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A Midsummer Night's Dream poster  

A Midsummer Night's Dream


Having defeated her people, Theseus, Duke of Athens, is to wed the Amazon queen, Hippolyta. His enraged counsellor Egeus suddenly interrupts the pre-wedding preparations by asking for judgement on his daughter Hermia, who has refused his order to marry the young nobleman Demetrius. Theseus upholds Egeus and the law, which insists that Hermia must obey her father or choose between death and a nunnery. Nevertheless, Hermia decides to elope with Lysander, the man she truly loves; and the two lovers confide their plans to Helena. Helena in turn tells Demetrius, with whom she is desperately in love, and the four young Athenians arrive at various points of a wood near the city.

Yet this forest is enchanted, and in it Oberon, king of the fairies, quarrels with his queen Titania over the possession of a changeling boy. Seeking to punish Titania for her obstinacy, he orders his servant, the mischievous Puck, to obtain the juice of a magic flower which, when trickled into the fairy queen’s eyes, will make her fall in love with the first person she sees on waking. Later, having overheard Helena pleading with the hard-hearted Demetrius to return her affections, he instructs Puck to drop the love-juice into Demetrius’s eyes as well. But Puck confuses him with the sleeping Lysander, who, woken by Helena, falls instantly in love with her! Puck tries to correct his mistake, but he slips up again, and Demetrius is suddenly also besotted with a now highly suspicious Helena.

The lovers are not alone in the magical forest, however. A group of Athenian artisans have formed an unlikely amateur dramatics troupe, and are rehearsing the play Pyramus and Thisbe, which they are eager to present at the Duke’s wedding celebrations. Puck discovers them, and impishly gives an ass’s head to their leader, a weaver called Bottom. It is he whom Titania first sees (and adores!) when she wakes, and she leads him off to her fairy bower.

Meanwhile, Demetrius and Lysander fight over Helena, who believes she is the victim of a cruel joke designed to humiliate her. Hermia is also incredulous at her lover’s change of heart, and the four young nobles proceed to brawl and quarrel until exhausted. Oberon’s magic eventually unravels all, and as Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding day dawns, the Duke reverses his judgement and matches Hermia with her Lysander and Helena with her Demetrius. Bottom and his troupe perform their unintentionally hilarious play to the assembled court, while Titania and Oberon are themselves reconciled, before Puck finally urges the audience’s applause.

Shakespeare’s most persistently popular comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is much more than a piece of gentle fairy-fun. While it is of course brilliantly entertaining, the play’s concern with the anguish of unrequited desire is not merely comic, and Shakespeare was investigating the uncanny wonder of dreams centuries before Freud. As we laugh, we are encouraged to examine the nature of illusion and reality; and the play fuses profound ideas about theatricality and power in ways which never detract from the beauty of its language or the hilarity of its plot.


Wayne Sleep as Puck in our 2006 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream


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