Theseus, duke of Athens, after conquering the warrior Amazons in battle, is in turn conquered by the charms of their queen, Hippolyta, and they are now planning to marry. To speed the time until their wedding night, he orders amusements to be staged. In a spirit of loyalty, Bottom the weaver and other tradesmen decide to prepare a play for the duke and his bride.
The preparations are interrupted by Egeus, an Athenian, who brings his daughter, Hermia, and her two suitors before Theseus, entreating him to command Hermia to wed Demetrius. Hermia pleads to be allowed to marry the other suitor, the one she loves-Lysander. The duke orders her to obey her father under penalty of death or confinement in a convent. Hermia and Lysander bewail the harsh decree and secretly agree to meet in a wood nearby and flee to another country. They tell their plans to Helena, a jilted sweetheart of Demetrius, and she, to win back his love, goes straightway to inform him of the plan.
Meanwhile, in the forest, the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania are at odds. In spite, Oberon bids Puck procure a love-juice to pour upon Titania’s eyelids when she is asleep, in order that she may love the first thing her waking eyes behold. Just then, Oberon sees Demetrius, who has sought out the trysting-place of Lysander and Hermia only to meet Helena, much to his distaste. The lady’s distress at her lover’s coldness softens the heart of Oberon, who bids Puck touch Demetrius’s eyes also with the love-juice, for Helena’s sake.
Meanwhile, Lysander and Hermia arrive, and Puck in error anoints Lysander’s instead of Demetrius’s eyes, so that Lysander, happening to awake just as the neglected Helena wanders by, falls in love with her-and abandons Hermia.
The same enchanted spot in the forest happens to be the place selected by Bottom and company for the final rehearsal of their play. The roguish Puck passes that way while they are rehearsing, and mischievously and magically crowns Bottom with an ass’s head, whereupon the other players disperse terror-stricken. Then he brings Bottom to Titania; and, when she awakens, she gazes first upon the human-turned-to-an-ass and falls in love.
Meantime, the four lovers are greatly bewildered. Oberon finds that Puck has anointed the eyes of Lysander instead of those of Demetrius, so Oberon anoints Demetrius’s eyes with another potion which breaks the spell. When Demetrius awakes, he sees his neglected Helena being wooed by Lysander. His own love for her returns, and he is ready to fight Lysander. Helena deems them both to he mocking her, and Hermia is dazed by the turn of affairs. The fairies interpose and prevent conflict by causing the four to wander about in the dark until they are tired and fall asleep. Puck repairs the blunder by anointing Lysander’s eyes, in order to dispel the illusion caused by the love-juice. Thus, when they awake, all will be in order: Lysander will love Hermia, and Demetrius will love Helena.
Titania woos Bottom until Oberon, whose anger has abated, removes the spell from her eyes. Bottom is restored to his natural form, and he rejoins his comrades in Athens. Theseus, on an early morning hunting trip in the forest, discovers the four lovers. Explanations, follow; the duke relents and bestows Helena upon Demetrius and Hermia upon Lysander.
A wedding-feast for three couples instead of one only is spread in Duke Theseus’s place. Bottom’s players come to this feast to present the “comic” tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, which is performed in wondrous and hilarious fashion. After the company retires for the night, the fairies dance through the corridors on a mission of blessing and goodwill for the three wedded pairs.