. Oberon should just get over it because Titania's never going to give up her foster son.
- Oberon slyly asks Titania how long she plans to be in the woods. She says she'll stay until Theseus is married.
- Titania invites Oberon to join her in the fairies' dancing and moonlight revels, but Oberon claims that he'll only participate if he can have the boy.
- Titania says she wouldn't turn over the little boy for Oberon's whole kingdom and exits before they get into another fight.
- Oberon vows that Titania won't leave the woods until he pays her back.
- Oberon calls Puck to him and tells him a little story. One night, Oberon was watching a mermaid riding on a dolphin's back when he saw Cupid try to hit a royal virgin with one of his arrows. Cupid missed his target and instead hit a little white flower (a pansy), which then turned purple.
- Brain Snack: Most literary critics agree that the royal virgin Cupid was aiming his arrow at is a shout-out to Shakespeare's monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth never married and made a very big deal about being a virgin queen.
- Anyway, back to pansies. Oberon asks Puck to bring him the flower because it has magical properties. When the juice of the flower is squeezed on a sleeping person's eyelids, it enchants the sleeper to fall madly in love with the first thing he or she sees upon waking. (It's sort of like Love Potion Number 9. Go to "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" for more about this.)
- Puck fetches the flower and Oberon announces he'll put the juice on Titania's eyes. He hopes she'll fall madly in love with some awful, ugly beast. In her lovesickness, he can convince her to give him the little boy. Once his master plan is accomplished, Oberon will remove the spell.
- Oberon hears some people approaching and announces that, since he's invisible, he can stay and listen to the conversation.
- Demetrius enters the scene with Helena tagging along behind him.
- He's searching for Lysander and Hermia, presumably to kill Lysander and win Hermia's heart.
- Demetrius can't find Hermia, and he really wishes Helena would quit stalking him.
- Helena says it's Demetrius's fault that she's chasing him. If he wasn't so scrumptious-looking, she wouldn't bother him.
- Demetrius tells her flat-out that he does not and cannot love her.
- Helena announces that she's going to follow him around like a "dog" forever.
- Demetrius says that virgins shouldn't run around the woods at night throwing themselves at men who don't love them.
- Helena declares that it's not dark out because Demetrius's face shines like a light. Also, she's never alone when she's with him because he's her whole world.
- Demetrius isn't about to take on the role of her protector in the woods. He says he'll run away from her, hide in the bushes, and leave her to be eaten by a wild beast. Ah, love.
- Helena tells us she's bucking traditional gender roles by chasing after Demetrius. She doesn't think it's fair that guys can be aggressive when it comes to love but girls can't. (Hmm. Is she talking about the fact that Theseus won Hippolyta by conquering the Amazons?)
- Demetrius runs off and Helena chases after him.
- Meanwhile Oberon has been watching the scene in disgust.
- He thinks Demetrius is a jerk and decides Demetrius needs some love juice squeezed in his eyes so he'll fall for Helena.
- Puck returns with the magic pansy.
- Oberon describes the bank of flowers where Titania sleeps and says he's off to sprinkle the potion on her eyelids.
- Oberon gives some of the love juice to Puck and tells him to put some drops on Demetrius's eyes—Puck will know who Demetrius is because he's human and he's wearing Athenian clothes.
- Oberon and Puck agree to meet again soon.
Act 2, Scene 2
- Titania instructs her fairies to dance and sing her to sleep.
- Afterwards, her attendants can go back to their fairy work and disappear.
- Oberon slips in and manages to get the pansy juice onto Titania eyes before running off.
- Lysander and Hermia come tripping in after Oberon exits. They're lost so they decide to stop for the night and rest.
- Lysander wants to sleep close to Hermia but she tells him to back off because they're not married yet.
- Lysander tries to sweet-talk Hermia but she's not having it.
- They fall asleep separately.
- Puck ambles onto the stage.
- Puck thinks Lysander is Demetrius (because he's wearing Athenian clothes) and sprinkles the love juice on his eyelids.
- Puck runs off to tell Oberon.
- Then Demetrius runs onto the stage with Helena chasing after him. Demetrius tells her to scram but she refuses.
- Demetrius exits the stage, leaving Helena to roam around on her own.
- Helena, finally weary of running after Demetrius, wanders alone for a bit, talking to herself about how poorly she measures up to Hermia. Hermia's eyes are so much brighter—probably, Helena thinks, because she hasn't spent as much time crying as Helena has. In the middle of her pity party, she notices Lysander on the ground. Worried that he's dead, she shakes him awake.
- Lysander takes one look at Helena and falls in love at first sight. Then he says he's going to kill Demetrius.
- Helena is confused and thinks Lysander is mocking her, which adds to the indignity of Demetrius not loving her. She exits, certain that she's being punked.
- Lysander says he never wants to see Hermia again and deserts her while she's sleeping.
- Hermia wakes up from a horrible dream. Thinking Lysander is still sleeping near her, she recounts the nightmare: she thought a serpent was eating her heart while Lysander stood by smiling.
- Hermia then realizes that Lysander's not there.
- She panics and runs off looking for him, promising she'll either find her love or kill herself.
Act 3, Scene 1
- As Titania sleeps on a cushy bed of flowers, the Mechanicals (craftsmen) enter the woods to practice their play, Pyramus and Thisbe.
- Bottom points out that the play has a lot of content that isn't appropriate for Theseus and his bride, like the part where Pyramus draws his sword and kills himself.
- Starveling suggests they just leave the killing out (despite the fact that the double-suicide is the whole point of the play).
- Bottom comes up with a marvelous solution. Quince should write a prologue to let all the delicate ladies know that the action isn't real and the characters are only actors. If the women know Pyramus isn't Pyramus, but really only Bottom the weaver, they'll be comforted.
- Then the Mechanicals quibble over whether the play's lines should be written in the usual style of verse, a line of eight syllables alternating with six. Bottom suggests they write it in the style of eight and eight.
- Snout then brings up another question: Will the lion in the play frighten the ladies?
- Starveling admits the lion frightens him. Bottom adds his two cents, saying the group should think twice before bringing a lion in among ladies.
- Brain Snack: According to the editors of the Norton Shakespeare, this might be an allusion to something that happened at a real-life court entertainment in 1594, when a tame lion was supposed to pull a chariot across the stage. The lion was replaced by an African man so the audience wouldn't be scared.
- To remedy the situation, Bottom suggests that the actor playing the lion should show his face through his costume. Also, Snug, in the Lion's costume, should tell the ladies that he's not really a lion.
- With that settled, Quince brings up two more issues. They need moonlight, because Pyramus and Thisbe meet by moonlight.
- Quince suggests that maybe they could have the guy playing the moon carry a lantern, and be dressed up as the man in the moon, who usually has a dog with him in folklore. (Dogs on stage in Shakespeare's time were guaranteed comic gold.)
- The last problem is that they'll need a wall, because, without one, there's no hole in the wall through which Pyramus and Thisbe can talk, which is also a major part of the story.
- The group decides to have a man dress up as a plastered wall. Also, the guy playing the "part" of the wall should use his fingers to make an O-shaped hole so Pyramus and Thisbe can whisper to each other through it.
- With all the important casting and staging stuff out of the way, the Mechanicals begin to rehearse.
- Puck sneaks up to the scene, delighted to have so many fools around. He decides to watch and participate.
- The men begin to rehearse the play with lots of misspeaking. Flute, as Thisbe, says all his lines at once, instead of waiting for cues. (This play's going to be a disaster.)
- Just as the Mechanicals are clearing up that issue, Bottom comes back onto stage. He now has a donkey's head where his own should be, thanks to one of Puck's tricks.
- As you might expect, this donkey-Bottom hybrid is frightening. All the other men run away in a panic. Puck follows them, leading the Mechanicals in circles about the dark woods and chasing them in the guise of scary things: a headless bear, hounds, and flames.
- Snout informs Bottom that he has been transformed.
- Bottom doesn't believe it and calls Snout an "ass-head."
- Quince comes back, also claiming Bottom has changed. Bottom then announces that he sees that they're just trying to make "an ass" of him.
- Yep. This is a case of dramatic irony all right. Go to "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" if you want to know more about it.
- Bottom insists he won't move from this place, and will even sing a song to prove he isn't scared.
- Bottom's singing wakes Titania (who has recently had the magic love juice sprinkled in her eyes).
- Titania sees Bottom and instantly falls head over heels in love...with an ass.
- Titania begs Bottom to sing some more.
- Bottom, a little taken aback, tells her she has no reason to love him. He does add that reason and love aren't related these days. He philosophizes on this for a bit, and Titania praises him for being both wise and beautiful.
- Bottom says he isn't wise, but only needs enough wit to get out of these woods. Titania informs Bottom that he'll stay whether he wants to or not. She loves him and he will remain with her.
- Titania promises to have her fairies tend to him – they'll bring him jewels from the deep sea, he'll sleep on flower petals, and she'll rid him of his "mortal grossness" so that he'll be as airy as the fairy spirits.
- Titania summons her fairies: Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed.
- She charges them to tend to her new lover with all the best nature has to offer. The fairies bring in grapes, figs, mulberries, bee's honey, and glowworms to light her bedchamber. In addition, the fairies should fan the moonbeams away from Bottom with the wings plucked off of butterflies.
- Bottom then does what Bottom does best—he rambles on and cracks a bunch of lame jokes.
- Titania orders the fairies to bring Bottom to her sleeping space, and to keep him quiet as they do. She also comments that the moon looks sad, likely because someone is being denied love (or sex).
Act 3, Scene 2
- In another part of the wood, Oberon wonders if Titania has awoken from her slumber. He's hoping that she laid her eyes on a vile beast.
- Enter Puck with the answer.
- He tells Oberon that a crew of craftsmen entered the grove where Titania was sleeping to practice their play for Theseus's wedding. Puck found Bottom to be the dullest, so he transformed his head into that of a donkey. Titania woke up and fell in love with the donkey-Bottom hybrid.
- Oberon thinks this is hilarious—everything has worked out better than he could've imagined.
- The Fairy King asks Puck if put the love juice in the Athenian man's eyes and Puck says, yep, he sure did.
- Demetrius and Hermia enter and Oberon realizes that Puck put the love juice in the wrong Athenian man's eyes.
- Hermia is livid that Lysander abandoned her while she was sleeping. Then she accuses Demetrius of killing her fiancé, which he doesn't exactly deny, even though we know he hasn't killed anyone.
- Hermia flips out and curses Demetrius.
- Demetrius says she's getting her bloomers in a knot for no reason—he hasn't killed Lysander, nor does he have any reason to believe Lysander is dead.
- Hermia wants Demetrius's assurance that Lysander is okay. Demetrius is all, "What will you give me in exchange?"
- Sassy Hermia says that in exchange she'll promise to never see him again. This doesn't sound like much of a bargain and Demetrius admits that he's getting nowhere fast.
- All this pursuing has made Demetrius sad and sleepy, so he lies down for a nap.
- Meanwhile, Oberon is busy pointing out that Puck got the wrong guy. Oberon tells Puck to go find Helena in the woods, and use some magic to bring her to Demetrius's sight.
- Puck exits.
- Oberon says a little verse over the sleeping Demetrius, intending to make the young man fall in love with Helena (with the help of some love juice) once Demetrius awakens.
- Puck leads Helena to Demetrius, with Lysander begging at her heels. Oberon and Puck are going to watch what happens for a while, and they hope the ruckus will wake up Demetrius.
- Meanwhile, Lysander tries to convince Helena that he loves her.
- Helena is ticked off because Lysander is supposed to be in love with her friend Hermia.
- Lysander points out that Hermia's dad wants her to marry Demetrius, anyway.
- Just then, Demetrius wakes up, sees Helena, and declares that she's a goddess.
- Now Helena really loses it, thinking that both men are mocking her for their amusement.
- Lysander and Demetrius bicker over who should get Helena.
- Demetrius announces that Hermia is approaching.
- Hermia can't see anything in the dark woods, but she follows Lysander's voice.
- Once she arrives, she asks Lysander why he left her alone in the woods while she was sleeping.
- Lysander declares that he no longer loves Hermia and that his heart belongs to Helena.
- Lysander says he thought leaving Hermia sleeping alone in the woods in the middle of the night was a clear enough message that he hates her.
- Helena thinks that Hermia is in on some big, elaborate joke designed to make her look silly. She accuses Hermia of betraying the girls' long friendship. They even used to embroider together! The nerve!
- Hermia is shocked to hear that Helena thinks she's been betrayed—Hermia actually thinks Helena must be the one doing the teasing and betraying.
- The ex-friends continue to argue.
- Helena throws up her hands and tells them they can go ahead and keep up the act. Helena assumes they mean to "chronicle" it, the Elizabethan equivalent of putting it up on Facebook, so that they can all laugh about it later.
- Helena doesn't want to stick around just to be teased—she'd rather die.
- Hearing Helena's plan to take off, Lysander interjects, calling Helena "my love, my life, my soul."
- Hermia chides Lysander, thinking he's teasing Helena.
- Demetrius threatens Lysander, who again swears his love to Helena. The boys then get into a discussion about who loves Helena. Hermia asks Lysander what this is all about.
- Lysander makes his feelings for Hermia clear by using a racial slur: "Away, you Ethiop!"
- Hermia hangs onto Lysander, all confused, as he calls her a string of nasty things, including a "Tartar" (which is a reference to the Mongolian people of Central Asia, not the gross stuff that builds up on your teeth). All the while Demetrius accuses Lysander of being a coward, pretending to be held back by Hermia instead of fighting.
- Lysander goes back to his challenge against Demetrius, saying that he'll keep his word and fight him.
- We interrupt this soap opera to bring you a brain snack and some words of encouragement: If you're feeling like your head is going to explode and you're having a hard time keeping track of who's who, you're not alone. The scene is confusing and the four young lovers seem indistinguishable for a reason—Shakespeare is basically telling us that all lovers are alike. Now, back to our program.
- Lysander asks if he should "hurt [Hermia], strike her, kill her dead?" to prove he no longer loves her, but concedes that, even though he hates Hermia, he won't kill her.
- Hermia finally gets it.
- Instead of turning on the man who scorns her, Hermia turns on the woman he's chosen over her, the woman who has been her closest friend since childhood. Hermia accuses Helena of stealing Lysander.
- Helena is also upset and thinking Hermia must still be joking. She calls Hermia a counterfeit and a puppet.
- Hermia takes great offense. Though it seems Helena meant to call her a puppet (as in a doll with no feelings), Hermia interprets the puppet comment as a jab at how short she is.
- Hermia irrationally reasons that Helena has won the love of both men by flaunting her superior height and making Hermia look like a dwarf in comparison. (Seriously.)
- Hermia points out that she may be short, but she is still tall enough to scratch out Helena's eyes.
- Scandalized, Helena pleads with the men to protect her from Hermia.
- Helena tries to soothe Hermia by saying she still loves her and never did her wrong. Well...except that one time when she told Demetrius about Hermia's secret plan to elope with Lysander.
- Helena now accepts the wrong that she's done. She'd like to just get back to Athens and forget the whole thing.
- Hermia, still angry, says nothing is stopping Helena from going. It's clear, though, that Helena's heart is still with Demetrius.
- Lysander says he'll protect Helena from Hermia, which starts the whole mess up again.
- Now Helena says that Hermia was always feisty when they were younger and, though she's little, she's fierce.
- Hermia flares up again at being called "little" and tries to get at Helena. Again. Lysander calls Hermia a dwarf and tells her to get lost. Demetrius thinks Lysander should lay off trying to protect Helena because she doesn't like him.
- Lysander points out that Hermia isn't holding him back now. He suggests to Demetrius that they "step outside" and settle this thing once and for all. They exit to fight.
- Now Helena and Hermia can catfight alone. Helena decides she's a faster runner than Hermia and flees rather than face Hermia's fists (and eye-scratching fingernails).
- Hermia chases after her. The two women exit.
- Finally, we're back to Oberon and Puck.
- Oberon yells at Puck for screwing things up so badly.
- Oberon asks if Puck sprinkled the love juice on the wrong guy's eyes on purpose.
- Puck assures Oberon that he's not at fault—all Oberon told him to do was find a guy dressed like an Athenian, which he did. Anyway, he's glad for his mistake because it's much funnier this way—full of betrayal, mayhem, general human foolishness, and murder threats.
- Oberon, knowing the competitive males are looking for some place to fight, tells Puck to make the night overcast, so the angry men can't see each other. He instructs Puck to lure each man in a different direction by imitating his enemy's voice.
- Oberon then gives Puck another herb, an antidote to the love juice, and tells him that the boys will tire eventually and go to sleep.
- He tells Puck to drop the remedy herb onto Lysander's eyes, so he'll be cured of his love for Helena. When everybody wakes up, these quarrels will seem like a silly dream. Lysander will love Hermia again, and Demetrius will still love Helena.
- After this, the lovers can go home to Athens and live happily ever after.
- While Puck is busy preventing fights and un-enchanting Lysander, Oberon will go beg the still-bewitched Titania for the Indian boy.
- Once she's given up the boy, Oberon will release Titania from her enchanted love of Bottom. Thus, the entire mess will be fixed.
- Puck agrees this plan must be accomplished quickly, because night will be over soon. Ghosts are returning to their graves, and all the wicked things that night allows are coming to a close.
- Oberon points out that, although some spirits and ghosts can only come out at night, he and Puck can go about their business during day or night. Still, Oberon wants the job done already—no delays.
- The Fairy King leaves and Puck is left alone to tend to his business, promising to lead the young men up and down and every which way.
- Lysander then enters. Puck, in Demetrius's voice, challenges Lysander to find more steady ground on which to fight. Lysander exits, following the voice he thinks belongs to Demetrius.
- Now Demetrius enters, asking where Lysander is hiding. Puck, putting on Lysander's voice, eggs on Demetrius, promising to whip him. Thus he leads Demetrius off with his false voice.
- Lysander, back on stage, wonders where on earth Demetrius has gone. Still, Lysander is now exhausted and lies on the ground to get some rest. As he's falling asleep, he promises to hunt Demetrius down in the light of day.
- Lysander sleeps.
- Demetrius and Puck come back onto the stage, with Puck leading Demetrius around using Lysander's voice. Demetrius still seeks Lysander, but can't see him. Demetrius is tired too, so he tells Lysander (Puck's voice) to get lost, with the promise that they'll fight in the daylight.
- Demetrius also sleeps.
- Helena then enters, pleading with night to end quickly. In daylight, she'll go back to Athens and escape the other three Athenians who hate her so much.
- Finally, Hermia comes back on stage, claiming she has never been so tired or so sad. She can't go on, and will rest here, though she prays the heavens will protect Lysander if Demetrius means to fight him. She too goes to sleep.
- Puck, with all four youngsters asleep, can now begin his work.
- He says a little rhyme, and squeezes the remedy onto Lysander's eyes. Now Lysander will love Hermia again when he wakes, and each man will take the woman that is right for him.
Act 4, Scene 1
- Now we're back to Titania and Bottom, who are lounging around on a bed of flowers while Titania's fairies wait on them.
- Titania lavishes Bottom with her affection, twiddling his cheeks and kissing his large donkey ears.
- Bottom still doesn't know his head has been transformed into that of an ass.
- He calls for Peaseblossom to scratch his head and for Cobweb to go kill him a bee and bring back its honey.
- Bottom announces he should go to the barber because he's feeling kind of hairy, and when he's hairy, he feels itchy all over.
- Titania distracts Bottom from these worldly concerns, and asks him if he'd like to hear some music. Bottom says he has a good ear for music, and calls for "tongs and bones." (These are old rural musical instruments—the tongs were struck like a triangle, and the bones rattled in the hands, like clappers.)
- Titania asks Bottom if he'd like something to eat.
- He asks for oats and hay.
- Titania says she can have a fairy steal some nuts from a squirrel, but he admits he'd rather have dried peas.
- None of it matters, though, because Bottom is feeling very sleepy. Titania tells him to go to sleep and she'll snuggle with him.
- Titania sends all of the fairies away and compares her strange pairing with Bottom to the relationship between the gentle ivy that twists around the ugly, barky elm. (She doesn't say it, but we can assume she's the pretty and delicate half of that metaphor.)
- Titania declares her love for Bottom again and they take a nap together.
- Puck shows up to join Oberon, who's been hanging out, invisible style. Oberon says that earlier, when he found lovesick Titania snuggling with Bottom, he took the opportunity to ask her for the "changeling child."
- Titania, who was busy decorating Bottom's head with flowers, agreed to give him up.
- Since Oberon's now got what he wanted all along (the "lovely Indian boy"), he decides to release Titania from her spell and orders Puck to remove the ass head from Bottom and make it so that Bottom wakes up and thinks the whole experience has been nothing but a "dream."
- Oberon releases Titania from the spell by touching her eyes with a thing he calls "Dian's bud" (probably the same remedy that cured Lysander), which he says is more potent than even Cupid's power.
- Oberon bids Titania to see things as she should, and tells her to awaken, calling her his "sweet queen."
- Titania wakes up immediately and tells him she has had an insane dream that she was in love with a donkey. Oberon points her in the direction of Bottom. She asks how on earth this happened, especially being that she hates the sight of Bottom now.
- Oberon tells Titania to relax; Puck will change Bottom's head back, and he instructs Titania to call up music that will make the five Athenians sleep more soundly than normal.
- Puck fixes Bottom's head.
- Oberon takes Titania's hands. They'll rock the young Athenian lovers to sleep on the ground and celebrate their regained friendship tomorrow night, when they'll dance at Duke Theseus's house and bless all the pairs of lovers that will be happily wedded at that time.
- Puck announces that he hears a lark—a.k.a. a bird—announcing the morning.
- Oberon and Titania will follow the night as it crosses around the world. During that trip, Titania wants Oberon to explain the whole thing, especially why she was caught sleeping with a donkey-faced man.
- Theseus, Duke of Athens, shows up in the wood with his bride-to-be (Hippolyta), Egeus (Hermia's dad), and group of assembled people.
- Theseus sends someone out to find the Forester.
- The Duke announces that it's time for the big hunt (a popular hobby for royals and nobles).
- Theseus tells Hippolyta they'll go up to the mountaintop to listen to the musical confusion of the baying hunting hounds echoing all around.
- Hippolyta recalls a time she heard a similar thing when she was in Crete with Hercules and Cadmus, and yes, the sound was pretty amazing.
- Theseus brags about his awesome hunting hounds.
- In the midst of praising his dogs, he spots the sleeping youths, and asks, "What nymphs are these?"
- Egeus identifies the four youths as Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius. Theseus guesses they woke up early to observe the Rites of May.
- Brain Snack: The Rites of May (a.k.a. "Maying") involved going into the woods at dawn and gathering up branches and flowers to decorate villages and homes. For more about May Day, head over to "What's Up With the Title?"
- Theseus remembers this is the day Hermia should give her answer about marrying Demetrius or becoming a nun.
- Some huntsmen blow their horns to wake up the youngsters.
- The young lovers all awaken and kneel to Theseus. He teases them a little, saying that St. Valentine's day has passed (a day when the birds were supposed to choose their mates), so he wonders why these birds (the youths) are only choosing their mates now.
- Also, Theseus wants to know how the heck these kids ended up asleep together in the wood.
- Lysander begins to reply. He says he doesn't quite know how he got to this spot, but he can explain why they're in the wood. Lysander admits that he and Hermia fled to the wood in an attempt to get out of Athens, where they could escape Athenian law and get married.
- Egeus cuts him off, demanding that Theseus bring the law down on Lysander's head for trying to run off with his daughter.
- Demetrius pipes up and admits that Helena told him of the other pair's plan to steal away to the woods. Demetrius says he followed them into the forest in a fury, and Helena followed him in fancy. However, it seems that Demetrius's love for Hermia has melted. Instead, Helena has become the apple of his eye.
- Also, Demetrius brings up that he was engaged to Helena before he left her for Hermia.
- Theseus thinks everything is turning out for the best. He tells Egeus he's overriding his choice, and the couples (paired off according to their wishes) will be married in the temple at the same time as he and Hippolyta.
- Everybody returns to Athens for the weddings.
- As all the grownups leave, Demetrius, Lysander, Helena, and Hermia are left to sort out the night. Demetrius thinks everything is dreamlike and Hermia seems to be seeing double. Helena is just happy to have woken up to find that Demetrius loves her.
- Demetrius, still groggy, asks everyone if they're sure they're all awake. He wonders if the Duke was really just there, and if they were supposed to follow him.
- Demetrius (still charmed) concedes that they must be awake and says they should all recount their dreams on their way back to Athens.
- As the four youths leave, Bottom awakens suddenly, crying out that, when his cue comes, he'll come on stage with his next line. He calls out for his friends, thinking he's still in the play, and realizes that he's been left alone in the wood.
- Bottom tells us he's had a rare vision. He knows he's had a dream, but humans don't have a mind capable of describing how crazy the dream was. Bottom attempts it anyway.
- Bottom decides that, since he can't properly tell the dream, he'll go to Quince and have him write the dream as a ballad. It will be called "Bottom's Dream," as it has no bottom (meaning it's all tangled up and has no narrative grounding or sense) and it's also his name.
- Bottom concludes that he'll sing the ballad during the play they're putting on for the Duke's wedding. He also decides that the song should be sung during Thisbe's death scene.
Act 4, Scene 2
- Back in Athens, the playacting gang is gathered at Quince's house. They're worried because no one has seen Bottom yet. If he's not around, the play can't go on.
- Flute announces that certainly they can't perform the play because Bottom has the finest wit of any craftsman in Athens.
- Quince announces that Bottom is the paramour of a sweet voice, and Flute points out that he means "paragon." (A paramour is a lover—usually in shady circumstances, like someone who's dating a married person; a paragon is the best example of something. They're pretty different.)
- Snug enters the house, announcing that the Duke is coming from the temple with two or three more couples who were just married. Flute laments that, had they been able to perform, they'd no doubt be rich men, earning them at least sixpence a day (a royal pension).
- Then Bottom shows up.
- He says he can't possibly explain what's happened to him, so they shouldn't bother asking. Then, before anyone replies, he tells them he'll give them every last detail exactly as it happened.
- His friends definitely want to know everything, but the story will have to wait.
- Since the Duke and Hippolyta are now hitched and have had their wedding cake, it's time for the Mechanicals to perform the play.
- Bottom yells for everyone to get ready and tells them not to eat onion or garlic—he wants them to have "sweet" breath to make the audience say that they have put on a sweet comedy.
Act 5, Scene 1
- At the Duke's palace in Athens, Theseus and Hippolyta are attended by Philostrate, Master of Revels (a.k.a. royal party planner), and the usual train of lords and attendants.
- Hippolyta notes to Theseus that the lovers' story is strange, and Theseus dismisses it as "more strange than true."
- He points out that lovers, poets, and madmen have something in common—they're all nuts.
- Hippolyta challenges Theseus's cynical view—the youths' stories all matched each other's without contradiction. The story seems to have no holes and she still thinks it strange but interesting.
- The two young pairs—Lysander and Hermia, and Demetrius and Helena—enter the scene, and the Duke greets them by wishing them joy in the days ahead.
- Lysander returns the sentiment, saying that they all wish Theseus and Hippolyta joy in their daily lives—in their walks, at their meals, and, of course, in their bed.
- Theseus wonders what entertainment they can have to wear away the three hours that still stand between him and his wedding night.
- He calls on Philostrate, who hands him a list of all the available entertainments for the evening.
- Theseus reads the list: They won't hear the Athenian eunuch singing of the battle with the Centaurs because he's already told that story to Hippolyta about his kinsman, Hercules. (According to Plutarch's "Life of Theseus," Hercules and Theseus were related.)
- Nor will they hear how Orpheus, the Thracian singer, was torn to bits by the Bacchanals (followers of the riotous god Bacchus) in the middle of an orgiastic frenzy, since Theseus saw this played when he last conquered Thebes.
- Theseus doesn't want to hear the Muses mourn the death of Learning either, because it sounds like it requires some intellectual attention. He states that intellectualizing doesn't befit a wedding ceremony.
- Finally, the Duke comes to the title of the Mechanicals' play: A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth. Theseus delights in how silly these opposites (tedious and brief; tragical and mirthful) seem, and chooses this as the night's entertainment.
- Philostrate tries to convince Theseus that, though the play is ten words long, it's played so badly that it's ten words too much. The language is stupid, the actors are terrible, and worse, the tragic parts bring tears all right, but more from laughter than from sorrow.
- Theseus asks Philostrate who will put on the play. Snobby Philostrate replies that it is to be performed by a group of Athenian workmen who have never labored their brains until now.
- Brain Snack: Shakespeare's dad, John, was a craftsman (a glove-maker, to be exact).
- Theseus wants to hear the play and Philostrate can't sway him. Theseus thinks no play can be bad if it is done out of duty and love for him.
- Hippolyta worries that they've stressed out Philostrate, and the play is bound to be terrible. Theseus soothes her: the worse the play, the kinder they'll be, and everyone will be better off for the lies and mutual deception. He honors the effort of commoners, even if it doesn't always pan out. He accepts their intentions graciously.
- After Theseus's speech to Hippolyta, Philostrate enters to present Quince, who will deliver the prologue.
- Quince butchers the prologue to the play by reading it as one big run-on sentence.
- Quince tries to welcome the audience and ask their forgiveness for the humbleness of the play (as Shakespeare often did), but instead he introduces himself by telling the audience that the players offend with their goodwill. It only gets worse from there.
- Theseus accepts Quince's fumbles in stride, saying the players don't stand on points (meaning punctuation, but also theatrical formalities).
- Lysander and Hippolyta make some snarky comments, but again Theseus replies that the prologue was like a tangled chain, messed up but not really broken.
- Pyramus, Thisbe, Wall, Moonshine, and Lion arrive on stage, and the prologue continues.
- Quince introduces all of the players and the part they're meant to play. He also explains why each player is there: the wall through which they talk, the moonshine by which they see, etc.
- Quince summarizes the play's action: Pyramus and Thisbe are two lovers who are kept apart, but they conference secretly through a hole in a wall and agree that by moonlight that they'll meet at Ninus's tomb. Thisbe arrives first, but is frightened off by a lion. In running away, she leaves behind her cape, and the lion bloodies it by tearing at it. Pyramus then shows up, a bit late, to find Thisbe's bloody cape. Pyramus is sure his lover is dead, so he draws his sword and kills himself. Thisbe then comes out of hiding in a mulberry bush and, finding her lover slain, pulls his sword out and kills herself too.
- Now that he has finished the prologue, Quince will let the players take over.
- Snout introduces himself as a Wall, who will help the lovers talk to each other through a little gap. (To be help the audience, he points out all the parts of his costume that indicate he's a wall.)
- In the audience, Theseus mentions he couldn't ask for a wall to speak better. Demetrius agrees this is the wittiest wall he's ever heard talk, especially because it's the only one.
- Bottom comes in as Pyramus, and though he doesn't mess up his lines, he doesn't need to since they're already so absurd. Example: "The night is very black, and is the time when it isn't day."
- Pyramus asks the Wall to show him the little gap that he can speak through, and Snout holds up his fingers in an O shape to provide such a gap.
- Seeing no Thisbe beyond the gap, Pyramus curses the Wall.
- Theseus comments that perhaps the wall should curse back.
- Bottom breaks character and says to the Duke that really Thisbe has just missed her cue, but she'll be there soon.
- Sure enough, Thisbe comes up, lamenting that the wall separates her and Pyramus.
- Pyramus recites his lines, which are all messed up. For example, the names Cephalus and Procris become Shafalus and Procrus, and Ninus's tomb is mistaken as Ninny's tomb.
- When Pyramus asks Thisbe to kiss him through the hole in the Wall, Thisbe replies, "I kiss the wall's hole, not your lips at all." (Yep, Shakespeare is cracking a dirty joke here. Come to think of it, it's a lot like Chaucer's joke in "The Miller's Tale," where Absolon thinks he's going to give Alisoun a juicy smack on the lips but accidentally kisses her bare bottom instead.)
- The lovers have agreed to meet at "Ninny's" tomb.
- The Wall then speaks up and excuses himself—his part is over.
- Hippolyta dismisses it all as the silliest stuff she's ever heard, but Theseus chides her that even the best in theater is only a shadow of reality. The worst don't need to be any worse than that, if we only lend them a little imagination. If we imagine the players as they imagine themselves, they might come out as excellent men after all.
- Lion and Moonshine enter, and Lion explains that he doesn't mean to scare the ladies, who would be afraid of even a mouse. If the women are scared, they need only remember that he's actually Snug the joiner, not a real lion.
- Theseus commends him for being so thoughtful about the ladies, and the rest of the crowd heckles Lion.
- Moonshine speaks up, saying that the lantern he carries is meant to be the moon, and that he is the man in the moon.
- Theseus notes that this is the worst blunder yet; if this is the man in the moon, then he should be in the lantern. As the nobles all say sarcastic things, Lysander bids the moon to continue his speech.
- Moonshine repeats that he is the man in the moon, the thorn bush he has with him is his thorn bush, and the dog his dog.
- Thisbe enters, Lion makes a little roar, and Thisbe runs off as the Lion chews on the cape she's left behind.
- The royal company teases that the Lion has roared well, Thisbe has run well, and the Moon has shone extremely well.
- Pyramus enters and thanks the sweet moon for its "sunny beams." Pyramus then delivers an overly dramatic monologue about finding Thisbe's bloody cape.
- Theseus quips that if you took this emotion portrayed by Bottom and combined with your best friend dying, then you might begin to look sad. In other words, he's so far from seeming sad, it's, well...sad. The acting is so bad, Hippolyta pities him in spite of herself.
- Meanwhile, Pyramus is killing himself with much flourish. After delivering the brilliant line "Now die, die, die, die, die," Pyramus dies.
- The gallery of nobles offer more snarky play-by-play comments, then "Thisbe" comes in to end the play.
- Thisbe is all "woe is me" in a comically tragic style, mourning her lover's lily lips, cherry nose, and yellow cheeks.
- Thisbe kills herself with an "Adieu, adieu, adieu," and the peanut gallery notes that Moonshine, Lion, and Wall are left to bury the dead.
- Bottom, who should be dead as Pyramus, sits up and assures the audience that Wall is actually down, and he asks if they'd like to hear the play's epilogue, or see a dance.
- Theseus steps out of this quickly—really, no epilogue is necessary since everyone's dead and no one's to blame. He asks to see the dance instead, and so there's a dance (called the Bergormask).
- Theseus says the clock has struck midnight, and sends the lovers to bed, declaring it's "almost fairy time."
- Theseus says "nighty night" to everyone and announces that the marriage celebrations will continue on for a fortnight (two weeks).
- All exit.
[Note: some places call this a scene break. We're going with Folger, who doesn't, so... on with the show.]
- Puck comes onto the stage with a broom. (Remember how we told you that, in English folklore, Puck spends his time helping people with their household chores?)
- Puck talks about all the scary things that happen at night (like lions and wolves coming out after humans have gone to bed).
- Puck notes that nighttime is also the realm of the walking dead, wandering from their graves into churchyards, as well as the time for the fairies to frolic.
- Still, Puck declares that he's a (mostly) friendly spirit who's in the habit of blessing households.
- Puck sweeps the dust from Theseus's threshold and promises that nothing will disturb the house.
- The Fairy King and Queen (Oberon and Titania) enter, followed by their entourage. They "bless" the house by flying around and chanting a little rhyming verse while doing an aerial fairy dance.
- Oberon orders all the fairies to flit through the house, and bless the master bed so that all the children that come of it will be fortunate and lucky. He promises that all three couples will be happy and remain in love. Furthermore, their babies won't be ugly and won't have any scars or defects. (Seriously.)
[Note: the rest is usually referred to as the epilogue. Once again, Folger puts it all in one scene, so who are we to disagree?]
- Puck closes the play by addressing us, the audience, directly: He announces that if we don't like the play, the best way to remedy the situation is to pretend it's only been a dream.
- Instead of cursing the players for a bad play, we should forgive them. Finally, he asks for applause if we the audience accept his apologies. All can be certain that Robin (as he calls himself) will make amends before long (presumably, with the performance of another play).
- The End.
Act 5, Scene 2
Bartleby and some others break Act V into a couple scenes, but we're following Folger, who doesn't. (We still love you, Bartleby.)
Puck's closing address ("If we shadows have offended, etc.") is often referred to as the epilogue (including here at Shmoop), but Folger keeps it all in one scene, so we're sticking to that with our summary. Head back to Act 5, Scene 1 for all the deets.