Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream -
Happiness and Ethics
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Theseus, Duke of Athens.
Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, engaged to Theseus.
Hermia and Lysander, lovers.
Egeus, Hermia’s father.
Demetrius, also in love with Hermia.
Helena, in love with Demetrius.
Oberon, king of the fairies.
Titania, queen of the fairies.
Puck, Oberon’s goblin servant, also known as Robin Goodfellow.
Nick Bottom, weaver and actor.
- The famous Shakespearean director, Peter Brook (pictured right above) used
circus acts to give the play spectacle.
- Great actors have been in the play – for example, John Gielgud (as Oberon) and the star of
Gone With the Wind, Vivien
Leigh, pictured right (as Titania).
Theseus, Duke of Athens, is four days away from marrying Hippolyta.
Egeus is angry that his daughter, Hermia, prefers Lysander to
Theseus orders her to:
- marry Demetrius (who is loved by his old girlfriend, Helena).
Hermia (Helen Mirren, pictured right, in the 1968 film) and Lysander:
- escape into the forest outside Athens.
Helena and Demetrius follow them there.
Meanwhile a group of actors (including Nick Bottom) agree to rehearse their play to celebrate
Theseus’ wedding in the forest, where an argument occurs between:
- Oberon, king of the fairies.
- the queen, Titania, (who angrily refuses to give her boy
servant to Oberon).
(Titania and Bottom are pictured right in Edwin Landseer's 1851 painting)
- sends Puck (his goblin servant) to find him a magic flower.
Putting the flower's juice on people’s sleeping eyelids makes them fall in love with
the first person they see.
- applies it to Titania’s eyes
- orders Puck to do the same to Demetrius (hoping that he will fall for Helena).
But Puck (pictured right in Joshua Reynolds' 1789 painting) puts the juice on Lysander who:
- immediately falls in love with Helena.
- falls for Nick Bottom (whose head has been turned into an ass's head by Puck).
Puck then gives the juice to Demetrius who falls in love with Helena.
So Demetrius goes off to a duel with Lysander over Helena, who is chased by jilted
- sends them all off to sleep (so they won't hurt each other).
- puts love juice on Lysander's eyes (so he'll love Hermia again).
Oberon takes pity on Titania, undoing the spell. She is shocked to find Bottom in her arms.
When Oberon removes Bottom’s ass head, Oberon and Titania are reconciled.
Meanwhile, hunting in the forest, Theseus, Hippolyta and Egeus find the four sleeping lovers (Demetrius, Helena,
Hermia and Lysander).
- commands that Hermia should marry Lysander and Demetrius wed Helena.
The three couples (including Theseus and Hippolyta) get married and the
entertainment is provided by Bottom’s play about two lovers.
Finally Puck suggests the play may have been “but a dream”.
Lessons on happiness and ethics
1. Have a good laugh
This is one of Shakespeare’s funniest plays.
For example, Bottom is given the head of an ass, because he is one. The joke is that he doesn’t realize he's
changed (see point 2).
2. You are as people see you
Like Bottom (with his donkey head), how you see yourself may be different to how others see you.
- unaware of things around him (with his donkey head!)
Puck calls him “the shallowest thickskin”.
3. Don’t interfere in other people’s lives without their
Oberon and Puck’s magic juice leads to the four lovers (Demetrius, Helena, Hermia and Lysander)
fighting each other.
4. Fight for your rights
Hermia and Titania are particularly assertive.
Titania argues with Oberon over the boy servant.
- defies her father by eloping.
- tells Lysander to sleep separately, when they arrive in the forest!
In contrast Helena is more timid and uncertain, because she lacks
Titania (Judi Dench) is pictured right, in the 1968 film.
5. Enthusiasm gets results
Bottom’s enthusiasm and self-confidence are essential to the play’s successful
He continually prompts the other actors into action (who affectionately call him “Bully”).
Without him they would have given up.
6. Keep calm
Oberon and Titania’s petty argument over a servant leads to the magic juice that causes much
heartache (and amusement!).
7. Love is constant
The magic juice:
- confuses the lovers.
- makes them love different people.
For example, Hermia is heartbroken when Lysander abandons her for Helena. She can’t understand that he has
changed his feelings while she hasn’t.
This confirms Lysander’s earlier comment that
“the course of true love never did run smooth”.
But Hermia’s (and Helena’s) loyalty is rewarded when they eventually marry the men they love.
8. Character and intellect are more important than
“Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind”, Helena says.
In other words, looks fade but the mind endures in a relationship.
Key quotes on love
The course of true love never did run smooth, Lysander.
Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind, Helena.