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In the opening scene at the palace of Theseus in Athens, Egeus chooses a Demetrius as her daughter’s suitor and instructs her to marry Demetrius. Hermia refuses to follow her father’s will because she is in love with another man - Lysander. Following the denial, Egeus quotes the Athenian law which states that daughters should marry the suitors chosen by their fathers or otherwise they will face death.
Theseus, duke of Athens, offers him another suggestion. He recommends for Hermia to take a chastity agreement, to join the nunnery, forever remain pure and to worship the goddess Diana. This suggestion seems to be somehow hilarious for Theseus. Looking at it from the viewpoint of the following quote, a young virgin would have to choose between marriages to a man chosen by her father or forever face a punishment, namely, never to indulge in sex.
…Either to die the death or to abjure
For ever the society of men.
Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires;
Know of your youth, examine well your blood,
Whether, if you yield not to your father's choice,
You can endure the livery of a nun,
For aye to be in shady cloister mew'd,
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
Thrice-blessed they that master so their blood,
To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
But earthlier happy is the rose distill'd,
Than that which withering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives and dies in single blessedness. (Shakespeare p.5)
Helena, who is in love with Demitrius, arrives and starts lamenting because Demetrius is with Hermia. Lysander convinces her to be happy since they would sneak that night to their marriage ceremony at the aunt’s place. Their aunt lives outside Athens and agrees to that plan. In the final soliloquy, Helena indicates that she will inform Demetrius about Hermia's plans with the hope that he might change his mind and start loving her again. This is hilarious as no one can force to love anyone.
In the second scene of the first act which happens at Quince’s house in Athens, Quince and his team of actors come together to act “the most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe”, which means to entertain the Duke and the Duchess. The reading of the charactes’ names and the allocation of roles are done by Peter Quince. Nick Bottom who is the main character of the play Pyramus, is extremely happy about this role. His aim is to dominate over the other actors; therefore, he suggests playing roles of the three characters at the same time. They are Thisbe, The Lion and Pyramus. This is also hilarious since the three roles cannot be played by the one person at the same time.
Nick Bottom fears that if the Lion character of the play was made too real, it would frighten the ladies part of the audience. This is funny because all the ladies that will attend the act know that the roles being acted will be played by human beings. Quince ends the meeting with the meeting at the Duke's oak which is where they are going to rehearse their act.
The first scene of this act happens in the woods near Athens. Fairies have come from India to grace the wedding of Theseus. They take on hunting in the same woods which is planned for the craftsmen and lovers to meet. Puck makes it known to the fairy that it was important if Titania and his master, Oberon, were not let to meet since they quarrel every time. This proves to be hilarious, when they arrive and start arguing.
Oberon, the king of the fairies, Titania and his queen are arguing. Titania makes it known to Oberon about her plans to remain there until the end of Theseus and Hippolyta wedding. Oberon and Titania are at odds because of her refusal to lend the Indian changeling to Oberon so that he could use it as his "knight" or "henchman". This is not taken lightly because the child's mother was one of the Titania's worshippers. This is hilarious since they are both married and Titania should not deny such rights to her husband. Oberon stats:
…Do you amend it then; it lies in you:
Why should Titania cross her Oberon?
I do but beg a little changeling boy,
To be my henchman…. (Shakespeare p.22)
Oberon wants to punish Titania because of her disobedience. In his efforts, he calls upon his mischievous court jester Puck or "Robin Goodfellow" to assist him in administering charm, a magical juice that is derived from a flower called “love-in-idleness”. When the juice is applied on the eyelids of a sleeping individual, he/she falls in love with the first thing seen upon waking up. He gives instructions to Puck that Tatiana should fall in love with the first thing she will see, which for sure can only be an animal of the forest. The intention of Oberon is to shame Tatiana so that she can give up the Indian boy. This is a little boy that she had stolen, takes care of and spends most of her time with. This is very hilarious for one to be given such punishment. There is a possibility that she might even fall in love with a stone. Oberon says:
…And ere I take this charm from off her sight,
As I can take it with another herb,
I'll make her render up her page to me… (Shakespeare p.24)
Demetrius and Helena get into the woods up to the place where Oberon is hidden. Demetrius tells Helena that he cannot love her because of the fact that she has revealed to him about Hermia and Lysander’s plot. Helena threats him not even try to abandon her in the woods. Because of his cruelty, Oberon orders a punishment like that of Titania to be administered to Demetrius.
Oberon orders Puck to apply some magical juice on the eyelids of the youthful Athenian man. On the process of administering the charm, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius. This is because he had not seen any of them before. On coming across him, Helena tries waking him up in an attempt to establish whether he was dead or asleep. Upon seeing Helena as the first thing on after waking up, Lysander falls in love with Helena there and then. It is for that reason that Lysander states:
…And run through fire I will for thy sweet sake.
Transparent Helena! Nature shows art,
That through thy bosom makes me see thy heart.
Where is Demetrius? O, how fit a word
Is that vile name to perish on my sword! (Shakespeare p.33)
Oberon gets so furious and realizes that Demetrius still follows Hermia. When Demetrius retires to bed, Oberon sends Puck to go and get Helena while he puts charm on Demetrius' eyes. After waking up and seeing Helena as the first thing, he falls in love with her. The two men now remain in love with Helena. When he wakes up Demetrius states:
…Help me, Lysander, help me! do thy best
To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast!
Ay me, for pity! what a dream was here!
Lysander, look how I do quake with fear:
Methought a serpent eat my heart away,
And you sat smiling at his cruel pray.
Lysander! what, removed? Lysander! lord!... (Shakespeare p.35)
However, Helena is convinced that the whole thing is mockery by her two lovers since at the first place, none of them loved her. Hermia considers that she lost her lover and blames Helena for stealing Lysander. The four characters quarrel and this makes Lysander and Demetrius extremely furious. The two look for a place where they can fight with one another in order to prove their love for Helena. The inner would be considered to have the greatest love for her. On realizing the turn of events, Oberon orders Puck to ensure that Lysander and Demetrius don’t catch up with one another. Puck is also orders to the charm on the eyes of Lysander, so that he gets back to loving Hermia. The acts in this scene are hilarious especially when the four argue about expressing their love to Helena even though they all rejected her.