Here is a more detailed look at what happens in each scene of A Midsummer Night's Dream, to help you look at the structure of the play and interrogate it.

As you look at each act we’ve included some things to notice. These are important character developments, or key questions that an acting company might ask when they first go through the play together at the start of rehearsal. If you work through these as you go, they will help you to make sense of the play. It’s a good idea to have a copy of the text nearby!

  • Act 1

    Act 1 Scene 1

    The play opens with Theseus and Hippolyta talking about their wedding, which is about to take place. Theseus is eager for the wedding day to come but Hippolyta reassures him that ‘Four days will quickly steep themselves in nights’. They are interrupted by Egeus who says he is ‘full of vexation’ because his daughter Hermia refuses to marry Demetrius, the suitor he has chosen for her. Instead, she wants to marry Lysander who has wooed her without Egeus’ permission. Egeus tells Theseus he wants to ‘beg the ancient privilege of Athens’. This is an old law which states that if she doesn’t marry his choice of suitor she can be put to death. After hearing from Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander, Theseus tells Hermia she has until the next new moon to choose and ‘Upon that day either prepare to die / For disobedience to your father’s will, / Or else to wed Demetrius’.

    When they are left alone, Lysander and Hermia devise a plan to run away to his Aunt’s house, outside Athens. They are interrupted by Helena, Hermia’s best friend, who is in love with Demetrius. The friends talk about Demetrius and Helena tells her friend ‘the more I love, the more he hateth me.’ To make Helena feel better, Hermia tells her about the plan she has to leave with Lysander. When Helena is left alone she decides to go to Demetrius and ‘tell him of fair Helena’s flight’.

    What do we Learn?

    • Theseus won Hippolyta’s hand in marriage after he beat her Army in a war.
    • Demetrius and Helena have been engaged in the past.
    • Demetrius and Lysander have the same background and wealth and Hermia and Helena have similar social standing.

    Act 1 Scene 2

    Six local craftsmen, later referred to as ‘rude mechanicals’, from Athens meet to rehearse an amateur production of ‘The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe’. Their aim is to practice and perform the play on Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding night, as part of the celebrations.

    Peter Quince, the director, hands out the parts to each of the actors. Nick Bottom, the weaver, is very keen to find out what part he has, telling Quince to ‘Name what part I am for and proceed’. Quince gives Bottom the part of Pyramus, ‘a lover that kills himself’, and Bottom tells everyone how great he will be in the part and how he will ‘move storms’. Quince then goes on to give out the rest of the parts, with some of the other actors complaining. Bottom says that he also wants to play the heroine Thisbe, and the lion but Quince tells him he can ‘play no part but Pyramus’, because it is the most important part.

    Quince asks the mechanicals to meet for their next rehearsal in the woods so they can’t be overheard.

    What do we Learn?

    • The mechanicals are working men and include a tinker, carpenter, weaver and joiner. All of them have practical crafts.
    • Bottom likes to perform and thinks he is capable of playing lots of parts better than the other actors.
    • 'Pyramus and Thisbe' is a tale that mirrors the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and is a reminder to the audience of what could happen to Lysander and Hermia.

    Things to Notice in Act 1

    • Take note of the way the lovers talk about each other and what we learn about their history together. What is Demetrius’ past relationship with Helena and how does Lysander feel towards him? How long have Hermia and Helena been friends and how does Helena feel about the changing situation with Demetrius?

    • Note the way in which Egeus talks about his daughter and how Theseus responds to his request. Why do you think Egeus demands that Hermia marries Demetrius? What reasons does he offer and why might Theseus support him, despite Lysander’s words? How do Hermia and Lysander respond and what does this reveal about them?

    • Notice the different ways in which the world of the court and the mechanicals are introduced. How are they different and why do you think Shakespeare places these scenes next to each other in Act 1? What impression do you get of Bottom, Quince, Flute, Snug, Snout and Starvling? What kind of character is Bottom and how does he behave?

    • Act 1 is important because it establishes the different worlds of Athens – introducing the lovers and the mechanicals to the audience, before they enter the forest and the world of the fairies. Why do both sets of characters decide to go into the woods? What are the key relationships that Shakespeare sets up in these opening moments?

  • Act 2

    Act 2 Scene 1

    Puck, a loyal servant to Oberon the King of the fairies, meets with another fairy who serves Titania, the Queen. Puck warns the fairy that Oberon is angry with the Queen and they should ‘take heed the Queen come not within his sight’.

    Oberon and Titania then arrive. Oberon calls her ‘proud Titania’ and Titania calls him ‘jealous Oberon’. She accuses him of loving other women and of following her around and disturbing her fun ‘with thy brawls’. She claims that their arguments are starting to affect nature and that ‘the ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn hath rotted’ but Oberon refuses to put a stop to their arguments until she gives him ‘a little changeling boy’ to be his ‘henchman’. Titania explains she promised the boy’s mother she would look after him and will not give him up, so she leaves, telling him ‘not for thy fairy kingdom’ will she give up the boy.

    Oberon then calls his servant Puck back and asks him to remember a very specific flower called “love-in-idleness” that has very specific magical properties. He send him to find it and Puck vows he will ‘put a girdle around the earth in forty minutes’ and bring it back.

    Oberon tells the audience he plans to use the flower and ‘drop the liquor of it in her eyes’ so that when she wakes up and opens her eyes again she will fall in love with the first thing she sees. He thinks this will make Titania ‘render up her page’, the changeling boy.

    While he is waiting for Puck, Oberon sees Demetrius and Helena in the woods. He makes himself invisible so he can overhear them, and watches as Demetrius tells Helena to leave him alone, saying ‘I love thee not, therefore pursue me not’ and ‘I am sick when I do look on thee.’ When Puck returns, Oberon decides to help Helena by asking Puck to put some of the juice from the flower in Demetrius’ eyes so that he might love her back.

    What do we Learn?

    • The fairies have magical powers and they can affect the natural world.
    • Titania is looking after a little changeling boy, who is the son of a woman who served her. Oberon wants the child for himself but Titania will not hand him over.
    • Oberon plans to use a magical flower which was created when Cupid, the god of love, shot an arrow. It missed its target and hit a small flower called 'love-in-idleness' and the flower can be used to make mortals and fairies fall in love with whatever they see.

    Act 2 Scene 2

    Titania is in her bower, surrounded by her fairy train. She tells them to ‘sing me now asleep’ and lies there. Once her fairies have left her alone to rest, Oberon arrives and puts the juice from the ‘love-in-idleness’ flower in her eyes saying ‘wake when some vile thing is near’. Hermia and Lysander have got lost in the woods and decide to sleep until morning. Lysander wants to sleep near Hermia but for modesty’s sake she convinces him to sleep away from her and ‘lie further off yet. Do not lie so near’.

    Puck then sees the sleeping Lysander on the ground and mistakes him for Demetrius, saying ‘weeds of Athens he doth wear / This is he, my master said.’ He then puts the juice from the flower on Lysander’s eyes. Shortly afterwards, Helena arrives. She has been chasing Demetrius but stops when she sees Lysander sleeping. She worries he might be hurt, asking ‘dead or asleep? I see no blood, no wound.’ He then wakes up and immediately falls in love with her, saying ‘And run through fire I will for thy sweet sake. / Transparent Helena!’

    Helena thinks he is making fun of her and tries to remind him about Hermia, saying ‘Yet Hermia still loves you. Then be content’ to which he replies ‘Content with Hermia? No.’ She runs away and he chases her. When Hermia wakes to look for Lysander she is shocked to find him gone, calling out ‘Alack, where are you? Speak, an if you hear.’ She then goes in search of him.

    What do we Learn?

    • The juice from the flower, or love potion, works and Lysander now loves Hermia.
    • Titania is asleep and Oberon has also added the love potion to her eyes.
    • Hermia is now alone in the woods searching for Lysander.

    Things to Notice in Act 2

    • Notice how Puck and Titania talk about the King and Queen of the fairies and how the two characters are introduced. Why do you think we hear this conversation before we meet Titania and Oberon? How do these two powerful characters come across and why are they fighting? What are the effects of their arguments?

    • Take note of the relationship between Puck and Oberon and how much Oberon trusts his servant. What does he ask Puck to do and how does Puck react? Do you think Puck deliberately mistakes Lysander for Demetrius?

    • Note the way in which Oberon talks about love and the lovers. What kind of language does Oberon use to describe the location of the ‘love-in-idleness’ flower to Puck? What does this reveal about him as a character and his place in the woods? Why do you think Oberon decides to interfere with Demetrius and Helena’s relationship? What motivates him to use the juice of the flower on Titania and what does this suggest about Oberon’s character?

    • Act 2 is the catalyst for the drama and confusion in the play – with Oberon and Puck using magic to affect both the lovers and Titania. How does Helena react to the change in Lysander and who is more responsible for what unfolds, Puck or Oberon?

  • Act 3

    Act 3 Scene 1

    The mechanicals meet in the woods for their next rehearsal, with Quince announcing ‘here’s a marvelous convenient place for our rehearsal’. When they start to rehearse they realise there are some problems with the play, including ‘the killing’, ‘the lion’ and how they can symbolise the ‘moonlight’ and ‘the chink of a wall’ that the lovers meet through. They decide to have one of them ‘come in with a bush of thorns and a lantern, and say he comes to disfigure, or to present, the person of Moonshine’ and that ‘some man or other must present Wall’ as well. To make sure the ladies aren’t ‘afeared’ by the killing and the lion they agree to add a prologue, which Bottom insists is written in ‘eight and eight’.

    Whilst Bottom is preparing, Puck stumbles upon the group and remarks ‘What hempen home-spuns have we swag’ring here, / So near the cradle of the fairy queen?’ Puck uses his own magic to transform Bottom’s head into the head of an ‘ass’ or donkey before he makes his entrance in the play.

    When Bottom comes in, the other mechanicals shout out and run away from him, calling ‘O monstrous! O strange!’ and ‘Thou art translated.’ Bottom believes them to be playing a joke on him and think they are doing it to ‘make an ass of me, to fright me, if they could’ and so he starts to sing a song, hoping they will hear him and ‘that they shall hear I am not afraid.’

    Bottom’s singing accidentally wakes Titania, who was sleeping nearby, and as she opens her eyes the first thing she sees is Bottom with the head of an ass. She asks him ‘what angel wakes me from my flowr’y bed?’ as the juice from the flower in her eyes takes effect and she tells him she loves his singing voice and that her eye is ‘enthralled to thy shape’. At first Bottom tries to leave, but Titania commands him ‘Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no’ and she calls for her fairy attendants ‘Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed!’, who she tasks to look after him. With the fairies looking after him, Bottom is led away to Titania’s fairy bower.

    What do we Learn?

    • The mechanicals have very little experience in putting on a play and expect their audience to be scared.
    • Puck has the ability to transform Bottom’s head and causes this mischief without order or instruction from Oberon.
    • The mechanicals are all terrified and run away, leaving Bottom alone in the woods in Titania’s fairy bower.

    Act 3 Scene 2

    Oberon is wondering if Titania has woken up yet and what the first thing she saw might have been. Puck then arrives and tells him ‘My mistress with a monster is in love’ and explains what he did to Bottom and how Titania is now behaving. Oberon is pleased, saying ‘this falls out better than I could devise.’

    Hermia arrives, with Demetrius. She clearly thinks Demetrius has harmed Lysander, or even killed him, but Demetrius declares ‘I am not guilty of Lysander’s blood’. Hermia is frustrated and runs away to continue her search and Demetrius says ‘there is no following her in this fierce vein’, before lying down to sleep. Watching on, Oberon recognizes Demetrius as the Athenian he told Puck to give the potion to and he realises a mistake must have been made, saying to Puck ‘What hast thu done? Thou hast mistaken quite and laid the love juice on some true love’s sight’.

    Oberon orders Puck to find Helena and bring her back to where Demetrius is now sleeping and says he will put potion in Demetrius’ eyes. Puck leaves, saying ‘I go, I go, look how I go, / Swifter than arrow from the Tartar’s bow’. Oberon then adds the juice from the flower to Demetrius’ eyes before Puck quickly reappears, with Helena and Lysander not far behind. Puck seems excited to see ‘their fond pageant’, exclaiming ‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’

    Helena and Lysander then wake Demetrius, who sees Helena and declares ‘O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!’ Helena thinks the two man are making fun of her and using her for their ‘merriment’ and reminds them both that they ‘both are rivals and love Hermia’. The two men then argue over who has the right to love Helena, each telling the other to have Hermia instead.

    When Hermia arrives to find Lysander and Demetrius arguing she is confused asking ‘what love could press Lysander from my side?’ Helena then becomes angry with Hermia as well, thinking her friend must be part ‘of this confed’racy!’ and that they ‘have conjoined all three’. Hermia and Helena then start to fight, both thinking the other one is to blame, with Hermia declaring ‘I am not yet so low / But that my nails can reach unto thine eyes.’ Lysander and Demetrius do everything they can to protect Helena during the fighting, before leaving ‘cheek by jowl’ to fight elsewhere. When they have gone, Helena runs away and is chased by Hermia.

    Oberon confronts Puck, asking whether he did all of this deliberately but Puck promises he just made a mistake, because both men were wearing ‘Athenian garments’ and he had no way to tell that Lysander was not Demetrius. To put it all right, Oberon tells Puck to ‘overcast the night’ and then give Lysander the antidote, which Puck does.

    What do we learn?

    • Hermia and Helena have known each other for a long time and know each other’s sensitivities
    • Oberon doesn’t want the lovers to hurt each other and thinks that Puck may have caused this chaos deliberately
    • Oberon is on his way to visit Titania and will give her the antitidote as well, after he has begged the little changeling boy

    Things to notice in Act 3

    • Take note of the way in which Bottom behaves and reacts in each stage of Scene 1, both in his interactions with the other actors and then with Titania and the fairies. Why do you think he behaves the way he does? How does Shakespeare create comedy throughout this scene and how do the fairies contribute to this?

    • Notice how Oberon reacts to seeing Demetrius and Hermia in the woods, realising that Demetrius has not fallen in love with Helena as he wanted him to. How does he talk to Puck once he realises what mistake has been made? Why do you think Shakespeare allows Oberon to witness this at the same time as the audience? How does Puck respond to his own mistake and why?

    • Note the way Oberon talks to Puck about the lovers and about his mistake. Does Oberon still trust Puck? How does Puck feel about his master’s reaction and his treatment of him? What clues are offered in the text?

    • Act 3 deals with the consequences of Puck and Oberon’s interference – showing both Demetrius and Lysander in love with Helena and Titania in love with Bottom. How has the language of the lovers changed and what does the language in Scene 2 reveal about Helena and Hermia’s reactions? How have the two women changed?

  • Act 4

    Act 4 Scene 1

    Titania and Bottom are in her fairy bower, where Bottom commands the fairies to do things for him like ‘scratch my head’ and ‘bring me the honey bag’. Titania eventually sends the other fairies away so Bottom can ‘wind thee in my arms’ and he can sleep.

    Oberon and Puck arrive at Titania’s bower and Oberon tells Puck he has already met with Titania since she fell in love with ‘this hateful fool’ and that she agreed to give him the changeling boy and sent him straight to Oberon’s bower. He tells Puck that ‘now I have the boy, I will undo / This hateful imperfection of her eyes’ and he gives Titania the antidote before waking her up.

    When Titania sees Bottom and Oberon, she cannot believe what has happened to her and that she was in love with ‘an ass’, asking Oberon ‘How came these things to pass? Oh, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now!’ Puck then takes away Bottom’s transformed head and returns him to normal, before Oberon and Titania dance. Puck then interrupts them when he hears the ‘morning lark’ and the three fairies leave as Theseus arrives, sounding a hunting horn, with Egeus and Hippolyta.

    Theseus and his party find the four lovers sleeping on the ground in the woods, with Theseus asking ‘what nymphs are these?’. Egeus recognises them, telling the others ‘My lord, this is my daughter here asleep. / And this, Lysander. This Demetrius is. / This Helena, old Nedar’s Helena. / I wonder at their being here together.’ They realise that it is the day Thesues had asked Hermia to make ‘her choice’ by, deciding whether she would marry Demetrius or face death.

    The lovers all wake and kneel before the duke. Theseus tells them all to ‘stand up’ and asks the men to explain why they are together when they are ‘rival enemies’. Lysander explains how he and Hermia had tried to run away and is interrupted by Egeus who remind Theseus of the law, saying ‘You have enough! / I beg the law, the law, upon his head.’ Egeus turns to Demetrius for support, but Demetrius announces that he now loves Helena and explains how his feelings have changed and that he no longer desires Hermia.

    Theseus announces ‘Egeus, I will overbear your will’ and declares the two couples ‘shall eternally be knit’ in the temple at the same time as him and Hipployta, with a ‘feast in great solemnity’ to celebrate. Once everyone has left, Bottom wakes up and declares he has had a bizarre dream in which he had an ass's head, and decides to ask his friend to write about his strange dream and says ‘It shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream’ because it hath no bottom.’

    What do we learn?

    • Oberon has used the situation with Titania to his advantage and she has given him the changeling boy, ending their argument.
    • Theseus has decreed that Hermia and Lysander can marry, using his power to overrule Egeus. The text does not reveal how Egeus feels about this.
    • The four lovers are now to be married alongside Duke Theseus and Hippolyta. Theseus and Hippolyta enjoy hunting together.

    Act 4 Scene 2

    The mechanicals have been searching for Bottom as he hasn’t returned from the woods and they are worried that they can’t perform without him. The mechanicals talk about the money they would have earned performing their play and how much Bottom would have deserved it for his role as Pyramus.

    Then, Bottom suddenly appears saying ‘I am to discourse wonders’ and promising ‘I will tell you everything, right as it fell out.’ When Quince asks him to tell them, Bottom doesn’t tell them about what happened to him in the woods but that they need to get their things ready because the ‘duke hath dined’ and they need to ‘Meet presently at the palace’ and be ready to perform their play.

    What do we learn?

    • The mechanicals genuinely miss Bottom and wish he was there.
    • Bottom has discovered the mechanicals are the favourites on a list of those recommended to perform for Theseus at his wedding feast.
  • Act 5

    Act 5 Scene 1

    Hippolyta and Theseus are discussing the lovers’ story and Hippolyta questions whether they could be telling the truth. Theseus dismisses it as a dream and then the lovers arrive for the celebrations ‘full of joy and mirth’. Together, they wait for the entertainment as Theseus calls out ‘what masques, what dances shall we have / To wear away this long age of three hours / Between our after-supper and bedtime?’ Philostrate gives the duke a list of potential entertainments. Theseus asks about the mechanicals’ play and Philostrate advises against it, saying it is ‘tedious’ and ‘it is not for you’. Theseus decides he wants to see it anyway and the wedding party then watch the mechanicals perform.

    The guests interrupt during the performance, laughing and pointing out what is happening on stage until they reach the end where Theseus calls out ‘no epilogue, I pray you, for your play needs no excuse.’ and asks them to perform their Bergomask, or dance, instead.

    After the dance, the lovers all retire to bed with Theseus saying ‘Tis almost fairy time’ and Puck appears. Oberon and Titania join him shortly afterwards to bless the marriages that have taken place and Puck is then left alone on stage to talk directly to the audience, saying ‘If we shadows have offended, / Think but this and all is mended -- / That you have but slumbered here / While these visions did appear.’

    What do we learn?

    • The mechanicals manage to put on the play and cause a lot of hilarity at court.
    • Theseus does not want to hear the epilogue to the mechanicals’ play but Shakespeare has included one in his play, which is Puck’s only speech directly to the audience.