The action unfolds in a forest near the Duke’s palace. Oberon, King of the Fairies and Elves, has quarrelled with his wife Titania. Oberon orders Puck to bring a flower pierced by Cupid’s arrow (which causes anyone coming under its influence to fall in love with the first being the eyes behold) and, while Titania is asleep and unknowing, he casts the flower’s spell over her. Meanwhile, Helena, wandering in the forest, meets Demetrius whom she loves but who does not love her. He rejects her and goes on his way.
Oberon watches and tells Puck to use the flower on Demetrius that he may return Helena’s affection. Another couple, Hermia and Lysander, very much in love, are also wandering in the forest. They become separated. Puck, eager to carry out Oberon’s orders, mistakenly anoints Lysander. Helena appears and Lysander, under the flower’s spell, at once and to her amazement tells her how much he loves her.
Hermia now returns. She is astonished and then dismayed to see Lysander paying attention only to Helena. Puck manages to bring Demetrius, too, under the flower’s spell, much to the delight of Helena, who doesn’t care for Lysander at all. Demetrius and Lysander, now both in love with Helena, begin to quarrel over her. Puck, at Oberon’s order, separates Bottom, a weaver, from his companions, transforms his head into that of an ass and places him at the sleeping Titania’s feet. Awakening, Titania sees Bottom, thinks him handsome and pays him close and loving attention. At last Oberon, his anger over, has Bottom sent away and releases Titania from the spell.
Hermia now gets no attention, Helena too much. The men, completely at odds, quarrel seriously and begin to fight. Puck uses his magic to separate them and wander apart in the forest until they fall asleep, exhausted. In the meantime, Puck brings Helena to Demetrius and makes her fall asleep beside him while he leaves Lysander (the spell now removed) with Hermia.
The Duke and Hippolyta discover the lovers asleep in the forest, awaken them, find their differences are resolved and proclaim a triple wedding for themselves and the two couples.
In the Duke’s palace there are parades, dancing and divertissements in honour of the newly married couples. When the celebrations are over and the mortals retire, we return to the demesne of Oberon and Titania, who are now reunited and at peace. At last Puck, having put order into disorder, sweeps away the remnants of the night’s doings. The fireflies twinkle in the night and reclaim the forest.
Overture and incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 21 and 61 (1826, 1843)
Overtures to Athalie, Op. 74 (1845) and The Fair Melusine, Op. 32 (1833)
The First Walpurgis Night, Op. 60
Symphony No 9 for Strings (1st, 2nd and 3rd movements, 1823)
and overture to Son and Stranger, Op. 89 (1829)