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A Midsummer Night's Dream

Puck by Henry Fuseli

The Text

The illustrations are taken from the H. R. Forrest Collection, 76 folio volumes of illustratons to Shakespeare up to 1890. The illustrations include title pages, artists' impressions of scenes from the play and portraits of famous actors

A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. It has been adapted for musical performance and filmed, and the farcical Pyramus and Thisbe interlude has often had separate performance. Shakespeare probably wrote the play between 1595 and 1598. It was first published in 1600, possibly commissioned for a wedding. The plot is one of Shakespeare's most original, with no definite source. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is taken from Ovid, the story of Hippolyta's wedding to Theseus is told in Chaucer's Knight's Tale.The play reflects on love and marriage. The parts of Theseus and Hippolyta are often doubled with those of Oberon and Titania, the warring King and Queen of the Fairies, as though the nature of their relationship has to be worked through before the marriage takes place.

Theseus, Duke of Athens, has conquered Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, a tribe of women warriors, and is about to marry her, an opening which to modern audiences is full of the possibilities of conflict

Lysander and Hermia

Lysander and Hermia decide to elope

'Ay me! For aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth...'

Act 1 scene 1

Egeus brings a complaint to Theseus concerning his daughter, Hermia, who refuses to marry the man of his choice, Demetrius. Hermia loves Lysander. Theseus tells Hermia that by the law of Athens she must marry the man her father has chosen, or die, or become a nun. Hermia and Lysander decide to flee Athens. They tell Hermia's best friend Helena they are eloping. Helena is in love with Demetrius, who was previously engaged to her. She tells Demetrius about their flight, he chases them to the woods outside Athens, Helena follows.

'For, ere Demetrius looked on Hermia's eyne,
He hailed down oaths that he was only mine,
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt
So he dissolved, and showers of oaths did melt.'

Act 1 scene 1

Workmen rehearse a play for the Duke's wedding

'Let me play the lion too. I will roar that I will do any man's heart good to hear me. I will roar that I will make the Duke say
'Let him roar again, let him roar again!'

And you should do it too terribly, you would fright the Duchess and the ladies that they would shriek; and that were enough to hang us all.
That would hang us, every mother's son.
...I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove. I will roar you and 'twere any nightingale.
You can play no part but Pyramus...'

Act 1 scene 2

The workmen go to the woods to rehearse their play.

Puck and the Fairy attendant

Puck and the Fairy

In the woods the mischievous Puck, follower of Oberon, King of the Fairies, meets a Fairy who attends Titania, Queen of the Fairies.

Either I mistake your shape and making quite
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Called Robin Goodfellow. Are you not he
That frights the maidens of the villagery...
Those that 'Hobgoblin' call you, and 'Sweet Puck'
You do their work, and they shall have good luck.'

Act 2 scene 1

Titania and her Indian attendant

Titania and Oberon

Titania and Oberon meet:
'Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania!
What, jealous Oberon? Fairies skip hence.
I have forsworn his bed and company.
Why should Titania cross her Oberon?
...I do but beg a little changeling boy
To be my henchman.

Set your heart at rest.
The fairy land buys not the child of me.
His mother was a votress of my order,
And in the spiced Indian air by night
Full often hath she gossiped by my side...

Act 2 scene 1

Oberon enchants Titania

Oberon enchants Titania

know a bank where the wild thyme blows
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lulled in these flowers with dancing and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamelled skin
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in;

And with the juice of this Il streak her eyes
Act 2 scene 1

Oberon determines to enchant Titania. When she is sleeping he applies the juice of a magical flower to her eyes. This will make her fall madly in love with the first thing she sees when she wakes.

Lysander and Helena

Lysander falls passionately in love with Helena

Observing the quarrelling lovers, he also resolves to use the magical juice to return Demetrius' love to Helena. Unfortunately, Puck applies the magical juice to Lysander's eyes, and he is awakened by Helena. He pursues her, declaring passionate love.

But who is here? Lysander, on the ground?
Dead, or asleep? I see no blood, no wound.
Lysander, if you live, good sir, awake!

And run through fire I will for thy sweet sake!Transparent Helena, nature shows art
That through thy bosom makes me see thy heart.

Act 2 scene 2

Puck gives Bottom an ass head

Puck gives Bottom an ass head

Meanwhile, the local workmen rehearse in another part of the wood. Bottom wanders off, and is enchanted by Puck, who gives him a donkey's head.

O Bottom, thou art changed. What do I see on thee?
What do you see? You see an ass head of your own,do you?
Act 3 scene 1

Titania and Bottom

Titania wakes and falls in love with Bottom

Bottom stumbles into the grove where Titania is sleeping. She wakes, and falls in love with him.

Bottom sings:
The ousel cock so black of hue,
With orange-tawny bill
What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?
...I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again;
Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note.

So is mineeye enthralled to thy shape . . .
Act 3 scene 1

Puck and Demetrius

The lovers are enchanted and quarrel

In an attempt to improve matters, Oberon and Puck enchant Demetrius, who immediately, like Lysander, falls in love with Helena. She is convinced they are mocking her. Hermia is convinced Helena has stolen her lover.
They fight. The men separate them, and also fight. Helena flees Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius pursue each other through the wood. Hermia pursues them. Puck lures and confuses all the lovers until they are exhausted.

Up and down, up and down
I will lead them up and down;
I am feared in field and town
Goblin, lead them up and down

Act 3 scene 2

Puck enchants the lovers to sleep

Puck applies remedy to the sleeping lovers

Puck then enchants them into sleep, applying the love-juice to Lysander's eyes so that when the couples wake they will be satisfactorily coupled.

On the ground
Sleep sound
Ill apply
To your eye,
Gentle lover, remedy
Act 3 scene 2

Titania, the fairies and Bottom

Titania woos Bottom

Titania, in love with Bottom, commands her fairies to wait on him:

Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
And stick musk-roses in they sleek smooth head,
And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.

. . .
Methinks I am marvellous hairy about the face . . .
Act 3 scene 2

Bottom and the Fairies

Bottom and the Fairies

Mounsieur Cobweb, good Mounsieur, get you your weapons in your hand, and kill me a red-hipped humble-bee on the top of a thistle; and, good Mounsiuer, bring me the honey-bag. 'Where's Mounsieur Mustardseed?
Act 3 scene 2

Oberon and Bottom

Oberon removes the enchantment from Titania

Be as thou was wont to be;
See as thou wast wont to see.
Dian bud or Cupid flower
Hath such force and blessed power.
Now, my Titania, wake you, my sweet Queen
Act 4 scene 1

Titania, has given the Indian boy to Oberon, who repents and removes the enchantment from her eyes. They are reconciled, and go to celebrate the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.

Puck removes the ass head from Bottom, who wakes as though from a 'most rare dream' and rejoins his friends in Athens.


Pyramus and Thisbe

Theseus and Hippolyta, out hunting before their marriage, find the lovers. Seeing that Demetrius now loves Helena, Theseus overrules Egeus and proclaims a triple wedding.

The artisans' play, Pyramus and Thisbe, is chosen for the wedding entertainment, and they perform it, to great comic effect.

Bottom, as Pyramus
Eyes , do you see?
How can it be?
O dainty duck, o dear!
Thy mantle good
What, stained with blood?
Approach ye Furies fell!...

Act 5 scene 1.

Oberon and Titania bless the new marriages

The Fairies bless the new marriages

Finally, as the lovers all depart to bed, Puck, Oberon, Titania and their train of fairies bless their marriages.

Now until the break of day
Through this house each fairy stray.
To the best bride-bed will we,
Which by us shall blessed be;
And the issue there create
Ever shall be fortunate . .

Act 5 scene 1