Summary of A Midsummer Night's Dream

In battle, Theseus, duke of Athens, has won Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Theseus is impatient for the wedding, and Hippolyta assures him that the four days until then will pass quickly. Egeus enters with his daughter Hermia and two young men: Demetrius, who has Egeus's permission to marry Hermia, and Lysander, who has won her heart. The law dictates that Hermia must marry her father's choice or be executed. Theseus provides a third option—she may enter a nunnery—and says she must make her decision by his wedding day.
After the older generation leaves, Lysander and Hermia plan to meet in the woods outside Athens. From there, they will flee beyond the reach of the law. Helena enters, lamenting that her beloved Demetrius loves Hermia; she wishes she could be Hermia. To comfort her, Hermia and Lysander tell her their plan. After wishing her luck in winning Demetrius's love, they leave. Helena contemplates strangeness of love: it make us see things as other than they are and is also capricious—Demetrius swore he loved her then fell in love with Hermia. Helena decides to tell Demetrius about Lysander and Hermia's elopement.
Some artisans plan a performance for Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding. A carpenter, Peter Quince, assigns parts for "Pyramus and Thisbe," a play about lovers kept apart by their parents. Bottom, a weaver, wants to play all the parts, but Quince insists that Bottom play only the male lead. Quince tells his actors to meet that night in the woods outside Athens, where they can rehearse without being watched.
A servant of the fairy king Oberon warns a servant of the fairy queen Titania to keep her mistress out of Oberon's way: Oberon is angry because Titania stole a human child whom Oberon wants as his servant; whenever the fairy king and queen meet, they fight. Titania's servant recognizes Oberon's servant as Puck, a mischief-maker who causes havoc in the countryside. Puck acknowledges this and describes tricks he plays on old women.

Titania, Oberon, and their attendant fairies meet. Titania accuses Oberon of being near Athens to bless the bridal bed of his former lover Hippolyta. Oberon retorts that Titania loves Theseus. Titania says Oberon imagines this because he's jealous and goes on to describe how their quarrels have disordered the countryside. When Oberon says she could end the quarrels by giving him the child, Titania explains that the boy's mother worshipped her and had taken vows to serve her; the mother died in childbirth, and for her sake Titania is raising the child. Unmoved, Oberon insists that Titania give him the boy. She refuses and leaves with her attendants. Oberon sends Puck to get a flower he can use to charm Titania into falling in love with whatever she sees when she wakes from a sleep; before disenchanting her, Oberon will make her give him the child.

Demetrius enters, followed by Helena, who tells him how much she loves him. Demetrius spurns her and storms off; Helena follows. Oberon says he will reverse this situation. When Puck returns with the magic flower, Oberon tells him to use some of it to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena; Oberon will use the rest to charm Titania.

Oberon puts the potion on the sleeping Titania's eyelids and leaves. Lysander and Hermia appear and decide to rest. Lysander wants to lie with Hermia, but Hermia tells him to sleep farther away. Puck discovers the sleeping lovers. Thinking they are Demetrius and Helena, he puts the potion on Lysander's eyes. He leaves, and Demetrius appears, followed by an exhausted Helena. Demetrius goes on, but Helena stops to rest. She doesn't see Hermia but does see Lysander. Fearing Lysander is dead, Helena wakes him. Lysander falls in love with her and wants to kill his new rival Demetrius. He says he has grown up: his mature reason tells him he's in love with Helena. Thinking he's mocking her, Helena leaves; after a last look at Hermia, who now disgusts him, Lysander follows. Hermia wakes from a dream in which a snake ate her heart while a smiling Lysander watched; she goes looking for Lysander.

The artisans prepare to rehearse. They worry that their play's violence will disturb the audience. Bottom comes up with strategies to prevent this: the prologue must explain that no one is really hurt; the lion's costume must be only partial so the audience can see the actor beneath, and the actor must explain that he's not a lion. After debating how to represent moonshine and a wall, the artisans decide that actors will portray both. They begin their rehearsal, watched by Puck. Bottom leaves the stage, and Puck turns Bottom's head into the head of ass. When the transformed Bottom makes his entrance, his terrified companions flee, followed by Puck, who will torment them further. Alone, Bottom decides his companions acted that way to frighten him. To show he isn't afraid, he sings. This wakes Titania, who admires Bottom's voice, appearance, and "wise" words. She loves him and won't let him leave the woods; she summons fairies to attend him, feed him fruit, and fan his sleeping eyes with butterfly wings. She has fairies lead him to her bower.

Puck tells Oberon how he made Titania fall in love with Bottom and how he charmed an Athenian so the man would fall in love with the woman near him. Hermia enters, followed by the infatuated Demetrius, whom she accuses of murdering Lysander. Demetrius denies this, Hermia leaves, and Demetrius lies down to sleep. Realizing that the wrong man has been charmed, Oberon tells Puck to find Helena and bring her to Demetrius. Oberon charms Demetrius so that when he wakes he will fall in love with Helena. Puck returns, saying that Helena is coming. He observes that mortals are fools, and the chaotic scene that follows seems to prove his point.

Lysander, who says his tears show he isn't mocking her, pursues Helena. Their argument wakes Demetrius, who falls in love with Helena. Helena thinks Demetrius has joined Lysander in making fun of her. Both men deny this. Their voices allow Hermia to find the group. Lysander tells Hermia he doesn't love her—he hates her—and Hermia's reaction to this leads Helena to think Hermia has joined in the men's mockery. She accuses Hermia of betraying their friendship. Hermia disputes this, and when Lysander says again how much he loves Helena, Hermia asks him to stop mocking her friend. Lysander affirms his previous words: he loves Helena and hates Hermia. Hermia's astonishment turns into rage; she accuses Helena of stealing Lysander's heart. During the argument that follows, Hermia decides Helena is insulting her for being short. She threatens to claw Hermia's eyes. Helena appeals to the men to protect her. The men argue over who will defend Helena then head deeper into the woods to fight over her. Helena flees Hermia, and Hermia wanders off.

Oberon accuses Puck of creating this mess intentionally. Puck says he made an honest mistake but admits he's enjoying the result. Oberon gives him new orders: he should lead the men around, so they'll think they're chasing one another; when they become exhausted and sleep, he should use an herb to restore Lysander's love for Hermia. Oberon says that when the lovers awake, they will think what happened was a dream. He will go to Titania, ask for the human child and then release her from the charm that makes her love Bottom.

Puck says they should do this quickly because morning is near—ghosts are returning to their graves. Oberon says that fairies are not the same kind of spirits as ghosts—unlike ghosts, he often moves about at dawn—but nevertheless he agrees that they should complete their business before daybreak. Oberon leaves, and Puck speaks in Demetrius's voice, leading Lysander to follow him for a fight. Using Lysander's voice, he does the same with Demetrius.

One by one, the lovers fall asleep. Puck drops the potion on Lysander's eyes.

Titania strokes Bottom's cheeks and kisses his ears. Bottom sends a fairy to fetch a bee's honey-bag and has others scratch him. He asks to hear rustic music, talks of how he'd like to eat hay, and falls asleep. After Titania falls asleep as well, Oberon tells Puck he pities her. He met her earlier, when she was gathering flowers to decorate Bottom. When he chastised her for doting on Bottom, she begged his forgiveness and agreed to give him the child. Now that Oberon has the boy, he uncharms Titania, who says she loathes Bottom's ass-head. Puck removes it. Titania calls for music that puts Bottom and the four lovers into a deeper-than-normal sleep. The fairy king and queen have resolved their differences and will dance in Theseus's house, blessing it. Puck hears the morning lark. The fairies leave.

Theseus, Hippolyta, Egeus, and Theseus's followers enter, ready for a hunt. Theseus praises his hounds then notices the sleeping lovers. He has his huntsmen wake them and asks Lysander and Demetrius how they can sleep near each other when they're enemies. Lysander explains that he came there with Hermia, hoping to escape the law. The enraged Egeus asks that Lysander be punished and looks to Demetrius for support. Demetrius explains that Helena told him about Hermia and Lysander's flight; Demetrius followed them, and Helena followed him. Somehow, Demetrius's love for Hermia has disappeared, and he loves Helena; his love for Hermia was a sickness, and he is now restored to health.

Theseus says the couples shall be married and calls off the hunt. He and his company leave, and the lovers talk about how unreal the night's events seem. They leave. Bottom wakes and comically soliloquizes about his "dream"; he will get Peter Quince to write a ballad about it, and he will sing it at the end of the artisan's play or maybe after Thisbe's death.

The artisans talk about how they won't be able to perform their play without Bottom. Bottom appears and at first says he will describe what happened to him, then says he won't: Theseus has dined—they need to prepare their play.

Hippolyta observes that the lovers' story is strange. Theseus dismisses their tale as resulting from their imaginations. Hippolyta responds that, though strange, the story holds together—all of the lovers had the same vision.

The lovers enter, and Theseus asks how they will entertain themselves for the three hours before bedtime. Egeus (Philostrate in some editions) gives Theseus a list of entertainments. Theseus rejects several before settling on the artisans' play. Egeus argues against Theseus's choice, saying that though the artisans' play is meant to be tragic, it made him laugh. Theseus says he wants to hear it anyway. He tells Hippolyta that the players' good intentions will make up for their lack of skill.

The play begins with Peter Quince ruining his prologue by pausing in the wrong places, unintentionally turning courtesies into insults. The other players enter, and Quince tells the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from start to finish. The players leave except for the actor portraying Wall. Bottom as Pyramus enters and curses Wall from keeping him from Thisbe. In the audience, Theseus comments that since the wall is alive, it should curse back. Hearing this, Bottom breaks character to explain that the wall shouldn't curse back; instead, Thisbe should come on stage. Thisbe appears. Wall makes a hole with his fingers, and Thisbe and Pyramus talk through it, agreeing to meet at "Ninny's tomb." After they leave the stage with Wall, Hippolyta comments on the play's absurdity. Theseus says, "[t]he best in this kind are but shadows."

Lion and Moonshine enter. Lion tells the women in the audience not to be afraid—he's simply Snug, a carpenter. Moonshine starts to explain in verse what he represents then, after the audience interrupts, reverts to prose and explains himself. Thisbe enters. After Lion roars, she drops her mantle and runs away. Lion worries the mantle, drops it, and exits. Pyramus enters, sees the mantle, despairs, and commits suicide with a ridiculous speech. Thisbe enters, despairs, and commits suicide with an equally ridiculous speech. Bottom asks Theseus if he'd like to hear an epilogue or watch a dance. Theseus chooses the dance.

Puck tells us that night has fallen: ghosts have left their graves, and fairies are ready to frolic. He will sweep Theseus's house and make sure nothing disturbs it. Oberon and Titania appear with their train. Oberon tells the fairies to sing; they will dance through the house, blessing the bridal beds so the couples' children will be lucky and without physical flaws.

Puck says that if the play offends us, we should imagine it was a dream. He bids us goodnight and asks for applause.