A note before I start: this is basically a project to spice up my exam syllabus. Yes, unfortunately the horrid nightmare known as school is testing me on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. So let's fight back with our very own nightmare ... A Midsummer's Nightmare, a scene-by-scene summary that will explain this play (and even drop in a little analysis!) while giving you a good laugh. Sort of like a transcript, but with lots of snark.
Let's skip the 'much ado about nothing' and get straight onto Act 1, Scene 1:
We start with Theseus, Duke of Athens, and his wife-to-be, Hippolyta. For my own amusement she's going to be Hippie from now on. Anyways, Theseus apparently conquered Hippie's lands to win her and more or less forced her into a marriage. Cool. (Just in case you're wondering — no, in my opinion this has very little bearing on the main plot. Don't say that in your essay, though.)
So Theseus says that while he wasn't all that nice when making war on her people, things are going to be just fine when they get married. To prove it, he orders his master of revels, aka party planner, to make the wedding awesome. Hippie sulks and says nothing, which means, "Yeah, sure thing, you brainless violent twerp."
Then Egeus, who is going to be called Egads from this point onwards, comes in. He's got the perfect guy picked out for his daughter Hermia: Demetrius. Problem is, Hermia likes Lysander, another equally eligible guy, instead. They argue for a while about who Hermia should wed, blablabla. My teacher says one of the points is to show the interchangeability of lovers. I agree. It doesn't matter which idiot you get.
It all boils down to this: If Hermia doesn't marry Demetrius like Daddy says, then she can either be executed or become a nun. (Egads! Egads needs to get his values in order.) Apparently women can't be happy or successful unless they're married (and alive, of course), so Theseus advises Hermia to just go and marry Demetrius. Either way, he gives her until his and Hippie's not-so-happy wedding day to decide.
Lysander and Hermia are then left alone. They rant a bit about true love, while Shakespeare overdoses on the anaphora, parallel syntax and simile storms, before Lysander says they'll elope outside Athenian jurisdiction, to his aunt. Then Helena comes in.
Helena, by the way, is Demetrius' ex-girlfriend, and is still in love with him even though they broke up. She mopes a bit about how Demetrius loves Hermia and not her, even though Hermia keeps discouraging him. On the other hand, all of Helena's attempts to attract him are in vain. After a little more parallelism, Lysander spills the beans that they're going to elope and assures Helena they're not going to be in the way. Sweet, right?
Hermia and Lysander skip off, leaving Helena alone. In a rather long and boring monologue, she complains that Demetrius isn't in love with her and decides to blab to him about Hermia and Lysander's escape plan. Then he'll chase after them, she'll chase after him, and maybe, just maybe, he'll fall in love with her again.
I thought we'd seen the sheer stupidity of Shakespeare's characters when Macbeth heard the witches' prophecy that he would be defeated when Birnam Wood went to Dunsinane, and instead of destroying both places, proceeded to head to Dunsinane. Apparently not. Helena is a complete idiot. Just let them go and you can romance the widow — *cough* jilted groom.
By the way, I really, really wish that during one of the characters' soliloquys, another character would tap them on the shoulder and say, "Hey, I can hear you." But that would be logic, and as we know, logic does not really factor in here ... again, not to be said in your essay.
(Next up: Act 1, Scene 2. The Mechanicals make a mess.)