A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the greatest comedies ever written. It remainss hilarious for a modern audience and is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. This wonderful play is perfect for a large cast with a number of decent rolls from the four young lovers to the hilarious mechanicals, and of course, the fairies: Oberon, Titania and Puck! Not only are the characters so unique, but the story itself is also a tapestry of completely distinctive worlds colliding to create a story of wonder and excitement. This was one of the few Shakespeare plays that has no known source, leading us to assume that this awesome creation was completely original to Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream places 6th of our list of Best Shakespeare Plays.
This play has been influential in my acting career and I highly recommend reading it and exploring it in more detail. If you are also keen on working on some text from this gorgeous play, check out our list of best A Midsummer Night’s Dream monologues. But for now, let’s take a dive into the play…
The course of true love never did run smooth.
The play begins with Duke Theseus announcing his engagement with Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, whom he has recently captured and plans to marry in 4 days. But 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, being put to death or abjuring men forever and becoming a nun, 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 subsequently follows the ardently love sick Demetrius into the forest. Why Helena does this has never made sense to me, if she just would have let Lysander and Hermia run away, surely Demetrius and she would have had a good shot at getting back together. However, we wouldn’t have had a play – so let’s continue.
Meanwhile, a group of local labourers (known as the mechanicals) 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. This conflict becomes the central focus of this particular plot.
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 (he plans on giving her a love potion that will make her fall in love with a wild animal – classy!). 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. In a hope of repairing the situation Oberon applies the love potion to Demetrius and he ‘correctly’ falls in love with the passing Helena. However, that doesn’t really help the situation as now Demetrius and Lysander, both, are now fervently in love with Helena. Madness ensures in the iconic scene between the four lovers. Both girls are furious; Hermia thinking Helena has seduced Lysander and Helena thinking all parties have decided to mock 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.
Whilst Titania has been loved up with Bottom, her half man half donkey, Oberon has managed to get the changeling boy (the cause of their arguments). Having now won Titania’s changeling boy, Oberon lifts the spell from her, making peace once more. The lovers have also now been neatly paired up. Lysander has been de-juiced so he is back in love with Hermia and Demetrius is with Helena (he remains drugged up, but let’s not go down that moral black hole). They are found lying oblivious at the end of the forest, now appropriately paired, and awake to Theseus, who is out on his May Day hunt. Happy at the site of the couples, he announces that they shall all be married.
The three happy couples are then entertained by the unlikely choice of play, Pyramus and Thisbe. This is the play the mechanicals have been working on. Before Bottom can get out his final prologue, Theseus announces it is ‘fairy time’ and all parties’ content say goodnight. The fairies then bless the whole thing, and everything is “new in amity”. Puck finishes the play with his iconic monologue and leaves us pondering whether what we have witnessed tonight is too, merely a dream.
Duke of Athens Theseus
A Midsummer Night’s Dream Quotes
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind
Helena (Act 1 Scene 1)
Take pains. Be perfect.
Bottom (Act 1 Scene 2)
And yet,to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays..
Bottom (Act 3 Scene 1)
Lord, what fools these mortals be.
Puck (Act 3 Scene 2)
Though she be but little, she is fierce
Helena (Act 3 Scene 2)
So we grew together,
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
But yet an union in partition,
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem.
Helena (Act 3 Scene 2)
I have had a most rare vision. I had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was… The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was
Bottom (Act 4 Scene 1)
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.
Theseus (Act 5 Scene 1)
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of imagination all compact.
Theseus (Act 5 Scene 1)