This is one of the best comedies of all time. It is still hilarious for a modern audience and is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. It is also a great play for a large cast with a number of large rolls. A Midsummer Night’s Dream places 6th of our list of Best Shakespeare Plays.
The course of true love never did run smooth.
Duke Theseus announces his engagement with Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, whom he has recently captured. Before any revels can begin he is interrupted by local Athenian, Egeus, who wants his daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius. She, however, has her heart set on Lysander. Left with the choice of marrying Demetrius, death or abjuring from men forever, she decides to run away with Lysander into the forest. She councils with Helena, her best friend (who happens to love Demetrius), and then she and Lysander run away. Helena, determined to win Demetrius’ heart, informs him of Hermia’s leaving and is subsequently forced to follow the ardently love sick Demetrius into the forest.
Meanwhile a group of local labourers have gathered to prepare a play for the Duke’s wedding ceremony. Headed up by Peter Quince, a local carpenter, and including the vainglorious Nick Bottom, who wishes to play all the parts, they enter into the forest to rehearse. In the forest, Oberon and Titania (the King and Queen of the fairies), are warring over an Indian changeling boy Titania will not relinquish to Oberon.
Once all the lovers are in the forest the mayhem ensues. Oberon, angry about his situation, sends the sprightly puck in search of a love potion for his Titania. While he ‘circles the world’ Oberon overhears Demetrius and Helena fighting and decides he will share a few drops of the potion with Demetrius. Puck, once he has found the potion, carries out Oberon’s instruction and tracks down the Athenian youth whilst Oberon enchants Titania with the love potion. Puck finds Lysander and Hermia and, thinking they are the couple described by Oberon, drops the love potion on Lysander. Lysander, awoken by the footsteps of Helena and Demetrius, arises and falls immediately in love with Helena and abandons Hermia to chase Helena through the forest.
Puck has meanwhile stumbled upon the mechanicals rehearsing in the forest and, finding Bottom alone, transforms his head into that of an ass. Titania awakes and falls madly in love with her first vision, the amiable Bottom: unaffected by his form. As Puck reports his great successes to Oberon, Demetrius appears pursued by an angry Hermia, who thinks he is to blame for Lysander’s disappearance. Puck is forced to reapply the love potion to Demetrius and he ‘correctly’ enchanted falls in love with the passing Helena. Demetrius and Lysander, both, are now fervently in love with Helena. Both girls are furious; Hermia thinking Helena has seduced Lysander and Helena thinking all parties have set to mocking her. The boys eventually run off to duel for Helena’s affection. Oberon, seeing this chaos, sends Puck to sort out the mess and to remove Lysander from the spell.
Having now won Titania’s changeling boy, Oberon lifts the spell from her, making peace once more. The lovers also, lying oblivious at the end of the forest, appropriately paired, awake to Theseus, who is out on his May Day hunt. He, happy at the site of the couples, announces that they shall all be married. The three happy couples are then entertained by the unlikely choice of play, Pyramus and Thisbe. Before Bottom can get out his unrequested prologue, Theseus announces it is ‘fairy time’ and all parties’ content say goodnight. Puck leaves us pondering whether what we have witnessed tonight is too, merely a dream.
Duke of Athens Theseus