Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene: Athens and the surrounding forest.
Act I, Scene 1: Theseus, Duke of Athens, discusses with Hippolyta their forthcoming marriage, only days away. Egeus arrives with his daughter, Hermia, and her two suitors, Demetrius and Lysander. Since Hermia will not marry Demetrius, whom her father prefers, but insists that she loves Lysander, Egeus wants her subjected to a law that will condemn her to death or a life as a nun for refusing to marry the groom her father has chosen. Theseus reluctantly rules that he must enforce the law, but he gives Hermia until the day of his own wedding to decide what she will do. Lysander, declaring himself the better marital prospect, reveals that Demetrius has earlier courted Hermia's friend HELENA and made her fall in love with him. Theseus leaves, taking with him all but Lysander and Hermia, who decide to elope, agreeing to meet in the woods the next night. Helena appears, pining for Demetrius; Lysander and Hermia encourage hr by telling of their plan and asserting that, with Hermia gone, Demetrius will be free again. The lovers leave, and the love-sick Helena, in a soliloquy, devises a plot to curry favor with Demetrius: she will tell him of the planned elopement and accompany him to the woods to intercept the pair.
Act I, Scene 2: Quince, with his fellow artisans Snug, Flute, Snout, Starveling, and Bottom, gather to rehearse the Interlude they are to perform at Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding. Quince, the director, announces the subject of their playlet—the tale of PYRAMUS AND THISBE—and distributes the parts among the players. Bottom, who is to play Pyramus, is so confident of his acting abilities that he wants most of the other parts as well. Quince declares that, in order to keep their spectacle a surprise, they will rehearse in secret, meeting the next night in the woods.
Act II, Scene 1: Puck and a Fairy discuss the conflict between the King of the Fairies, Oberon, whom Puck serves, and the Fairy Queen, Titania, the Fairy's mistress. Titania and Oberon arrive and begin arguing. She refuses to give up a changeling boy whom Oberon covets. She leaves, and Oberon vows vengeance. He instructs Puck to gather for him a certain flower that he will apply to Titania's eyes while she sleeps and that will cause her to fall in love with the first living being she sees when she wakes. While awaiting Puck's return, Oberon overhears Demetrius and Helena, who are now in the woods, and when Demetrius persistently repulses his admirer, the Fairy King decides that he will dose him with the flower also. Puck returns with the magical herb, and Oberon takes some of it to give to Titania. He tells Puck to find the Athenian couple who are roaming in the woods and to apply the rest of the potion to Demetrius.
Act II, Scene 2: Titania's retinue sings her to sleep. Oberon appears and puts juice from the plant on her eyes. He leaves, and Lysander and Hermia enter, exhausted from wandering. They sleep, though only after Hermia has insisted that they maintain a proper distance from each other. Puck arrives, sees that they are Athenians, and, presuming that their physical separation implies a lack of love, supposes that he has found his target. He administers the juice to Lysander's eyes and leaves. Demetrius appears, pursued by Helena. He shakes her off and goes on alone. Lysander awakes, and, seeing Helena, falls in love with her. She, offended by his seeming fickleness, leaves. He follows her, and Hermia wakes to find herself alone. Titania remains asleep.
Act III, Scene 1: Quince, Bottom, and their colleagues rehearse in the woods. Puck happens on them and decides to make mischief; he gives Bottom an ass' head, which all but he can see. The other artisans are frightened by this transformation and flee. Bottom, unaware of it, concludes that they are attempting to scare him. To demonstrate his courage, he sings a song, thus waking Titania, who falls in love with him as a result of Oberon's magic. Claiming him, she assigns him an entourage of four fairies, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed.
Act III, Scene 2: Puck reports on Titania's ludicrous infatuation, to Oberon's delight. Demetrius and Hermia appear, arguing. She leaves angrily, and Demetrius, worn out, falls asleep. Oberon realizes that the wrong man has been treated with the magical juice. He commands Puck to lure Helena, while he himself charms Demetrius with the herb. When Helena arrives, Lysander follows, pleading his love. Demetrius wakes; he falls in love with Helena and begins to praise her beauty. She concludes that the two men are mocking her, and she chastises them. Hermia enters in search of Lysander. She expresses bewilderment at her lover's new preference for Helena. Helena takes this as a deliberate insult and concludes that Hermia has joined the men in belittling her. After a series of exchanges, during which first the men and then the women almost come to blows, Lysander and Demetrius stalk off to fight a duel, Helena flees Hermia's wrath, and Hermia leaves baffled. Oberon directs Puck to summon a dense fog and then to impersonate each man to the other and lead them away from any conflict. Then he is to apply an antidote to Lysander's eyes. Puck leads the men on separate chases until each falls exhausted on an opposite side of the stage. Helena and Hermia, both lost in the woods, find spots to sleep. Puck squeezes the juice on Lysander's eyes, singing a song of reconciliation.
Act IV, Scene 1: Watched by Oberon, Titania leads Bottom into the clearing where the lovers sleep. Bottom is pampered by his fairy attendants, and he requests hay to eat. Titania speaks adoringly to Bottom and curls up to sleep with him. Puck appears, and Oberon confides that Titania has surrendered her changeling to him; he decides to release her from his spell. He wakes her and tells Puck to remove the ass' head from Bottom. After casting a spell of deep sleep on the mortals, the fairies leave. Theseus, Hippolyta, and Egeus enter; they are hunting with hounds. They discover the lovers and wake them. Lysander tells of his and Hermia's intended elopement, and Egeus angrily demands his execution for having attempted to prevent Hermia's marriage to Demetrius. However, Demetrius announces his intention to marry Helena. Theseus is delighted and commands that the two reunited couples shall be married that day, along with himself and Hippolyta. They all return to Athens, leaving Bottom, who awakes amazedly and muses on the strange dream that he can't quite remember.
Act IV, Scene 2: Quince, Flute, Snout, and Starveling wonder at Bottom's absence, and Snug arrives to tell them that the Duke's festivities are about to begin. Their distress is relieved when Bottom arrives, not quite able to re-count what he has seen, but prepared to lead them on-stage.
Act V, Scene 1: Theseus discounts the lovers' experiences in the woods, attributing to them a madness that also affects lunatics and poets. The newlyweds arrive, and Theseus calls for entertainment. Quince's production of Pyramus and Thisbe is performed, provoking amusement. Following the performance, everyone departs, and the fairies, led by Puck, arrive to bless the marriages. They leave, and Puck delivers an Epilogue suggesting that, if the audience is offended by being asked to believe in fairies, they should simply pretend that they have slept and dreamed.
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