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Great Books Symposium

A Midsummer Nigh's Dream 

from Dictionary of Shakespeare, Peter Collin Publishing

One of Shakespeare's best-known comedies written around 1594-96, A Midsummer Night's Dream, was first published in a quarto edition in 1600. The play's first recorded performance was at court in 1604, but it may originally have been written as part of the wedding celebrations for the Earl of Derby's marriage in 1595. It was certainly performed publicly several times before 1604. Main sources for the play were Ovid's Metamorphoses (see Ovid), the Knight's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1345- 1400), and stories from English folklore. The play, set in Athens in ancient Greece, is a fairy story which explores themes of love and marriage, jealousy, and magic.


Hermia's father wants her to marry Demetrius but Hermia loves Lysander; together they decide to run away and marry in secret. Before fleeing to the woods beyond Athens, Hermia tells her friend Helena of the proposed elopement, but Helena, who is hopelessly in love with Demetrius, betrays her confidence and tells Demetrius, who sets off in pursuit of the lovers. He is pursued by the doting Helena. In the woods, the invisible King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania, are quarrelling. Oberon bewitches Titania as she sleeps so that she will fall in love with the first thing she sets eyes on when she wakes. Oberon has been observing the mortal lovers and feels particularly sorry for Helena. He instructs Puck to use some of the same magic on Demetrius so that he will love Helena. By mistake, Puck casts the spell on Lysander who falls out of love with Hermia and in love with Helena; later Oberon enchants Demetrius who falls for Helena too. Hermia, whom nobody now loves, is furious and quarrels violently with Helena while Lysander and Demetrius plan to fight a duel. Puck leads the confused lovers a merry dance through the wood until they fall into an exhausted sleep, and he can remove the spells. While these events are unfolding, Bottom and his troupe of Athenian workmen are holding rehearsals in another part of the wood for the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe which they are going to perform at court. Puck, mischievously changes Bottom's head into an ass's head, and makes sure that this is the first sight that greets the waking Titania. She falls passionately in love with Bottom, until Oberon releases her from his charm and Bottom becomes fully human again. The worlds of the fairies and the mortals are restored to harmony. Lysander and Hermia are reunited, and Demetrius now loves Helena. They celebrate their weddings with Theseus, Duke of Athens and his new wife, Hippolyta, entertained by a performance of Pyramus and Thisbe.


"Midsummer Night's Dream, A." Dictionary of Shakespeare, Peter Collin Publishing, Louise McConnell, Peter Collin Publishing, 1st edition, 2000. Credo Reference, Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.