A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare: Free Study Guide & Overview
written by: Beth Taylor
• edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom
• updated: 2/17/2012
Need some help understanding Shakespeare? Look no further than this free study guide. A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy that illustrates the complicated love relationships that are part of being human.
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With this free study guide, A Midsummer Night's Dream characters are divided into three sets: the Royals, the Faeries, and the Mechanicals. Here we will give a brief overview of the play and background to the characters.
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Oberon, King of the Faeries, Titania, Queen of the Faeries, and Puck are the most important faeries in the script. The faeries exist in a spiritual realm and are not seen by mortals. Faeries can, however, manipulate the mortal realm.
Puck is Oberon's lieutenant, or high-ranking servant. (Puck's name is Robin Goodfellow.)
Queen Titania has a "changeling boy." This child was born of a mortal friend of Titania's. She has passed away, and Titania is raising the boy. Oberon is extremely jealous. Not only is Titania no longer paying attention to him, but Oberon also wants the child for himself to be his servant.
Oberon plans revenge. He summons Puck, and tells him to find a magical flower. When the juice of the flower is dabbed on sleeping eyes, the victim falls in love with the first thing he or she sees upon waking. Oberon instructs Puck to use the flower on Titania, and to ensure that she sees something vile when she wakes up in the morning.
In addition to obeying Oberon's commands, Puck has some fun on his own.
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Theseus and Hippolyta
When the play begins, King Theseus and Queen Hippolyta are to be wed the next morning. Planning the celebration is underway.
The four young lovers are Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia, and Helena.
Lysander and Hermia are in love; however, Lysander's father (Egeus) wants Hermia to marry Demetrius. To complicate matters, Helena is in love with Demetrius. Demetrius once loved Helena, but has now rejected her.
Hermia is beautiful; she is short and fair. Helena, who is tall and dark, is not considered beautiful by Elizabethan standards.
As night falls, Lysander and Hermia run away into the woods. They wish to escape, marry and live elsewhere. Demetrius finds out and runs after them, and Helena runs after Demetrius. All four young lovers are in the forest through the dark of night, during which time Puck finds them and deliberately causes confusion for his own amusement.
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Puck finds the flower, and before he completes his task for Oberon he finds the four lovers in the forest. He sprays the magic juice on both Lysander and Demetrius. They both wake to see Helena first.
Both young men now scorn Hermia, who is used to everybody adoring her, and are in love with Helena, who can't believe it. Helena assumes that all three are making fun of her, and Hermia moves to attack Helena for stealing Lysander.
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The Mechanicals are the working class - the people ruled by the Royals. They get together to rehearse a play to be performed at Theseus' wedding celebration. Peter Quince has written the play and Nick Bottom stars in it as Pyramus.
Puck finds them rehearsing their farcical performance in the evening. He places the head of a donkey on the head of Nick Bottom. (Catch the pun in the character's name: Bottom = ass = donkey.)
And of course, Puck enchants Titania with the flower and has the man with a donkey's head right next to her as she wakes up. She falls completely in love with the monster.
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All Will be Well
In the end, Oberon gets his wish - Titania is made a fool. Titania hands over the changeling boy.
Oberon, however, is not pleased with Puck. He instructs the sprite to fix the problems he has caused with the four young lovers. Puck obliges. In the end, Lysander is in love with Hermia and Demetrius is back in love with Helena. All four lovers return home.
Puck restores Bottom's human head, and the wedding celebration takes place as planned. The Mechanicals perform "The Play Within the Play," and William Shakespeare's humorous script, A Midsummer Night's Dream, ends on a happy and positive note.
To improve comprehension, be sure to read the other articles which are a part of this free study guide. A Midsummer Night's Dream characters and the play within the play are also discussed.