A Midsummer Night’s Dream Summary, Review PDF

Shakespeare’s most popular work, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy play centered around the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and Hippolyta. In the play, several young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors are manipulated and controlled by the fairies that inhabit the forest.

One of our favourite quotes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is:

“The course of true love never did run smooth”

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream Book Summary

A fairy king uses magical powers to obtain a “changeling” boy as his page and to arrange the marriages of four human lovers.

ACT 1 

Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, are to be married at the next full moon. After a war between their two nations, during which Theseus won Hippolyta’s “love doing thee injuries,” the couple eagerly await a joyous, loving wedding in four days’ time, a ceremony to be filled “with pomp, with triumph, and with revelling.” 

Their planning is interrupted when Egeus, a citizen of Athens, comes to Theseus to complain that his daughter Hermia wants to many Lysander rather than Demetrius, the man Egeus has

chosen for her. Egeus requests that Theseus enforce Athenian law by either having Hermia many Demetrius or putting her to death. 

Theseus gives Hermia until his wedding day to decide whether she wishes to many Demetrius, die, or live the rest of her life as a nun.

Left alone, Lysander and Hermia decide to escape Theseus’s edict by eloping to another country. They plan to meet the following night in a forest outside the town. Hermia’s friend Helena, a beautiful blond-haired woman who loves Demetrius, joins them, despairing because Demetrius loves Hermia instead of her. 

Lysander and Hermia encourage her by revealing their plan to elope, thereby leaving Demetrius free. Yet Helena irrationally plans to tell Demetrius of their flight, hoping to win his favor. In another part of Athens, a group of simple laborers plan to perform the carpenter Peter Quince’s version of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, about doomed young lovers, at Theseus’s wedding. 

The weaver Nick Bottom is given the part of Pyramus, while the bellows-mender Francis Flute is to portray Thisbe. Also participating in the story of the young lovers will be the tailor Robert Starveling, the tinker Tom Snout, and the joiner Snug. The group then parts, having made plans to rehearse in the woods outside Athens.

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ACT 2 

In the woods the following night, Oberon, King of the Fairies, and his queen, Titania, are involved in an argument so bitter it has caused violent weather and confusion among the seasons. Oberon wants Titania’s “little changeling boy” (a child secretly substituted for another in infancy; in this case, a child snatched from the human world by the fairies) to be his page, yet she will not give him up. 

So Oberon instructs his mischievous lieutenant Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck, to fetch the magical flower “love-in-idleness,” which he will use to put Titania in a trance so that he can then persuade her to give him the changeling child.

Demetrius, pursued by Helena, enters the woods in search of Hermia. As Oberon looks on, Demetrius cruelly rejects Helena’s advances and races off, with Helena close behind. Puck returns with the flower, which Oberon plans to administer to Titania so that she will fall in love with the next creature she sees and therefore give up the changeling. He also tells Puck to rub it on Demetrius’s eyes, so that he will fall in love with Helena.

Oberon finds Titania asleep in a clearing and squeezes the flower’s juice into her eyes, casting a spell on her to fall in love with the first “vile thing” she sees. Lysander and Hermia soon enter the clearing, exhausted. They decide to sleep there, Hermia modestly telling Lysander to rest at a distance. 

Puck comes upon them as they sleep and, mistaking Lysander for the Athenian man Oberon told him to charm, squeezes the flower’s juice into his eyes. Helena, exhausted by her pursuit of Demetrius, stops to rest in the clearing. She sees and awakens Lysander, who instantly falls in love with her. Helena flunks he is mocking her, however, and leaves angrily, with Lysander in close pursuit. Hermia, awaking to find herself alone, flees the clearing and leaves Titania  asleep.

ACT 3 

Later that night, Quince, Bottom, and company assemble to rehearse their skit in the clearing where Titania sleeps. The devilish Puck sneaks upon them and, after watching the rehearsal, casts a spell on Bottom that transforms his head into that of an ass. The other actors flee in terror, leaving the transfigured Bottom alone with Titania, who awakens and (true to the spell) falls instantly in love with him.

In another part of the woods, Puck reports Titania’s love for Bottom to Oberon. Demetrius then arrives, pursued by Hermia, who suspects him of killing Lysander. Unable to learn Lysander’s fate, she storms off in a rage. Demetrius then falls asleep, exhausted by the night’s chase. Oberon realizes that Puck has mistakenly administered the love juice to Lysander and tells his servant to fetch Helena. 

Oberon squeezes the juice into Demetrius’s eyes, and Puck leads Helena (followed by Lysander) back to the clearing, where Demetrius awakes and falls instantly in love with an unbelieving Helena. Hermia wanders into the clearing and asks Lysander why he deserted her. 

He tells her that he now loves Helena and challenges Demetrius to a fight for her. Hermia, believing Helena has stolen Lysander from her, chases her from the clearing. Oberon, who has witnessed the arguments, instructs Puck to fill the night with a “drooping fog” so that Demetrius and Lysander will be unable to fight. 

Then, after they fall asleep, Puck is to crush a special herb into Lysander’s eyes to reverse the effect of the “love-in-idleness.” Puck manages to lead all four lovers back to the clearing, where they fall asleep from exhaustion. He then puts the herb into Lysander’s eyes, knowing that when everyone awakes, all will be well and that “Jack shall have Jill / Nought shall go ill.”

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ACT 4 

In the clearing, Titania dotes upon her beloved Bottom. After they fall asleep together, Oberon and Puck come upon them. Oberon discloses that his plan has worked: Titania, obsessed with Bottom, has given Oberon the changeling child. 

He lifts the spell from Titania and has Puck remove Bottom’s ass-head. Titania awakes, free of the spell, and is reconciled with Oberon. As dawn approaches, the King and Queen of Fairies leave the four lovers asleep in the clearing. Theseus, Hippolyta, and Egeus enter the clearing. 

They awaken the four lovers, who can only vaguely remember the night’s confusions. Egeus demands that Lysander be punished for stealing away Hermia, yet Demetrius claims he now loves Helena and no longer desires Hermia. Theseus overrules Egeus and declares that the two couples—Lysander and Hermia, Demetrius and Helena—are to be married along with him and Hippolyta.

They all return to Athens, leaving Bottom alone in the clearing. He awakes, puzzled by the night’s occurrences, claiming that “Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream” (i.e., he’d look like a fool if he told people about his dream). He hurries off to join his fellow players, who rejoice at his return, then head off to the palace to perform their show.

ACT 5 

At the palace after the weddings, Theseus is skeptical of the lovers’ stories, yet Hippolyta sees that it all just might be true. The lovers enter, and Theseus decides that they shall watch the production of Pyramus and Thisbe. 

So the players perform their comically inept show. Pyramus and Thisbe are two young lovers kept apart by feuding families. They can speak through a wall (played by Snout) that separates their two homes, yet they are unable to embrace. 

They decide to meet secretly at a deserted tomb. Thisbe arrives first and is chased off by a lion, who rips a cloak she leaves behind. Pyramus then comes to the tomb and finds the ripped cloak. Thinking Thisbe dead, he stabs himself. Thisbe soon returns and discovers Pyramus’s body, whereupon she, too, kills herself.

The six newlyweds, who had been joking about the play during its performance, kindly applaud the players and send them off. Theseus ends the celebration by suggesting they all go to bed. Puck then enters the deserted room, followed by Oberon, Titania, and the fairies. They dance and sing, and Oberon blesses the house and its lovers. 

They then disperse, leaving Puck behind. He addresses the audience, suggesting that those “offended” by the play can think “That you have but slumber’d here / While these visions did appear.”

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream Characters

THESEUS: Duke of Athens, marries Queen Hippolyta of the Amazon after defeating her in war. Mature, confident, effective leader; represents harmony, reason, rule of law. Allows lovers to be properly paired at play’s end.

HIPPOLYTA: Queen of the Amazons, marries Theseus. Shares his rationality and maturity; also possesses imagination and sympathy. Is upset by Hermia’s dilemma; believes the lovers’ stories of their night in the woods.

OBERON: King of the Fairies. His feud with Titania over the changeling leads to the play’s confusions and complications. He possesses magical powers, yet is kind to human beings and matches the lovers correctly at the night’s end.

TITANIA: Queen of the Fairies (Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed). Falls in love with the ass-headed Bottom while under the flower’s spell; when awakened, she is reunited with Oberon after giving him the changeling.

PUCK: Oberon’s servant. Playful, mischievous; possessor of magical powers. Enjoys the confusion he creates among human beings.

LYSANDER: Young man, loves Hermia. Runs away with her when they are forbidden marriage. Mistakenly put under a spell by Puck; falls in love with Helena, yet returns to Hermia in the end.

HERMIA: Lysander’s lover. Defies her father’s wish that she marry Demetrius; flees Athens. Loses Lysander to Helena while he is under the spell, yet regains and marries him in the end.

DEMETRIUS: Loves Hermia, rejects Helena. Pursues Lysander and Hermia to the woods; he is put under a love spell by Oberon; marries Helena.

HELENA: Loves and chases Demetrius. Confused but doubtful when Lysander says he loves her; finally weds Demetrius.

EGEUS: Hermia’s father. Demands that she marry Demetrius or die; causes his daughter to flee. Ultimately overruled by Theseus.

NICK BOTTOM: A weaver, he is given the ass-head by Puck. Loved by Titania while she is under the spell. Plays the role of Pyramus in the skit.

PETER QUINCE: A carpenter. Writes and introduces the Pyramus and Thisbe skit.

FRANCIS FLUTE: A bellows-mender; plays Thisbe in the skit.

TOM SNOUT: A tinker; plays “the wall” in the skit.

SNUG: A joiner; plays the lion in the skit.

ROBIN STARVELING: A tailor; plays Moonshine in the skit.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream Analysis

1. LOVE 

Shakespeare contrasts the mature, balanced form of love, as represented by marriage, with the irrational, obsessive, “doting” kind of love. The ideal, “proper” kind of love is represented by Theseus and Hippolyta’s marriage, by Oberon and Titania after their reconciliation, and by the lovers after their night in the woods. 

This sort of love is rational, patient, realistic, and harmonious. Marriage makes peace of war, order from chaos, and restrains passion. Contrasted to “doting” love, which is irrational, fickle, disturbed, and ruled by whim and fancy. 

Shakespeare makes the point that a person who “dotes” loves an unworthy object (e.g., Titania’s doting on the ass-headed Bottom) or loves one who does not return his or her love (Helena’s love for Demetrius; Lysander’s for Helena). Puck’s ability to trick Titania and the young lovers illustrates how doting love is inconstant, unrealistic, and easily led astray.

Reason and love must be combined to end confusion and allow for happiness. Only when characters stop doting and start loving with realistic eyes rather than with fanciful imagination can love be mature.

2. IMAGINATION 

When uncontrolled by reason or judgment, imagination is shown to be harmful to lovers; it leads them to desire the wrong object. Helena maintains that love is in error when it “looks not with the eyes, but with the mind”—i.e., when it is based on the mind’s fancies instead of on the facts as provided by the senses and interpreted by reason. 

Shakespeare illustrates this disorder of imagination through the flower’s juice, causing Lysander to love the wrong woman and Titania to love the ass-headed Bottom. The night in the woods is a dream in which imagination overcomes reason. 

Only with the coming of dawn and the return to Athens are imagination and reason again balanced. Imagination then plays a positive role: by using their imaginations to “amend” (improve) the players’ performance, Theseus, Hippolyta, and the lovers are able to enjoy Pyramus and Thisbe.

3. APPEARANCE vs. REALITY 

Throughout the play, Shakespeare shows the problem of distinguishing between appearance and reality. Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and puts the spell on him. The “love-in-idleness” juice causes Titania to suffer the illusion that Bottom is a lovely creature and it causes Lysander to pursue the wrong woman. 

Helena believes Lysander’s and Demetrius’s passion for her to be a cruel joke, when in fact they are serious; Hermia mistakenly believes Helena has seduced Lysander. When the night’s dream is over, neither Bottom nor the lovers are able to tell whether the events were real or illusory: 

Bottom claims that one is “but an ass” if one tries to explain the dream, while Demetrius says, “These things seem small and undistinguishable / Like far-off mountains turned into clouds.” The Pyramus and Thisbe skit expresses and parodies (ridicules) this theme: Pyramus commits suicide when he mistakenly believes the lion has killed Thisbe.

4. NIGHT vs. DAY 

The “day world,” set mostly in Athens, is characterized by the rule of law, marriage, reason, and understanding; it is a world where passion is balanced by maturity, and imagination by rationality. 

Ruled by Theseus, it is the setting for final marriages. The “night world,” set mostly in the woods, is characterized by confusion, irrational passions, blind love, and errors in perception and judgment; it is an unbalanced, dreamlike world where passion and imagination run unchecked. 

Ruled by Oberon and Puck, it is the setting for the “doting” love of Titania, Lysander, and Demetrius. Shakespeare ends the play by merging the two worlds, with the fairies of the “night world” spreading through the “day world” of Theseus’s house to bless the married couples.

5. HARMONY vs. DISCORD 

Elizabethans believed in a system of laws (Natural, Celestial, Rational, Divine, and Human) that ensured order in the universe; this system is collectively referred to as the Elizabethan World Order.

When one (or more) of these laws are violated, all of the other laws are disturbed and the harmony of the world is shattered. The result is discord, unhappiness, and chaos. When arguing, both Hermia and Egeus see the other person as violating the natural order—Egeus views Hermia as not giving him “obedience…which is my due”; Hermia views Egeus as arbitrarily choosing Demetrius over Lysander. Oberon and Titania’s fight over the changeling causes bad weather and confusion of seasons.

The lovers’ discord in the woods is accompanied by fog and darkness. When the harmony among the lovers returns, Theseus sees “gentle concord in the world” (i.e., the World Order is restored). The play ends on a harmonious note as the human and fairy worlds intermingle.

6. METAMORPHOSIS (CHANGE) 

The possibility of a sudden change in heart, mind, and body is a dominant theme. Love is depicted as being able to transform one’s personality and perception of reality: “Things base and vile, holding no quantity, / Love can transpose to form and dignity.” Under the spell of love, Titania, Lysander, and Demetrius are suddenly transformed and have a change of heart without motive or reason. 

Later, all three change just as quickly back to their original personality. The metamorphosis can also be physical: the changeling boy is taken from the human to the fairy world; Bottom is transformed into an ass-headed monster. These metamorphoses illustrate how imagination, unbalanced by reason, can lead to uncontrolled, unwanted changes in an individual.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream Review

In the play, Shakespeare tames the fairies and makes them gentle to human beings; for example, Oberon says, “we are spirits of another sort.” Titania does not steal the changeling, but adopts it after its mother’s death; Oberon uses powers to sort out the lovers’ problems. Even Puck’s behaviour (i.e., charming Lysander and transforming Bottom) has an innocent, childlike quality. 

Shakespeare gives the fairies considerable power: Oberon is able to cast spells; his fight with Titania disturbs nature; Puck transforms Bottom and creates a fog to confuse Demetrius and Lysander. Yet fairies are also capable of mistakes: Puck casts a spell on the wrong person, and Oberon cannot always control Puck.

There are three interpretations of the “dream”: 

(1) It refers to the belief of Titania, Bottom, and the lovers that the night’s events are but a dream and never actually happened. This view holds that the play’s action is real and actually happens, but the characters believe the night’s events are a dream. This interpretation is supported by the fact that Puck and Oberon put others in a trance, and by Oberon’s assertion that “When they next wake, all this derision / Shall seem a dream and fruitless vision.” 

(2) The night’s confusions are a dream, a vision shared by the lovers; this idea is expressed by Theseus (“More strange than true. I never may believe / These antique fables, nor these fairy toys”) and holds that what happens between Hermia’s and Lysander’s arrival in the wood at night, and Theseus’s arrival the next morning, is unreal, fantastic, and inexplicable. 

(3) The whole play should be seen as a dream, that the audience has “but slumder’d here / While these visions did appear” (interpretation expressed by Puck).

About The Author

William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, England. He arrived in London about 1586. His career as a playwright, poet, actor and theatre shareholder in London lasted from the early 1590s until 1612.

Shakespeare wrote all types of plays—tragedies, comedies, romances, and historical dramas—for popular theatre. His early plays reflect the optimism and exuberant spirit of an England just coming into its own as a world power. 

The later plays, the great tragedies—Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth—are pessimistic, cynical, and reflect the decadence and political corruption of the Elizabethan and Jacobean court. 

Further Reading

If you like the book A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you may also like reading the following book summaries:

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