A Midsummer Night's Dream. 1: Welcome to Athens

We meet Puck - our storyteller - and learn about the impending marriage of Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta.

1: Welcome to Athens

Puck - a woodland sprite - relates recent events in Athens: Theseus, the Duke, is preparing to marry Queen Hippolyta. Meanwhile Egeus wants his daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius. But Hermia only has eyes for her true love, Lysander.

Egeus takes Hermia to Theseus and he rules in her father’s favour: Hermia must marry Demetrius. So Hermia and Lysander make a plan to escape the city through the woods to be married beyond the reach of Athenian law.

The lovers reveal their plan to Hermia’s friend Helena, who is herself unhappily in love with Demetrius. Helena decides to tell Demetrius about it in the hope of winning his favour.

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Episode transcript
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Activities - KS2

To get to know the characters in the play better pupils could match their names to their illustrations on the activity sheet, then arrange characters into pairs / groups according to their different relationships - eg:

  • which characters live at court / which characters live in the town / the wood?
  • who is in love with who?
  • who wants Lysander and Hermia to be together?
  • who wants Demetrius and Hermia to be together?

A discussion / creative writing exercise could ask students to describe the activity and excitement in Athens preceding Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding.

Helena’s famous “How happy some o’er other some can be!” speech (Act 1, Scene 1, lines 236-262) could be given to pupils in its original form. They could be asked to identify the rhymes and discuss the meaning of lines like “love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.”

HELENA
How happy some o'er other some can be!
Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so.
He will not know what all but he do know.
And as he errs, doting on Hermia’s eyes,
So I, admiring of his qualities.
Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgment taste —
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste.
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.
As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjured everywhere.
For ere Demetrius looked on Hermia’s eyne,
He hailed down oaths that he was only mine.

Activities - KS3

Pupils could be presented with a list of adjectives related to the main characters (eg “cheeky”, “dreamer”, “loving”, “romantic”) and asked, in groups, to use a Thesaurus to come up with a word bank of additional adjectives. They could then link the adjectives to the characters and construct new sentences with them.

Pupils could be asked to analyse an excerpt from the original, in which Theseus talks to Hermia about her filial duty to her father (Act 1, Scene 1, lines 46-90) and explore Hermia’s feelings, providing evidence from the text.

THESEUS
What say you, Hermia? Be advised, fair maid:
To you your father should be as a god,
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax,
By him imprinted and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.
Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.

HERMIA
So is Lysander.

THESEUS
In himself he is;
But in this kind, wanting your father’s voice,
The other must be held the worthier.

HERMIA
I would my father look’d but with my eyes.

THESEUS
Rather your eyes must with his judgment look.

HERMIA
I do entreat your Grace to pardon me.
I know not by what power I am made bold,
Nor how it may concern my modesty,
In such a presence here to plead my thoughts;
But I beseech your Grace that I may know
The worst that may befall me in this case,
If I refuse to wed Demetrius.

THESEUS
Either to die the death, or to abjure
Forever 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.

HERMIA
So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,
Ere I will yield my virgin patent up
Unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke
My soul consents not to give sovereignty.

THESEUS
Take time to pause, and by the next new moon —
The sealing-day betwixt my love and me
For everlasting bond of fellowship —
Upon that day either prepare to die
For disobedience to your father’s will,
Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would,
Or on Diana’s altar to protest
For aye austerity and single life.

More episodes from A Midsummer Night's Dream

2: The Rehearsal
video
3: Into the Woods
video
4: The Wrong Athenian
video