A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Short Story Summary | Shakespeare

King Lear by William Shakespeare

 Hi, I’m Cecilia Elise Wallin. And this is a video in my series Learn from the Classics of literature.

In some of the videos in this series, we will learn from the incomparable Shakespeare. Twelve of Shakespeare’s greatest plays have been summarized into beautiful groundbreaking short stories by the British poet and novelist Edith Nesbit, and these short stories have been recorded by great LibriVox readers. One of these exquisite short stories is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare.


HERMIA and Lysander were lovers; but Hermia’s father

wished her to marry another man, named Demetrius.

Now in Athens, where they lived, there was a wicked

law, by which any girl who refused to marry according to her

father’s wishes, might be put to death. Hermia’s father was so

angry with her for refusing to do as he wished, that he actually

brought her before the Duke of Athens to ask that she might be

killed, if she still refused to do as he wished. The Duke gave her four

days to think about it, and, at the end of that time, if she still re-

fused to marry Demetrius, .she would have to die.

Lysander of course was nearly mad with grief, and the best

thing to do seemed to him for Hermia to run away to his punt’s

house at a place beyond the reach of that cruel law; and there

he would come to her and marry her. But before she started, she

told her friend, Helena, what she was going to do.

Helena had been Demetrius’ sweetheart long before his mar-

riage with Hermia had been thought of, and being very silly, like

all jealous people, she could not see that it was not poor Hermia’s

fault that Demetrius wished to marry her instead of his own lady,

Helena. She knew that if she told Demetrius that Hermia was

going, as she was, to the wood outside Athens, he would follow

her, “and I can follow him, and at least I shall see him/’ she s^id

to herself. So she went to him, and betrayed her friend’s secret.

Now this wood where Lysander was to meet Hermia, and where

the other two had decided to follow them, was -full of fairies, as

most woods are, if one only had the eyes to see them, and in this

wood on this night were the King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon

and Titania. Now fairies ‘are very wise people, but now and then

they can be quite as foolish as mortal folk. Oberon and Titania,

who might have been as happy as the days were long, had thrown

away all their joy in a foolish quarrel. They never met without say-

ing disagreeable things to each other, and scolded each other so

dreadfully that all their little fairy followers, for fear, would creep

into acorn cups and hide them there.

So, instead of keeping one happy Court and dancing all night

through in the moonlight, as is fairies’ use, the King with his at-

tendants wandered through one part of the wood, while the Queen

with hers kept state in another. And the cause of all this trouble

was a little Indian boy whom Titania had taken to be one of lier

followers. Oberon wanted the child to follow him and be one of his

fairy knights ; but the Queen would not give him up.

On this night, in a mossy moonlight glade, the King and Queen

of the fairies met.

“Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania,” said the King.

“What! jealous, Oberon?” answered the Queen. “You spoil

everything with your quarrelling. Come, fairies, let us leave him.

I arn not friends with h^m now.”

“It rests with you to make uo the quarrel,” said the King. “Give

me that little Indian boy, and I will again be your humble servant

and suitor.”

“Set your mind at rest/’ said the Queen. “Your whole lairy

kingdom buys not that boy from me. Come, fairies.”

And she and her train rode off down the moonbeams.

“Well, go your ways,” said Oberon. “But Til be even with you

before you leave this wood.”

Then Oberon called his favorite fairy, Puck. Puck was the

spirit of mischief. He used to slip into the dairies and take the

cream away, and get into the churn so that the butter would not

come, and turn the beer sour, and lead people out of their way on

dark nights and then laugh at them, and tumble people’s stools

from under them when they were going to sit down, and upset their

hot ale over their chins when they were going to drink.

“Now,” said Oberon to this little sprite, “fetch me the flower

called Love-in-idleness. The juice of that little purple flower laid

on the eyes of those who sleep will make them when they wake to

love the first thing they see. I will put some of the juice of that

flower on my Titania’s eyes, and when she wakes, she will love the

first thing she sees, were it lion, bear, or wolf, or bull, or meddling

monkey, or a busy ape.

While Puck was gone, Demetrius passed through the glade fol-

lowed by poor Helena, and still she told him how she loved him

and reminded him of all his promises, and still he told her that he

did not and could not love her, and that his promises were nothing.

Oberon was sorry for poor Helena, and when Puck returned with

the flower, he bade him follow Demetrius and put some of the

juice on his eyes, so that he might love Helena when he awoke and

looked on her, as much as she loved him. So Puck set off, and wan-

dering through the wood found, not Demetrius, but Lysander, on

whose eyes he put the juice ; but when Lysander woke, he saw not

his own Hermia, but Helena, who was walking through the wood

looking for the cruel Demetrius ; and directly he saw her he loved

her and left his own lady, under the spell of the crimson flower.

When Hermia woke she found Lysander gone, and wandered

about the wood trying to find him. Puck went back and told

Oberon what he had done, and Oberon soon found that he had

made a mistake, and set about looking for Demetrius, and having

found him, put some of the juice on his eyes. And the first thing

Demetrius saw when he woke was also Helena. So now Demetrius

and Lysander were both following her through the wood, and it

was Hermia’s turn to follow her lover as Helena had done before.

The end of it was that Helena and Hermia began to quarrel, and

Demetrius and Lysander v/ent off to fight. Oberon was very sorry

to see his kind scheme to help these lovers turn out so badly. So

he said to Puck^ —

These two young men are going to fight. You must overhang

the night with drooping fog, and lead them so astray, that one

will never find the other. When they are tired out, they will fall

asleep. Then drop this other herb on Lysander’s eyes. That will

give him his old sight and his old love. Then each man will have

tne lady who loves him, and they will all think that this has been

only a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then when this is done all will

be wdl with them.”

So Puck went and did as he was told, and when the two had

fallen asleep without meeting each other, Puck poured the juice on

Lysander’s eyes, and said : —

“When thou wakest,

Thou takest

True delight

In the sight

Of thy former lady’s eye :

Jack shall have Jill ;

Nought shall go ill ;

The man shall have his mare again,

and all shall be well.”

Meanwhile Oberon found Titania asleep on a bank where grew

wild thyme, oxlips, and violets, and woodbine, musk roses and- eg-

lantine. There Titania always slept a part of the night, wrapped in

the enamelled skin of a snake. Oberon stooped over her and laid

the juice on her eyes, saying : —

“What thou seest when thou wake,

Do it for thy true love take.”

Now, it happened that when Titania woke the first thing she

saw was a stupid clown, one of a party of players who had come

out into the wood to rehearse their play. This clown had met with

Puck, who had clapped an ass’s head on his shoulders so that it

looked as if it grew there. Directly Titania woke and saw this

dreadful monster, she said, “What angel is this? Are you as wise

as you are beautiful ?”

“If I am wise enough to find my way out of this wood, that’s

enough for me,*’ said the foolish clown.

“Do not desire to go out of the wood,” said Titania. The spell

of the love-juice was on her, and to her the clown seemed the most

beautiful and delightful creature on all the earth. “I love you,*’

she went on. “Come with me, and I will give you fairies to attend

on you.”

So she called four fairies, whose names were Peaseblossom,

Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed.

“You must attend this gentleman,” said the Queen. “Feed him

with apricots, and dewberries, purple grapes, green figs, and mul-

berries. Steal honey-bags for him from the humble-bees, and with

the wings of painted butterflies fan the moonbeams from his sleep-

ing eyes.”

“I will,” said one of the fairies, and all the others said, “I will.”

“Now, sit down with me,” said the Queen to the clown, “and

let me stroke your dear cheeks, and stick musk-roses in your

smooth, sleek head, and kiss your fair large ears, my gentle joy.”

“Where’s Peaseblossom?” asked the clown with the ass’s head.

He did not care much about the Queen’s aflfection, but he was very

proud of having fairies to wait on him. “Ready,” said Peaseblos-


“Scratch my head, Peaseblossom,” said the clown. “Where’s

Cobweb?” “Ready,” said Cobweb.

“Kill me,” said the clown, “the red humble-bee on the top of the

thistle yonder, and bring me the honey-bag. Where’s Mustard-


“Ready,” said Mustardseed.

“Oh, I want nothing,” said the clown. “Only just help Cobweb

to scratch. I must go to the barber’s, for methinks I am marvellous

hairy about the face.”

“Would you like anything to eat?” said the fairy Queen.

“I should like some good dry oats.” said the clown — for his don-

key’s head made him desire donkey’s food — “and some hay to


“Shall some of my fairies fetch you new nuts from the squirrel’s

house?” asked the Queen. “I’d rather have a handful or two of

good dried peas,” said the clown. “But please don’t let any of your

people disturb me, I am going to sleep.”

Then said the Queen, “And I will wind thee in my arms.”

And so when Oberon came along he found his beautiful Queen

lavishing kisses and endearments on a clown with a donkey’s head.

And before he released her from the enchantment, he persuaded

her to give him the little Indian boy he so much desired to have.

Then he took pity on her, and threw some juice of the disenchant-

ing flower on her pretty eyes; and then in a moment she saw

plainly the donkey-headed clown she had been loving, and knew

how foolish she had been.

Oberon took off the ass’s head from the clown, and left him to

finish his sleep with his own silly head lying on the thyme and


Thus all was made plain and straight again. Oberon and Titania

loved each other more than ever. Demetrius thought of no one but

Helena, and Helena had never had any thought of anyone but

Demetrius. As for Hermia and Lysander, they were as loving a

couple as you could meet in a day’s march, even through a fairy-

wood. So the four mortal lovers went back to Athens and were

married; and the Fairy King and Queen live happily together in

that very wood at this very day.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare, adapted into a short story by Edith Nesbit

A Midsummer Nights's Dream Shakespeare Summary

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