Probably written between 1594 and 1596, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. It is set across two worlds – the court of Athens and a mystical forest that lies beyond the city’s walls. The play is a comedy and explores themes of the irrationality of love, desire, friendship, possession, jealousy and magic.
This page includes everything you need to know about the play – if you’re looking to browse and buy tickets to current productions, head over to What’s On.
Pictured above: A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2013. Photographer: John Haynes
‘The course of true love never did run smooth…’
You are cordially invited to the wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens and his Amazonian bride Hippolyta. But before the celebration begins, four star-crossed lovers must sort out their own romantic destinies.
Hermia and Lysander are deeply in love, but Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius. Demetrius is pursued by Helena, whose passion goes painfully unrequited.
When the Duke tells Hermia that she must obey her father or else die or enter a convent, she and Lysander flee into a nearby wood, where they are followed by Demetrius and Helena.
In another part of Athens, a group of artisans – or ‘mechanicals’ – are rehearsing a play to be performed at Theseus’ and Hippolyta’s nuptials. The actors are earnest if not very skilful, and they, too, make plans to rendezvous in the same wood.
The wood in fact is a magical realm ruled by Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies. Yet all is not right, even among enchanted creatures. The fairy couple are arguing over custody of an Indian boy, who, like Hippolyta, has been taken far from home.
Oberon commands his chief mischief-maker, Puck, to play a wild trick on the queen. But the king’s meddling goes awry, and the Athenians get caught in the crossfire of the fairies’ quarrel.
One of the actors, Nick Bottom, undergoes a shocking transformation, and the effect on Titania is anything but expected. Meanwhile, the young lovers are made to suffer the pain of betrayal, but they learn the transformational power of magic and love.
In the end all that was brought to confusion is set right again. The royal wedding party is treated to the mechanicals’ farcical production, a reminder that love – like putting on a play – is best suited for dreamers, poets, and fools.
WRITING THE PLAY
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved and enduring comedies. It was likely written between 1594 and 1596, around the same time Shakespeare was working on Romeo and Juliet and Richard II. The play was published in 1600 and again in 1619 after Shakespeare’s death, and it was included in the First Folio of 1623.
Elements of Shakespeare’s fantasy are inspired by numerous sources. Theseus and Hippolyta are characters found in Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans and Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. In Tudor culture fairies and sprites were less benevolent than vaguely menacing, which Shakespeare hints at in the play.
The name ‘Oberon’ appears in a medieval French poem, while the name ‘Titania’ and the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe are taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The play’s interest in magical transformations is also a nod to Ovid. But overall, the story of confused and fickle desire, told with exquisite lyricism along with comic absurdity, is considered Shakespeare’s own.
King of the fairies
Queen of the fairies
Puck / Robin Goodfellow
In love with Hermia
In love with Hermia
In love with Lysander and Egeus’s daughter
In love with Demetrius
The Duke of Athens
The Queen of the Amazons
Nick Bottom, Peter Quince, Francis Flute, Robin Starveling, Tom Snout, Snug
The craftsmen, also called the players or the mechanicals
Theseus’s Master of the Revels
Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mote, and Mustardseed
The course of true love never did run smooth
– Lysander, Act I, scene 1
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
– Helena, Act I, scene 1
the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
– Titania, Act II, scene 1
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight.
– Oberon, Act II, scene 1
What angel wakes me from my flow’ry bed?
– Titania, Act III, scene 1
Lord, what fools these mortals be!
– Puck, Act III, scene 2
O, when she’s angry, she is keen and shrewd!
She was a vixen when she went to school;
And though she be but little, she is fierce.
– Helena, Act III, scene 2
My Oberon, what visions have I seen!
Methought I was enamored of an ass.
– Titania, Act IV, scene 1
I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was.
– Bottom, Act IV, scene 1
Are you sure
That we are awake? It seems to me
That yet we sleep, we dream.
– Demetrius, Act V, scene 1
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
– Theseus, Act V, scene 1
In this same interlude it doth befall
That I, one Snout by name, present a wall;
And such a wall, as I would have you think
That had in it a crannied hole or chink,
Through which the lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe,
Did whisper often very secretly.
This loam, this rough-cast and this stone doth show
That I am that same wall; the truth is so:
And this the cranny is, right and sinister,
Through which the fearful lovers are to whisper.
– Snout, Act V, scene 1
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended—
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnèd luck
Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long.
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
– Puck, Act V, scene 1
BLOGS & PODCASTS
We have a few different databases of free downloads for teachers and students – we’ve collated some top links below.
There are a selection of resources on our Teach Shakespeare website. Includes lesson plans for Key Stage (KS) 3: Text in performance, Language, Characters, Themes and Contexts. Also lesson plan downloads and activities for Key Stage (KS) 4/5: Text in performance, Language, Characters, Themes and Contexts.
Our Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank productions are designed for students and are always accompanied by a wealth of resources.
Designed for Key Stage (KS) 3 students, teachers can still access our microsite from our 2012 Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Navigate Shakespeare’s language using our script machines, view character profile pages, download activities and more.
Between 2002 and 2021, there have been many different productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream created by Shakespeare’s Globe.
Some of them were performed here at the Globe Theatre whilst others toured other venues across the world.