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SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Theseus, the Duke of Athens, is betrothed to Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons. As they are discussing their marriage, which is just four days away, Egeus, an Athenian, comes to Theseus with a complaint that his daughter Hermia has refused to marry Demetrius, an Athenian youth chosen by him. He insists that Hermia be put to death, per the law prevailing in Athens. Theseus wants to give Hermia four days time to either agree to marry Demetrius or face death.
Hermia is in love with Lysander and does not want to marry Demetrius, who has been unfaithful to Helena. The lovers decide to leave Athens and go to Lysander's aunt, who lives seven leagues from Athens, where Athenian law cannot be enforced. They decide to meet the following night in the woods outside Athens. They reveal their plan to the heart-broken Helena in an attempt to console her. Helena decides to inform Demetrius about this plan, for she is certain that he will reward her for the information. She expects that Demetrius will pursue the lovers and decides to follow him to the woods.
The woods outside Athens is a favorite haunt of a band of fairies headed by Oberon and Titania. They have of late fought over a changeling boy who is in the care of Titania. Oberon demands that Titania give the boy to his page. Titania refuses and Oberon decides to teach her a lesson. He sends Puck, his attendant, to fetch the flower, called love-in-idleness, which has a magical quality. If the juice of the flower is squeezed over the eyes of a person who is asleep, it makes the person fall in love with the object he/she first sees on waking up. He decides to cast this spell over Titania.
As he is waiting for Puck to return with the flower, Helena and Demetrius enter the scene. All Helena's pleas are ignored by Demetrius, who is in pursuit of Hermia. Oberon feels sorry for Helena and decides to help her. When Puck arrives, he tells him to go in search of an Athenian youth with a lady and anoints his eyes with the juice of the flower. Oberon himself goes to Titania with the flower.
Puck mistakes Lysander and Hermia for Demetrius and Helena and squeezes the juice on Lysander's eyes. Meanwhile, Helena comes that way. Seeing Lysander, she calls out to him. Lysander wakes up, sees Helena, and falls in love with her. Helena thinks that he is teasing her and runs away from him, but Lysander pursues her.
In another part of the woods, the workmen from Athens have gathered to rehearse a play that they plan to present in honor of their Duke to celebrate his wedding. Puck sees them and decides to play a trick on them. He places an ass's head on Nick Bottom's shoulders. When his friends see Bottom transformed, they are scared and run away. Bottom feels that they are all trying to play a prank on him. To show them that he is not afraid, he starts "surging." The noise wakes up Titania, who is under the spell of love-in-idleness. She sees Nick Bottom and falls in love with him.
Oberon notices Demetrius still professing love to Hermia and realizes that Puck has made a mistake. Hermia spurns Demetrius and goes in search of Lysander. Demetrius, exhausted, falls asleep. Oberon orders Puck to bring Helena there and squeezes the juice of the flower on the eyes of Demetrius. Puck brings Helena to the scene, followed by Lysander. Demetrius wakes up and falls for Helena. Thus, both men are in love with the same girl, and Helena believes that they are both playing a cruel joke on her. Hermia arrives on the scene too. She is shocked to see the change in Lysander. Demetrius and Lysander decide to settle the matter by fighting a duel and move into the woods. They are followed by Helena and Hermia, quarreling with each other.
Oberon chides Puck for the mix-up and instructs him to cause a fog and lead the lovers into each other's path. When they fall asleep, Oberon tells Puck to squeeze an antidote on Lysander's eyes. Oberon goes to Titania and succeeds in making her give up the boy, because she is now in love with Nick Bottom. Then he removes the spell from her.
Puck manages to separate Lysander and Demetrius as they are preparing for the duel. Through the fog he leads them to the same spot. When they fall asleep, he removes the spell from Lysander.
Theseus and Hippolyta lead their people to the woods to begin the wedding festivities. They find Helena, Demetrius, Hermia, and Lysander fast asleep. When they wake up, Demetrius gives up his claim on Hermia and professes his love for Helena. Lysander is restored to Hermia. Theseus is quite happy with this turn of events and announces that all the weddings will be solemnized on the same day.
Puck has removed the ass's head from Nick Bottom, and he has returned to his friends. On the wedding night, he and his friends present the interlude, "The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe," much to the merriment of the company. Theseus and others retire for the night, and the scene is taken over again by the fairies with their songs and dance.