A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a timeless classic written over four hundred years ago that is still enjoyed by those forced to read it in their tenth grade English class. The comedy is made up of five acts and consists of multiple linear plots. Over the years, the play has had countless live performances and even some movie adaptations. While many aspects of the play may seem outdated, the fact that this essay has been written proves it can stand the test of time. Act 1, or the exposition, opens up with Theseus, king of Athens, and Hippolyta talking about their wedding that will take place in four days.
Soon after Egeus walks in with his daughter, Hermia, and two other men, Lysander and Demetrius. Egeus expresses his dissatisfaction with Hermia’s love interest in Lysander since he already gave Demetrius Hermia’s hand in marriage. Egeus, Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius all argue about who Hermia will marry while Theseus is too busy daydreaming about his wedding. Theseus then pulls Egeus and Demetrius aside to talk further about the situation, leaving Lysander and Hermia by themselves. The two then form a plan to secretly get married in the woods and run away together. Immediately after this, Helena walks in and Lysander and Hermia decide to share their plan with her and then go off into the woods to get married.
Helena, filled with jealousy because Demetrius loves Hermia and not her, tells Demetrius about the plan with the hope that it will make Demetrius fall in love with her instead of Hermia. This is the call to action. While this whole ordeal is happening, there is a completely separate plot going on inside a pub in Athens. Six “actors”, Quince, Snug, Bottom, Flute, Snout, and Starveling, have met up and assigned parts for a play they will be putting on for Theseus’s wedding. Act 2, or the Rising Action, begins with the introduction of the third and final plot and the introduction of two new characters, a fairy and Robin Goodfellow, who is a mischievous fairy. As the two talk they begin to bicker. Before things get worse their respective rulers appear, Titania, the fairy queen, and Oberon, the fairy king. The relationship between the two, even though they are married, is not good.
Titania accuses Oberon of cheating on her and Oberon shoots right back with accusing Titania of forcing Theseus to do some extremely heinous acts. Within their arguing, it is revealed that the root of their fighting is a young child from India. Oberon wants the Indian boy to be part of his crew but Titania will not give him up due to being close with the boy’s mother before she died. Soon after Titania and her fairies leave and Oberon sends Robin on a mission to retrieve a flower that has stuck with Cupid’s arrow. The scene then cuts to Demetrius, who has traveled into the forest looking for Lysander and Hermia, and Helena, who has followed Demetrius. Demetrius is constantly telling Helena to leave him alone, but every insult Demetrius throws only makes Helena love him even more. After some more arguing Demetrius goes off stage and and Helena follows, and it is revealed that Oberon witnessed the entire thing. Robin then shows up with the flower and Oberon says that he is going to rub the flower on Titania’s eyes while she is sleeping, putting her under a spell that makes her fall in love with the first thing she sees. Oberon then gives Robin part of the flower and instructs him to put an Athenian man under the spell as well. The scene then cuts to Titania and her fairies.
Titania tells her fairies to sing a song to put her to sleep before they go off to do their duties. After Titania falls asleep, the fairies exit and Oberon enters with the flower. He rubs the flower on Titania’s eyes and the scene cuts away to Lysander and Hermia, who are in the forest. They both decide to sleep for the night since they’ve been walking for a while and it’s getting dark. After they’re asleep Robin enters and, believing Lysander is the Athenian man Oberon was talking about, rubs the flower over Lysander’s eyes. Demetrius then enters the stage, running, with Helena close behind him. Demetrius quickly exits, but Helena stays since she’s completely out of breath. She then sees Lysander on the ground and, thinking he’s dead, shakes him awake. Lysander then immediately falls in love with Helena and begins to confess his love for her. Helena believes that Lysander is playing a cruel joke and runs away with Lysander following her. Hermia then wakes up and, seeing that Lysander isn’t there, walks around the forest looking for him. The beginning of Act 3 starts with the group of actors rehearsing their play in the forest. During their rehearsal Robin comes by and, being the mischievous fairy that he is, turns Bottom’s head into that of a Donkey’s. This scares away all the other actors and Bottom, unaware of his current condition and not knowing what to do, just takes a walk around the forest. He then happens to come across Titania’s resting place and accidentally wakes her up. Titania then falls in love with Bottom, introduces him to her fairies, and they proceed to participate in private activities together.
The scene then cuts to Robin, who is informing Oberon on the supposed success of the plan. Demetrius and Hermia enter while they are talking and Robin realizes he used the flower on the wrong Athenian. Hermia is beyond angry with Demetrius because she believes he killed Lysander while he was asleep but Demetrius keeps denying he had anything to do with Lysander’s absence. Hermia decides to leave out of rage and Demetrius decides to take nap. Oberon scolds Robin for using the flower on the wrong person and then rubs the flower on Demetrius’s eyes. Immediately after Helena enters with Lysander following close behind, and Demetrius wakes up from the noise with his eyes hitting Helena. Without hesitation, Demetrius begins to express his profound love for Helena. Helena becomes even more hurt from this because she thinks this is still just some elaborate joke. Hermia then walks in on all this commotion and is extremely relieved to find Lysander, but Lysander wants nothing to do with her. Lysander tells Hermia he finds her revolting and exclaims that Helena is one true love. Hermia begins to fight with Helena because she stole her future husband and Demetrius and Lysander begin to plan a duel because they both love Helena. Lysander and Demetrius then run off to have their duel and Helena runs away from Hermia fearing for her life. This is the climax.
Oberon tells Robin that this is all his fault and that he must fix it. He tells Robin to imitate Lysander and Demetrius’s voices and egg them on to tire them out and put them to sleep so the effect of the flower can be reversed. Robin then does what Oberon said and reverses the love potion on Lysander, and by coincidence Helena and Hermia just so happen to fall asleep in the same area. This is the start of the falling action. Act 4 starts right where Act 3 ended with Titania and Bottom sitting in a flowerbed near Lysander, Demetrius, Helena, and Hermia. Bottom requests some music and food from the fairies and falls asleep with Titania. Oberon then reverses Titania’s love potion and wakes her up to try and make amends. They then dance to keep the others asleep and walk away together. Theseus, Egeus, and Hippolyta then arrive at the resting spot of Lysander, Demetrius, Helena, and Hermia and Theseus has his hunters sounds their horns to wake them up.
Egeus is furious with Demetrius’s love interest, but Theseus lets it slide and allows the new couples to get married alongside him. As everyone is walking back to Athens they try to piece together what happened, but their memories seem like a crazy dream. Back at the resting spot, Bottom finally wakes up. Even though he’s confused how he got there, he’s excited about writing his “dream” into a ballad called “Bottom’s Dream.” Bottom then travels back to Athens and the other actors are relieved to see that their lead role has returned just in time for the wedding. This was the journey home. Act 5 starts after everyone has been married. All the guest are waiting in the reception hall while Theseus selects a play. Theseus selects the play Pyramus and Thisbe, this is the play Quince, Snug, Bottom, Flute, Snout, and Starveling were rehearsing. Quince walks out on stage to deliver the prologue and he completely ignores the punctuation, changing the entire meaning.
Quince walks off stage and Snout walks on as the wall and, completely out of character, explains his purpose in the play. After the audience was forced to endure that, Bottom, playing Pyramus, and Flute, playing Thisbe, walk on stage and begin to talk through “cracks” in the wall. Pyramus and Thisbe arrange to meet up in a graveyard. The Wall, Pyramus, and Thisbe all walk off stage and the audience makes their own snarky remarks as Snug, playing the lion, and Starveling, playing Moonshine, walk on stage. Thisbe then walks on stage and is scared by the Lion and runs away, dropping “her” cloak in the process. The lion then stains the cloak with blood and walks off. Pyramus then walks on stage and sees Thisbe’s cloak. Pyramus, thinking Thisbe has died, kills himself out of grief. Thisbe then walks back on stage, sees Pyramus has died, and kills “herself” as well. The audience, now happy that the play is over, dance until midnight. The play then concludes with Oberon and Titania singing and dancing while Robin gives an epilogue. One recent movie adaption of A Midsummer Night’s Dreams was produced by BBC in 2016. While the movie mostly stays true to the original play, some liberties were taken by the writers of the movie. One difference between the play and the movie adaptation is the diversity of the characters.
In the original play, only two characters are written to be non-white, Hermia and Demetrius. In BBC’s movie adaptation, there are many people of color, such as Oberon, Robin, Flute, and many extras as well. Another difference is the sexuality of some of the characters. In the play, Titania is written as a straight character, but in the movie she is written as a lesbian character. This is evidenced by the line in Act 2 Scene 1, “Come from the farthest step of India? But that, forsooth, the bouncing Amazon. Your buskined mistress and your warrior love.” This line is originally written for Titania, as she is accusing Oberon of cheating on her with Hippolyta, but in the movie it is spoken by Oberon, revealing that Titania had a relationship with Hippolyta. Another character with a different sexuality is Flute. when Flute finds out he was playing a female part his reaction is “No, come on, don’t make me play a woman. I’m growing a beard.” In the movie, however, Flute is a lot more excited to play a female part, providing evidence this he is an openly gay character. One more difference is the theme of a patriarchy. In the play, Theseus and Hippolyta are in love with each other and both of them want to get married, as evidenced by the line said by Hippolyta in Act 1 Scene 1, “Four days will quickly steep themselves in night. Four nights will dream away the time. And then the moon, like to a silver bow, new bent in Heaven, shall behold the night of our solemnities.” In the movie, Theseus is portrayed as a controlling dictator and is clearly forcing Hippolyta into marriage, to the point where Hippolyta is always seen with a straight jacket around her.
While I liked both the original play and the 2016 film adaptation, I personally enjoyed the written play more. For the entire first four acts, the movie definitely beats the play. Some jokes came across a lot better and the visual effects made it really entertaining to watch. I was disappointed with Act 5 of the movie though. The play, which was originally hilariously bad in the play, turned out really cringeworthy and completely missed my expectations. Since Act 5 is my favorite part of the play, I have to say the original play is my favorite as its Act 5 was much more enjoyable compared to the movie’s Act 5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an exceptional play that is still talked about four hundred years later. While certain performances and adaptations may not live up to the original, the core idea still makes for an amazing production.
- Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream Translation. Sparknotes, www.sparknotes.com/nofear/shakespeare/msnd/?expanded=translation.