Egeus appears with his daughter Hermia before Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and his recently conquered fiancée, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Hermia refuses to marry Demetrius, her father’s choice for her, proclaiming her love for Lysander. Despite Hermia’s pleas, Theseus declares that she must decide whether to be married to Demetrius, live as a nun, or be put to death. Lamenting the tortured path of true love, Lysander and Hermia plan to meet at night in the nearby woods to run away and get married. Hermia’s best friend, Helena, is lovesick for Demetrius (who is, in turn, lovesick for Hermia…), and so reveals Hermia’s plan to him in hopes of gaining his affection. Meanwhile, a group of laborers meets to receive parts for a production of “Pyramus and Thisbe,” which they hope to present at the Duke’s upcoming wedding. They, too, plan to meet that night in the woods to rehearse.
The woods at the moment are in chaos. Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies, battle over a child Titania has adopted, and the entire natural world is in disarray. Hoping to humiliate Titania into releasing the boy, Oberon sends Puck for a magic flower which, when squeezed into a sleeping victim’s eyes, will make her enamored of the first thing she sees upon waking. Searching for Hermia and Lysander, Demetrius comes along with Helena clinging to him despite his brutal rejections. Oberon watches and, feeling sorry for the girl, instructs Puck to find the young Athenian gentleman in the woods and enchant him with the flower, too, so that he will return the girl’s affections. But Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, and when Helen’s sobbing awakens Lysander, it is Lysander and not Demetrius who is suddenly smitten with her. She thinks that he mocks her and runs away. When Hermia awakens to find Lysander gone, she panics and races off in search of him.
Puck happens upon the players in their first rehearsal of “Pyramus and Thisbe,” and finds Bottom to be the perfect candidate among them to transform into an ass for snaring Titania. The other players, shrieking in terror, awaken Titania—who immediately falls in love with Bottom in the form of an ass. Puck brings the news to Oberon, who congratulates his servant for excellent work—until he sees Demetrius still pursuing Hermia, and under no effect of the love potion whatsoever. To correct Puck’s error, Oberon applies the love flower to the sleeping Demetrius’s eyes. Awakened by Lysander, Demetrius sees Helena—now the object of Lysander’s passion—and falls in love with her, too. Helena is convinced they are all playing a cruel joke on her. Soon the two girlfriends come to blows, and Lysander and Demetrius are chasing one another through the woods. Oberon chides Puck and demands that he keep the lovers apart until he can repair his mistake. Puck uses his magic to trick Demetrius and Lysander into chasing after his voice until all four young people collapse, exhausted, near one another.
Oberon finds Titania sleeping happily with Bottom. He uses an herb to reverse the magic love flower, and she awakens, stunned to find herself beside an ass. Reconciled with Oberon, she begs to hear the story of the night’s events. Meanwhile, Theseus and his court come to the woods to hunt and find the young lovers there asleep together. Egeus demands that Demetrius and Hermia be married, but Demetrius explains that, for some reason, his love to Hermia is forgotten and his heart is now with Helena. Theseus arranges for the two couples to be wed on the day of his own wedding to Hippolyta. Bottom awakens, human again, convinced that this night has been a beautiful dream.
The young lovers tell Hippolyta and Theseus their tale. Theseus declares it a fantasy of the night, but Hippolyta believes the stories. Philostrate appears to announce the entertainment. Theseus chooses “Pyramus and Thisbe,” which the court watches and playfully ridicules. After the three couples head off to bed, Puck tells us that if we haven’t enjoyed the play, we should believe it all just a midsummer night’s dream.