Act Two, Scene One of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes us into the woods outside Athens, tomorrow night.
well, tonight… you know, yesterday’s tomorrow night…
And where yesterday’s Act One was filled with humans–the Athenian rulers, the aristocratic lovers, and the working-class actors–Act Two begins with a Fairy entering from one side of the stage, and Robin Goodfellow at the other. Who is Robin Goodfellow? Puck.
The fairy tells of her serving “the Fairy Queen” (II.i.8), dewing the plants at night; she also lets Puck know that the “queen and all her elves come here anon” (II.i.17). This does not please Puck, who states, “The king doth keep his revels here tonight. // Take heed the queen come not within his sight” (II.i.18-19); it seems that king Oberon is angry.
The fairy queen, according to Puck,
as her attendant, hath
A lovely boy, stolen from an Indian king;
She never had so sweet a changeling.
And jealous Oberon would have the child
So she has a young human boy as her attendant, and Oberon wants the boy for his own to be the “Knight of (Oberon’s) train, to trace the forests wild” (II.i.25). The queen won’t give him up, Oberon is angered over the queen’s non-compliance, and whenever king and queen
meet in grove or green,
By fountain clear, or spangled starlight sheen,
But, they do square, that all their elves for fear
Creep into acorn-cups and hide them there.
The king and queen fight whenever they meet, to the point that all their attendant fairies run and hide.
guess whether you consider him “knavish” or “merry” depends on which side of the pranks he pulls…
Exposition over, the fairy believes she recognizes Puck and asks if he is “that shrewd and knavish sprite // Called Robin Goodfellow” (II.i.33-34); Puck proudly asserts that he is “that merry wanderer of the night” (II.i.43).
Into this extra-exposition come the king and queen from opposite sides, and Oberon greets his wife with: “Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania” (II.i.60).
so THAT‘s the queen’s name…
why? is she accusing him of being jealous of her attendant human boy? or is there something else going on?
Titania immediately calls Oberon “jealous” (II.i.61), and tells her fairies (and us) that she has “forsworn his bed and company” (II.i.62).
Oberon responds by calling her “wanton” (II.i.63), but this only causes Titania to unleash a speech that accuses of Oberon of stealing “away from fairyland” (II.i.65) for the purpose of taking the form of man (“Corin” [II.i.66], a generic name for a shepherd) and then making love to human women (“versing love // To amorous” [II.i.67-68]), including “the bouncing Amazon… (who) to Theseus must be wedded” (II.i.70, 72).
so Oberon has been a lover of Hippolyta…
In return, Oberon accuses Titania of having a similar “love to Theseus” (II.i.76).
ah, the fairies get around, we see…
Titania then stops him short, stating that “These are the forgeries of jealousy” (II.i.81), that these are not the real reason for their conflict. But before she states the real reason, she speaks of the consequences of their quarrel: nature is turned upside-down,
the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.
She admits that they two are the “parents and original” (II.i.117) of the chaotic state of the world. Oberon doesn’t miss a beat and tells her to “amend it then” (II.i.118), and give him the boy to be his “henchman” (II.i.121).
Titania refuses, as the mother of the boy was a worshipper of Titania’s, Titania had been with her through her pregnancy, and was then when the mother “of that boy did die” (II.i.135) in childbirth:
And for her sake do I rear up her boy,
And for her sake I will not part with him.
Oberon has no argument so he asks how long Titania and her train intend to stay in the woods; she plans to stay until after Theseus’ wedding, and invites Oberon and his train to stay and dance in their revels. Oberon restates his demand for the boy, and Titania storms away, saying that they would “chide” (II.i.145) or brawl if she stayed. On her way out, he vows to “torment (her) for this injury” (II.i.147)… and it doesn’t take him long to figure out how: he sends Puck to find a flower called “love-in-idleness” (II.i.168), now known as a pansy (which had been created when Cupid missed a shot, and his arrow hit the flower, which give the flower the power to “make man or woman madly dote // Upon the next live creature it sees” (II.i.171-172). Oberon intends to use the juice of the flower on Titania, to make her wild in love for something else, and keep her in such a state until she gives up the boy.
When Oberon sees two Athenians coming, he makes himself “invisible” (II.i.186), and listens…
at no point, does this feel like Proteus’ real threat of rape from last month‘s The Two Gentlemen of Verona…
Demetrius enters (remember he’s pursuing the fleeing Hermia [and her love Lysander]), followed by Helena, who loves him; Demetrius, however, does NOT want her there: “I love thee not; therefore pursue me not” (II.i.188). Helena is relentless, calling him a magnet (“adamant” [II.i.195]) to her “heart… (as) true as steel” (II.i.196-197). They banter back and forth, Demetrius wanting only Hermia, Helena not budging an inch. Demetrius even goes so far as to imply that if she doesn’t stop following him, he “shall do (Helena) mischief in the wood” (II.i.237).
Helena still cannot be convinced to call off her chase: “Ay, in the temple, in the town, the field // You do me mischief” (II.i.238-240), and Demetrius knows he cannot argue with her, so he runs off, hoping to leave her behind. Of course, she pursues him off the stage.
Oberon advances, and vows that “ere (Demetrius) leave this grove, // (Helena) shalt fly him, he shall seek (her) love” (II.i.245-246). Puck re-enters with the flower. Oberon then tells him that he will find Titania and put the juice on her eyelids; he also wants Puck to seek through this grove:
A sweet Athenian lady is in love
With a disdainful youth: anoint his eyes;
But do it when the next thing he espies
May be the lady: thou shalt know the man
By the Athenian garments he hath on.
Puck is supposed to recognize the man by “the Athenian garments” … hmmmm, this sounds like a recipe for disaster… or hilarity.
Act Two, Scene Two takes place in another part of the wood, where Titania and her retinue dance and revel in the moonlight. After a song and a dance, Titania sleeps, the fairies depart, Oberon enters, “and squeezes the flower onto Titania’s eyelids” (II.ii.26 stage direction). If his plan wasn’t clear before, he outlines his wish in sing-songy rhyme:
What thou seest when thou dost wake,
Do it for thy true-love take;
Love and languish for his sake.
Be it ounce, or cat, or bear,
Pard, or boar with bristled hair,
In thy eye that shall appear
When thou wakest, it is thy dear.
Wake when some vile thing is near.
you can almost hear him laughing manically as he exits…
Once Oberon leaves the stage, who should enter but our OTHER two Athenian lovers, Hermia and Lysander. They are tired, too tired to make it all the way to Lysander’s aunt’s house, so they decide to nap here in the woods. Lysander does his best to sleep next to Hermia (WITH the NEXT step from “NEXT to” being “WITH“):
Two bosoms interchained with an oath,
So then two bosoms and a single troth.
Then by your side no bed-room me deny;
For lying so, Hermia, I do not lie.
But to no avail, as Hermia responds with a simple “Lysander riddles very prettily… So far be distant; and good night, sweet friend” (II.ii.53, 60).
And fall asleep they do, and … enter Puck, who finds a youth wearing “weeds of Athens” (II.ii.71), and he applies the love juice to Lysander’s eyes, and off he goes to tell the good news to his king, Oberon.
Once Puck is gone, in run Demetrius and his pursuer, Helena. Demetrius keeps going, but Helena is “out of breath,” and cannot continue “this fond chase” (both II.ii.88). She descends into more self-pity, calling herself as “ugly as a bear” (II.ii.94). She then finds Lysander, and fearing him dead, attempts to wake him.
Lysander is instantly willing to “run through fire” (II.ii.103) for Helena, instantly wants to kill Demetrius. Helena tells him that Demetrius doesn’t need to die, as Hermia still loves him, concluding that Lysander should “be content” (II.ii.110). Lysander will have none of THAT:
Content with Hermia! No; I do repent
The tedious minutes I with her have spent.
Not Hermia but Helena I love,
Who will not change a raven for a dove?
Helena takes this as “keen mockery” (II.ii.123), and she runs off. Lysander chases after her, leaving Hermia on the ground asleep. Once Lysander is gone, Hermia awakes from a nightmare in which “a serpent (ate her) heart away, // And (Lysander) sat smiling at his cruel prey” (II.ii.149-150).
oh, that Shakespeare and his prescient dreams…
But Lysander is gone. Afraid, she leaves to find her love.