Shakespeare at Winedale wordmark
Shakespeare at Winedale

A Midsummer Night's Dream Synopsis

Midsummer Graphic

The play opens in the court of Theseus, Duke of Athens. He attempts to woo his betrothed, the Amazon queen Hippolyta, but is interrupted by Egeus, his daughter Hermia, and two of her suitors: Lysander and Demetrius. Egeus complains that Lysander has swayed the affections of Hermia, causing her to refuse to marry Demetrius. He points out a law that allows him to force Hermia to choose between marrying Demetrius, living in a nunnery, or being executed. Lysander and Hermia conspire to escape to the forest, and get married outside of Athens. They inform Helena, Hermia's close friend, of their plans, and she tells Demetrius, so she can lead him through the forest after them.

Meanwhile, in the city, Quince assigns roles in a drama to a group of workmen. The overenthusiastic Bottom offers to play many parts, but is cast as the lead, Pyramus. Flute is given Thisby, his love, while Snug receives the part of the lion.

Later, in the woods, two fairies, one called Puck, witness an argument between Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the fairies, over Titania’s young pageboy. Titania explains that their discord has altered the passage of the seasons, but Oberon does not relent. Instead, he sends Puck to fetch him a nectar-filled flower which, when applied to the eyes of a sleeping victim, causes him or her to fall madly in love with the next living thing he or she sees. Before Puck can return, Helena enters pursuing Demetrius. Oberon instructs Puck to apply the flower’s nectar to the eyes of Demetrius. Oberon daubs Titania’s eyes with the nectar. Hermia and Lysander wander in, lost, and decide to rest. Puck mistakenly applies the nectar to Lysander’s eyes. Helena wakes Lysander, who immediately begins proclaiming his love to Helena and renouncing his love for Hermia. He pursues Helena, leaving behind Hermia, who wakes, alarmed, and sets off to find him.

The workmen meet in another part of the wood to rehearse, and devise absurd precautions to avoid scaring the audience, deciding that Starveling and Snout must play the Moon and a Wall. Puck transforms Bottom’s head into that of a donkey, and the workmen flee in fright. Titania awakens and, enchanted by the flower, falls in love with Bottom. Oberon attempts to correct Puck’s mix-up by dropping the nectar on the eyes of Demetrius, but when he falls in love with the newly arrived Helena, she becomes convinced that the other three are conspiring to trick her. Lysander and Demetrius run off to fight for Helena, but Puck leads them through the forest until they are too tired to continue. All four lovers eventually lie down to sleep. Puck applies a different flower to the eyes of Lysander, returning him to his true affections. Oberon, having convinced Titania to give him her page, restores and awakens her. Puck removes Bottom’s donkey head. Theseus, Hippolyta, and Egeus stumble upon the sleeping lovers and awaken them, whereupon Demetrius reveals his love for Helena. Theseus announces that the two couples will be married along with himself and Hippolyta.

Back in the city, the workmen are reunited with the restored Bottom, who informs them that their play will go forward.  In Theseus’ palace, the duke, duchess, and newly married lovers congregate to watch – and mock – the workmen’s play, the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisby.  Finally, the fairies bless the couples, and Puck ends the play.