It is not known with certainly when the play was written and staged for the first time, but it is assumed between 1594 and 1596. Some have suggested that it may have been written in February 1596 for a performance at the marriage of Sir Thomas Berkeley and Elizabeth Carey. It is not certain which gender has inspired the plot, but some ideas can be traced in classical literature, for example, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe is told in Ovid's Metamorphoses, and the transformation of Bottom into a donkey is taken from “L'Asino d'Oro di Apuleio” - two literary works that Shakespeare may have learned at school.
Puck is the elf, servant of Oberon.
The Puck of Shakespeare becomes in some ways the real main character. By mistake or ability he raises the action, follows it for all its course, determines the happy ending. The characteristics of the Nordic tradition of Puck: the joke, the spite, are used to symbolize the changing nature of love.
Queen of the Fairies, is the beautiful wife of Oberon, King of the Fairies. Both are protagonists, with their intricate tale of love and revenge. Titania in the play is a beautiful creature that goes around the woods with his faithful retinue of spirits
The king of the fairies. The name Oberon appears for the first time in the first half of the thirteenth century, in a chanson de geste. A son of Charles the Bald, in 866 died from wounds inflicted by a certain Oberon.
Shakespeare read or had news at school of the chanson de geste.
Man loved by Hermia, but refused by her father.
Betrothed to Hermia, but unrequited. He is loved by Helena, but not reciprocated.
She is caught in a romantic accident where she loves one man, Lysander and is loved by Demetrius but does not love him back. Hermia is the Greek goddess of commerce and dreams. This connects with the economic reasons Demetrius and Lysander desire her, as well as their demands to be in control of her psyche, or dreams
Helena is considered to be a very vulnerable, sensitive and obsessive character, due to her growing up in the shadow of Hermia: she shows strength and a new belief in herself by refusing advances of Lysander when she believes he is making fun of her, despite the fact that he claimed that she was his one true love. Helena is the character who changes most and for the better.
Duke of Athens
Queen of the Amazons and the wife of Theseus
Will be transformed into an ass, and Titania falls in love with him.
The play features three interlocking plots, connected by a celebration of the wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens and the Amazon queen, Hippolyta, and set simultaneously in the woodland, and in the realm of Fairyland.
In the opening scene, Hermia refuses to follow her father Egeus's instructions to marry Demetrius, whom he has chosen for her. In response, Egeus quotes before Theseus an ancient Athenian law whereby a daughter must marry the suitor chosen by her father, or else face death. Theseus offers her another choice: lifelong chastity worshiping the goddess Diana as a nun.
At that same time, Peter Quince and his fellow players gather to produce a stage play, "the most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe", for the Duke and the Duchess. Quince reads the names of characters and bestows them to the players. Nick Bottom play the main role of Pyramus, is over-enthusiastic and wants to dominate others by suggesting himself for the characters of Thisbe, The Lion and Pyramus at the same time.
Meanwhile, Oberon, king of the fairies, and his queen, Titania, have come to the forest outside Athens. Titania tells Oberon that she plans to stay there until after she has attended Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding. Oberon and Titania are estranged because Titania refuses to give her Indian changeling to Oberon for use as his "knight" or "henchman," since the child's mother was one of Titania's worshipers. Oberon seeks to punish Titania's disobedience, so he calls for his mischievous court jester Puck to help him apply a magical juice from a flower called "love-in-idleness," which when applied to a person's eyelids while sleeping makes the victim fall in love with the first living thing seen upon awakening. He instructs Puck to retrieve the flower so that he can make Titania fall in love with the first thing she sees when waking from sleep, which he is sure will be an animal of the forest. Oberon's intent is to shame Titania into giving up the little Indian boy. He 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."
Meanwhile, Quince and his band of six labourers ("rude mechanicals", as they are described by Puck) have arranged to perform their play about Pyramus and Thisbe for Theseus' wedding and venture into the forest, near Titania's bower, for their rehearsal. Bottom is spotted by Puck, who (taking his name to be another word for a jackass) transforms his head into that of a donkey. When Bottom returns for his next lines, the other workmen run screaming in terror, much to Bottom's confusion, since he hasn't felt a thing during the transformation. Determined to wait for his friends, he begins to sing to himself. Titania is awakened by Bottom's singing and immediately falls in love with him. She lavishes him with attention, and presumably makes love to him. While she is in this state of devotion, Oberon takes the changeling. Having achieved his goals, Oberon releases Titania, orders Puck to remove the donkey's head from Bottom, and arrange everything so that Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena will believe that they have been dreaming when they awaken. Demetrius is left under the spell and in love with Helena.
The fairies then disappear, and Theseus and Hippolyta arrive on the scene, during an early morning hunt. They wake the lovers and, since Demetrius does not love Hermia any more, Theseus overrules Egeus's demands and arranges a group wedding. The lovers decide that the night's events must have been a dream. After they all exit, Bottom awakes, and he too decides that he must have experienced a dream "past the wit of man". In Athens, Theseus, Hippolyta and the lovers watch the six workmen perform Pyramus and Thisbe. Given a lack of preparaton, the performers are so terrible playing their roles to the point where the guests laugh as if it were meant to be a comedy, and afterward everyone retires to bed. Afterward, Oberon, Titania, Puck, and other fairies enter, and bless the house and its occupants with good fortune. After all other characters leave, Puck "restores amends" and reminds the audience that this might be nothing but a dream (hence the name of the play).
During the years of the Puritan Interregnum when the theatres were closed (1642–60), the comic subplot of Bottom and his compatriots was performed as a "droll". Drolls were comical playlets, often adapted from the subplots of Shakespearean and other plays, that could be attached to the acts of acrobats and jugglers and other allowed performances, thus circumventing the ban against drama.
After the Jacobean/Caroline era, A Midsummer Night's Dream was never performed in its entirety until the 1840s.
In 1840, Madame Vestris at Covent Garden returned the play to the stage with a relatively full text, adding musical sequences and balletic dances. Vestris took the role of Oberon, and for the next seventy years, Oberon and Puck would always be played by women. After the success of Vestris' production, 19th-century theatre continued to stage the Dream as a spectacle, often with a cast numbering nearly one hundred. Detailed sets were created for the palace and the forest, and the fairies were portrayed as gossamer-winged ballerinas. The overture by Felix Mendelssohn was always used throughout this period. Augustin Daly's production opened in 1895 in London and ran for 21 performances. The special effects were constructed by the Martinka Magic Company, which was later owned by Houdini
A Midsummer Night's Dream has been produced many times in New York, including several stagings by the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park and a production by the Theatre for a New Audience, produced by Joseph Papp at the Public Theatre. In 1978, the Riverside Shakespeare Company staged an outdoor production starring Eric Hoffmann as Puck, with Karen Hurley as Titania and Eric Conger as Oberon, directed by company founder Gloria Skurski. There have been several variations since then, including some set in the 1980s.