A Midsummer Night’s Dream is actually a pretty good play to start off your Shakespeare readings, because it introduces recurring themes and ideas that Shakespeare has in his plays a lot: folks meddling in other folk’s affairs using magic, forbidden love, and plans gone wrong. Also, it is quite short, and the not so enthusiastic Shakespearean reader will be able to get through it quickly. Now, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has four different storylines that all come together to form what is the play.
Theseus is the duke of Athens, and he has just returned from conquering the Amazons. He also brought back with him the queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta, who he is planning to marry.
Hermia is the daughter of a strict man called Egeus who wants her to marry Demetrius, but she instead wants to marry Lysander whom she loves. Her best friend Helena is in love with Demetrius, but Demetrius rudely breaks it to her that he doesn’t return the feeling any longer and now loves Hermia. When the four of them are in the forest, they at different intervals fall asleep, and a mischievous fairy named Robin Goodfellow (though everyone calls him Puck) puts a type of flower over some of their eyes that will make them fall in love with the first person they see. Will they all fall in love with the wrong person?
Now, the reason Puck put this flower over their eyes because the fairy king called Oberon told him too. He had overheard Helena begging Demetrius to love her, and he felt sorry for her. So he told Puck to put the flower over Demetrius’ eyes as well so that he would return her love, “the one in Athenian clothes”. Ooh, but doesn’t Lysander have Athenian clothes on too? That could cause a problem. Now, Oberon was having marriage problems with his wife Titania for many reasons, the main one being that she had a young Indian prince under her wing that he wanted to take and make a knight. He wanted to punish her for her disobedience and so had Puck put the flower over her eyes and hope that since she was in the middle of a forest when she woke the first thing she would see was a wild animal. His plan worked, basically. The first thing that she saw when she woke was a donkey. But alas, the donkey was actually a man that Puck had given a donkey’s head for no reason really other than to cause trouble.
That unfortunate man is called Nick Bottom, an overconfident and proud weaver that was chosen to be the lead in a play that a few craftsmen wanted to put on for the after-wedding entertainment in honor of Theseus. Yep, that’s right, it has a play within a play. Now, the craftsmen meant well, but they aren’t the most talented of actors, which adds some comedic relief to the play. Bottom, particularly, has a habit of accidentally mixing up words and making mistakes.
Will Theseus force Hermia to become a nun if she doesn’t marry Demetrius? Will Helena finally get Demetrius to love her? Will Titania ever stop loving the donkey form of Bottom? Will the craftsmen put on a play that will entertain Theseus and company or cause giant mosquitoes to infest the land? Will order be restored in the forest so that everyone loves who they need to love, or who they want to love? Only reading the book will tell you.