A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens with Theseus, Duke of Athens, eagerly anticipating his marriage to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. A courtier, Egius, brings his daughter, Hermia, before the duke, complaining that she refuses to marry Demetrius, the man he has chosen for her, as she is in love with another suitor, Lysander. Egeus demands the privilege of Athens: that if Hermia refuses to marry his choice, he has the right either to force her to marry or to have her killed. Theseus gives Hermia four days to choose either to obey her father, die or become a nun. Hermia runs away to the woods with her beloved Lysander. Demetrius follows, as does Hermia’s friend Helena, who is in love with Demetrius.
The wood is the jurisdiction of Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies, who are themselves quarrelling over possession of a changeling, a disagreement that is causing disturbances to nature and the world of men. A group of Athenian workmen, due to perform a play at the duke’s wedding, also arrange to rehearse in the wood. Oberon, in a cruel attempt to punish Titania for defying him and to distract her so she will give up the changeling, gets Puck (a trickster fairy or hobgoblin also known as Robin Goodfellow) to use a magic love-juice on her that makes the sleeper fall in love with the first being he or she sees on waking. On hearing Demetrius reject Helena’s advances, Oberon describes the pair to Puck and tells him to use the love-juice on Demetrius as well.
Night falls and Lysander and Hermia, lost, go to sleep in the wood. Puck comes across the pair and, mistaking him for Demetrius, puts the love-juice on Lysander’s eyes. Helena chances by them and wakes Lysander who promptly falls in love with her and runs off leaving the sleeping Hermia alone. Puck then comes upon the workmen ineptly rehearsing their play. He terrorises them, transforming Bottom the Weaver into a man with the head of an ass. The others flee in terror, while Bottom, unaware of his transformation, remains in the wood. Titania wakes and falls in love with Bottom; the pair pursue their pleasures, the changeling forgotten and given over to Oberon.
Oberon and Puck realise the mistake with Lysander and Puck drugs Demetrius. When he awakes, he also falls in love with Helena. The four Athenians meet in the wood and quarrel viciously, Helena thinking the group are making fun of her, and Hermia not understanding why Lysander now spurns her. Oberon, having watched the fallout of the scheme, decides to restore order. Puck herds the lovers until they all sleep, keeping Lysander and Demetrius apart so they don’t fight, and re-dosing Lysander so that he’ll fall back in love with Hermia on waking. Oberon returns Bottom to his original form and releases Titania from her enchantment. The lovers return to Athens for a triple wedding, at which the workers perform their play, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. After they have all gone to bed, Oberon and Titania appear in the court with their fairy train to bless Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding bed. Puck closes the play with an address to the audience.