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The Play features three interlocking plots, connected by a celebration of the wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens and the Amazonian queen, Hippolyta, and set simultaneously in the woodland, and in the realm of Fairyland, under the light of the moon.
In the opening scene, Hermia refuses to follow her father Egeus's instructions for her to marry his chosen man, Demetrius. In response, Egeus quotes before Theseus an ancient Athenian law whereby a daughter must marry the suitor chosen by her father, or else face death. Theseus offers her another choice: lifelong chastity worshipping the goddess Diana as a nun.
Hermia and her lover Lysander decide to elope by escaping through the forest at night, intending to escape from Athens, and marry in the house of Lysander's aunt. Hermia informs her friend Helena, but Helena has recently been rejected by Demetrius and decides to win back his favour by revealing the plan to him. Demetrius, followed doggedly by Helena, chases Hermia. Hermia and Lysander, believing themselves safely out of reach, fall asleep in the woods.
Meanwhile, Oberon, king of the fairies, and his queen, Titania, have come to the forest outside Athens. Titania tells Oberon that she plans to stay there until after she has attended Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding. Oberon and Titania are estranged because Titania refuses to give her Indian changeling to Oberon for use as his "knight" or "henchman", since the child's mother was one of Titania's worshippers. Oberon seeks to punish Titania's disobedience, so he calls for the mischievous Puck (also called Hobgoblin and Robin Goodfellow) to help him apply a magical juice from a flower called "love-in-idleness", which when applied to a person's eyelids while sleeping makes the victim fall in love with the first living thing seen upon awakening. He instructs Puck to retrieve the flower so that he can make Titania fall in love with the first thing she sees when waking from sleep, which he is sure will be an animal of...
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