A Midsummer Night's Dream -- Summary
Theseus, the Duke of Athens, is preparing for his marriage to Hippolyta, when he is interrupted by an angry Egeus. Egeus is upset because his daughter, Hermia, refuses to marry Demetrius (the man he has chosen for her husband). She instead wants to marry Lysander. Egeus wants the Duke to intervene and force her to marry Demetrius. The Duke tells Hermia she must obey her father, and so Hermia and Lysander run away from Athens into the woods. They are followed by Demetrius, and then by Helena, who is in love with Demetrius and unable to accept that he does not love her in return.
In these same woods, some local artisans are preparing to put on a play about the tragic love story of Pyramus and Thisbe (think Romeo and Juliet). They want to present their play for the Duke on his wedding day.
Oberon, the king of the fairies, is quarreling with his queen, Titania, over a young boy she has been raising and refuses to give him. Oberon sends his mischievous servant, Puck, to get a flower whose juice has the power to make people fall in love with the first creature they see after the juice has been applied to their eyes. While waiting for Puck to return, Oberon overhears Helena and Demetrius arguing. Helena is begging for Demetrius's love and Demetrius is telling her he can't stand her and to leave him alone. Soon Puck returns with the magical flower. To get revenge on his queen, Oberon treats her eyes with the flower juice, hoping to humiliate her by having her fall in love with some beast of the forest. He also takes pity on Helena, and instructs Puck to put some drops on Demetrius’s eyes as well so that he will return Helena's love.
Meanwhile, Lysander and Helena have gotten lost in the woods and fallen asleep. While trying to find Demetrius so that he can carry out Oberon's orders, Puck comes across Lysander and Hermia sleeping in the woods. He mistakenly thinks this must be the young man Oberon was referring to, and puts the juice on Lysander's eyes. When Helena comes by, still chasing after Demetrius, she wakes Lysander. When he sees the woman who woke him, Lysander falls in love with her and rejects poor Hermia.
The artisans are again rehearsing their play. Puck overhears their rehearsal in the woods and he plays a trick on them by magically giving Nick Bottom an ass’s head, which frightens the others away. Bottom is left wandering the woods near where the fairy queen Titania is sleeping. He wakes her with his singing, and Titania immediately falls head over heels in love with Bottom in his ass's head.
As Puck is gleefully reporting about Titania's new love to Oberon, Demetrius and Hermia enter and the fairy king realizes Puck's mistake. He treats Demetrius's eyes with the juice, just in time for Lysander and Helena to enter and wake him. With both Athenian men now in love with Helena, a fight breaks out among the four. This is not at all what Oberon had wanted for the lovers, and he instructs Puck to correct his earlier mistake. Puck leads the lovers in a roundabout chase until they all fall asleep, and restores Lysander's sight while he sleeps.
While enjoying the pampering of the fairies, Bottom and Titania fall asleep. Oberon restores Titania's sight and wakes her. She is appalled at the sight of what she has been in love with. Titania is reunited with Oberon and Oberon instructs Puck to remove the ass's head from Bottom.
Shortly thereafter, the lovers are woken by Theseus and Hippolyta and their dawn hunting party. With his sight restored, Lysander is now back in love with Hermia, leaving Demetrius to freely return Helena's affection. Happily, the four friends agree to share the Duke’s wedding day.
The wedding day has arrived. Philostrate is informing Theseus of the entertainment planned for the evening, and the play of Pyramus and Thisbe is selected to be performed before the wedding guests. The Duke and his guests enjoy the ridiculousness of the “tedius brief scene,” and laugh heartily at it's “tragical mirth.” After the play the three couples retire, and Puck and the fairies enter to bless the palace and its people.
Lastly, Puck returns to make amends to the audience for all of the ridiculousness they have had to endure.