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A Midsummer Night's Dream: Plot Synopsis

This LibGuide was created to accompany the Visions & Voices event: A Midsummer Night's Dream . On Thursday, April 10, USC students will have a chance to attend Bristol Old Vic with Handspring Puppet Company's performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream.



A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Oxford Companion to English Literature (7 ed.) Online. Oxford UP, 2009. Ed. Dinah Birch


A comedy by *Shakespeare, written probably c.1594–5; printed in quarto in 1600 and 1619; reprinted with changes apparently deriving from performance in the first folio. It is often thought to be associated with a courtly marriage but none has been successfully identified. There is no single source, but Shakespeare drew, among other authors, on Chaucer, Arthur *Golding's translation of Ovid, and Apuleius' Golden Ass.

Hermia refuses her father Egeus' command to marry Demetrius, because she loves Lysander, while Demetrius has formerly professed love for her friend Helena, and Helena loves Demetrius. Under the law of Athens, Theseus, the duke, gives Hermia four days in which to obey her father; else she must suffer death or enter a nunnery. Hermia and Lysander agree to leave Athens secretly in order to be married where the Athenian law cannot pursue them, and to meet in a wood a mile outside the city. Hermia tells Helena of the project, and the latter tells Demetrius. Demetrius pursues Hermia to the wood, and Helena Demetrius, so that all four are there that night. This wood is the favourite haunt of the fairies.

Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies, have quarrelled, because Titania refuses to give up to him a changeling Indian boy for a page. Oberon tells Robin Goodfellow (Puck), a mischievous sprite, to fetch him a certain magic flower, of which he will press the juice on Titania's eyes while she sleeps, so that she will fall in love with what she first sees when she wakes. Overhearing Demetrius in the wood reproaching Helena for following him, and wishing to reconcile them, Oberon orders Robin to place some of the love-juice on Demetrius' eyes, but so that Helena shall be near him when he does it. Robin, mistaking Lysander for Demetrius, applies the charm to him, and as Helena is the first person Lysander sees he at once woos her, enraging her because she thinks she is being mocked. Oberon, discovering Robin's mistake, now places some of the juice on Demetrius' eyes; he on waking also first sees Helena, so that both Lysander and Demetrius are now wooing her. The women quarrel, and the men go off to fight for Helena.

Meanwhile Oberon has placed the love-juice on Titania's eyelids. She wakes to find Bottom the weaver close by, wearing an ass's head (Bottom and a company of Athenian tradesmen are in the wood to rehearse a play for the duke's wedding, and Robin has put an ass's head on Bottom). Titania at once falls in love with him, and toys with his ‘amiable cheeks’ and ‘fair large ears’. Oberon, finding them together, reproaches Titania for bestowing her love on an ass, and again demands the changeling boy, whom she in her confusion surrenders; whereupon Oberon releases her from the charm. Robin at Oberon's orders throws a thick fog about the human lovers, and brings them all together, unknown to one another, and they fall asleep. He applies a remedy to Lysander's eyes, so that when he awakes he returns to his former love. Theseus and Egeus appear on the scene, the runaways are forgiven, and the couples married. The play ends with the ‘tragedy’ of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, comically acted by Bottom and his fellow tradesmen, to grace these weddings and that of Theseus and Hippolyta.

The Oxford Companion to English Literature (7 ed.) Online. Oxford UP, 2009. Ed. Dinah Birch

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Sophie Lesinska
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