A comedy in ancient Athens about a Love Dodecahedron gone out of control thanks to the meddling of fairies with a Love Potion. By William Shakespeare.Two young Athenians, Hermia and Lysander, are in love. Unfortunately, Hermia's father Egeus has just betrothed her to another man named Demetrius. Demetrius' former girl was Helena, who just happens to be Hermia's best friend and is now angry that Demetrius has chosen the wealthy Hermia over the woman he used to love. They go to court, where Duke Theseus (who has his own impending marriage to Hippolyta, an Amazon queen, on his mind), rules in Egeus' favor. He gives Hermia the choice to accept the marriage, be executed, or become a nun.So Hermia and Lysander run away by night. Before they leave, Hermia confides in Helena and asks her not to tell anyone; so naturally, Helena tells Demetrius in a last ditch attempt to get back into his good graces. Demetrius follows the lovers, with Helena following after him, and all of them end up lost in the same forest.Meanwhile, Oberon, King of the Fairies, has concocted a plan to get revenge on his bickering wife Titania, involving a certain flower whose nectar will, after being dropped into someone's eyes, cause them to fall in love with the first person they see. After eavesdropping on Helena and Demetrius and seeing how he spurns her, Oberon decides to have a bit more fun. He sends his servant Puck to give the potion to "a youth in Athenian garb," traveling in the woods with a woman, in such a set-up so that the first person he sees will be the woman. Oberon then finds Titania while asleep and applies the juice to her eyes.Obediently, Puck uses the potion on a young man in Athenian garb asleep in the woods near a young woman. Unluckily, the guy is Lysander, not Demetrius, and the woman who wakes him is Helena. Hermia wakes to find that her beau is madly in love with her best friend instead of her! Unaware of his error, Puck proceeds to the Alpha plot regarding Titania and finds an unwitting actor in the play to be performed at Theseus' wedding, turns his head into a donkey's, scares off the rest of the performers, and then arranges for Titania to see him upon waking.Upon discovering that the wrong Athenian was hexed, Oberon tries to mend matters by giving the potion to the intended victim, Demetrius. This backfires too, and now both of Hermia's former suitors are fighting over Helena, who thinks that the other three are mocking her. Meanwhile, Titania is in love with the guy with a donkey's head (although the victim, Mr. Nick Bottom, doesn't seem too distressed), Oberon is frustrated at the failure of his plans, and it's going to take some serious Deus ex Machina to repair all this chaos.Of course, it all gets straightened out in the end, everyone is paired off in a triple wedding, and the local tradesmen get to perform their hilariously awful play for the Duke and entourage.This is the play that that kid killed himself over in Dead Poets Society. Like most of Shakespeare's famous plays, it's been adapted to film several times, most recently a 1999 Hollywood production set in 19th Century Italy: despite a star-studded cast (including Calista Flockhart, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christian Bale and several others) and high production values, it met with mixed reviews at best. There's also a version from the '30s in which James Cagney plays Bottom and a fourteen-year-old Mickey Rooney plays Puck, as well as a British production from 1968 that's notable mostly for dressing the fairies in its cast in vines and green body paint. The fairies feature largely in Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest.Felix Mendelssohn wrote incidental music for the play, including setting the fairies' song to music. And the Wedding March.In 1993, Baz Luhrmann (known for Moulin Rouge! and William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet) produced a critically acclaimed opera based on the play, set in colonial India. His version of the fairies' dance (Now Until the Break of Day) was featured in his album "Something For Everybody". Woody Allen's version, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy was less successful during its release but gained its own following.
This play includes examples of:
Accidental Misnaming: The Mechanicals keep referring in Ninus's tomb as "Ninny's tomb", to Quince's increasing frustration.
All Amazons Want Hercules: "Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword/And won thy love, doing thee injuries..." Also specifically invoked when Theseus tries to impress Hippolyta with his hounds. She teasingly tells him that she went hunting with Hercules and his hounds were better. (In Greek mythology, Hippolyta was always paired with either Theseus or Hercules.)
The "crew of patches" putting on the "Pyramus and Thisbe" play are based on the Elizabethan-era working class, so their names and professions don't reflect the "ancient Greece" setting.
Hermia alludes to Dido and Aeneas ("And by that fire which burn'd the Carthage queen,/When the false Troyan under sail was seen") even though the Trojan War (and thus Aeneas's flight from burning Troy and eventual arrival at Carthage) happens after the life of Theseus in Greek mythology.
Also, Theseus decrees that if Hermia doesn't marry Demetrius, she'll either be executed or have to become a nun. Not exactly a lot of nunneries in mythological Greece. (Although, if you see Crystal Dragon Jesus below, Shakespeare might have meant that she'd have to become a priestess of Diana, who were required to be chaste.)
And You Were There: In many productions, the actors playing Theseus and Hippolyta also play Oberon and Titania. Theseus' servant Philostrate is usually Puck as well. Some productions even go the whole nine yards and double Flute, Snug, Snout and Starveling as Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed (in no particular order).
Babies Ever After: Heavily implied by Oberon's speech at the end; his blessing on the three couples ensures that their future children will be free from birth defects.
Bad Bad Acting: The actors playing Bottom and the rest of the tradesmen are absolutely required to give their best worstperformances during Pyramus and Thisbe. Bottom ought to chew the scenery like there is no tomorrow, but it's up to the rest of the Players to determine just how they'll mangle the play.
One production even went so far as to have them on stage without costumes and ineptly reading from a copy of the script for all of their scenes.
Baleful Polymorph: Bottom's head turned into that of an ass. Subverted, in that... he never seems to actually notice that anything is different.
Berserk Button: Don't call Hermia short. She'll try to claw your eyes out!
Crystal Dragon Jesus: Apparently in mythological Greece, nuns served Diana. In Shakespeare's time, the Greek word for the maidens who served Diana was often translated as "nuns" because their vows also required celibacy. Thus this may be "nearest modern equivalent" translation rather than an actual Crystal Dragon Jesus trope.
Elopement: Hermia and Lysander run off to do this, since Hermia is going to be forced into an Arranged Marriage to Demetrius (or put into a convent). However, events work out so that Demetrius cancels the wedding and the two are able to get married in Athens after all.
The Fair Folk: Probably near-single-handedly responsible for ensuring a darkish version of the fairies was always remembered despite Victorian Bowdlerization, which is mildly ironic because one of Shakespeare's subversions in the show is that his fairies act more or less human and benevolently, vice the contemporary view that they were cruel and alien.
Final Speech: Parodied in the Show Within a Show. Bottom takes forever to die as Pyramus, and Hippolyta complains that he's such a bad actor, he doesn't deserve to have his Thisbe take forever to die for him: "I hope she will be brief."
Have a Gay Old Time: The American elision of "arse" to "ass" added an extra pun to Bottom's name.
Hollywood History: The Elizabethan version — the lifestyles of the ancient Greeks look very British English. On the other hand, "fairy" was a common medieval and early modern translation for Greek νύμφη and Latin nympha.
Homosocial Heterosexuality: Lampshaded when Lysander tells Demetrius he should just marry Egeus, since Egeus loves him but Hermia doesn't!
I Have No Daughter: In the 1999 movie version, Egeus quietly excuses himself from his daughter's wedding, flashing Hermia a Death Glare. With no added dialogue, he made it clear that he would never forgive Hermia for going against his wishes and marrying Lysander.
I Love You Because I Can't Control You: A common way to play Oberon's relationship with Titania. In the scene where he dis-enchants her, he's just won her changeling boy without a fight, and he's humiliated her as much as could be wished. But while that would have been a fine laugh in Elizabethan days, to modern audiences it comes off as smug and mean. So actors might play Oberon as despondent, realizing that a Titania who'll obey his every command isn't the proud and fiery Queen he fell in love with.
It Amused Me: Puck's screwing up with the love potion. Sure it was a mistake but he's enjoying the results. "Then will two at once woe one. That must needs be sport alone. All these things do best please me, that which falls preposterously."
Love Martyr: Helena. At one point she claims she wouldn't mind if Demetrius treated her like a dog so long as she could be his dog. She also seems pretty unconcerned when he threatens to rape her. Granted, it's because she doesn't think he'd go through with it, but still.
Malaproper: Bottom, who is the poster boy for this trope, saying, for example, 'odious' for 'odours' and 'Ninny's tomb' for 'Ninus' tomb' (Ninus was the legendary founder of Nineveh). Bottom goes onto say that the lion "deflowered my dear!" Instead of "devoured".
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Played with in many productions. In the end, the lovers are left with nothing but their dreams which are startlingly consistent with one another and explain why Demetrius suddenly decided to come back to Helena. Theseus and Hippolyta lampshade this when they argue about it (Hippolyta thinks it's magic, Theseus thinks it's mundane).
Bottom. He's an ass. The "bottom" was also a tool used in weaving.
The "quince" a tool used in carpentry.
"Snout" in Elizabethan English meant simply "spout". Snout is a tinker, and tinkers mended teakettles.
"Starveling" means "someone who is thin from lack of food", and the stereotype about tailors was that they never had enough to eat.
"Snug" is a good name for a joiner, who should be able to fit everything together snugly.
The name "Titania" is derived from "Diana", the Greek goddess of the moon. And considering how much the moon is mentioned in this play, you get the idea.
"Helena" means "light" or "torch". "Fair Helena, who more enguilds the night/Than all yon firey oes and eyes of light". Helena is supposed to be fair-haired and tall. This also an ironic wink at Helen of Troy and the many much-sought Helen's based on her.
Nice to the Waiter: Surprisingly, Bottom, when Titania puts her entire fairy court at his service, takes time out to talk politely with several attending fairies and ask how their families are getting on. This may not be quite kindliness, depending on how the actor plays it — if Bottom thinks it's a dream, then he's just having fun and making a lot of bad puns, or he could be trying out the feeling of noblesse oblige. Nonetheless, he's making an effort.
Our Fairies Are Different: Many contemporary productions of this play portray the fairies with some variation of this. In fact the original play used this trope by making the fairies actually less sinister than they were commonly portrayed at the time.
Overly Long Gag: The mechanicals' play goes on for way too long, and is that much the funnier for it.
Overshadowed by Awesome: Between the lovestruck kids and the great passive-aggressive fairie divorce settlement, people don't give much thought to the rude mechanicals. Bottom is the fool who has the best summation of the entire play: he gets his head turned into a donkey. Meaning, "Love makes asses of us all".
Pet the Dog: Oberon is hardly the nicest of characters, but he does feel sorry for Helena and attempt to help her by getting Demetrius to fall in love with her. Unfortunately, that just makes things worse.
The Power of Friendship: Helena tries to use this trope to win over Hermia in the confusion in the woods when she thinks that Hermia betrayed her. It Doesn't Work. (Made worse in that Helena betrays Hermia first)
Significant Double Casting: Several productions have the same actors play Oberon/Theseus and Titania/Hippolyta. Partly because there's something of a parallel between their two marriages and the significance will no doubt be clear to the audience, partly because a) this way you don't have two actors off-stage for most of the play and b) the four characters never appear on stage at the same time, so you can get away with it.
So Bad, It's Good: invokedPyramus and Thisbe, when things are taken too literally, the play slowly turns from a tragedy to a comedy. But everybody gets a good laugh at the end.
Stealth Pun / Hilarious in Hindsight : A man whose name is Bottom gets given the head of an ass. There's some debate over whether "ass" was in common usage at the time, or if the play itself popularized the euphemism, or it evolved later.
Suspect Is Hatless: Oberon tells Puck to smear the love potion on the eyes of a youth dressed in Athenian garb. Given the play is set in a forest just outside of Athens, it is perhaps not too surprising that Puck smears the potion on the eyes of the wrong youth dressed in Athenian garb. Puck even points this out to Oberon, when his king is blaming him for the resulting mess.
Too Dumb to Live: Helena. Go run to the unknown woods, chasing after a guy that is very angry with your Yandere behaviour, who has a very short fuse. Demitrius openly states that it's "brave" of her and that he very well could "do [her] some mischief", which she doesn't seem nearly bothered enough by.
Tsundere: Hermia Type A. The only one she's tender with is her love interest. Given he has a certain problem with love potions, she gets a little irritated.
Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Despite the obvious application of the name, the only true example of the trope is when Helena rejects her former crush Demetrius because she thinks he's playing with her feelings.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Whatever happened to the Indian boy that Titania was so attached to that started this whole mess? Supposedly, he was given over to Oberon when he confronted her about being in love with a donkey-headed Bottom.