Following Titania ad Oberon’s dispute, Oberon orders Puck to go get the “love-in-idleness” flower, whose juice has the power to make someone fall in love with any living creature. Once Titania sleeps, Oberon puts the juice on Titania's eyes. The fact that this potion must be applied to the eyes links back to Helena's speech in Act I, scene 1, when she complains that love blinds people to reality and makes one do strange things one would not normally do. This is the exact effect of the love juice, whose application to the eye renders the victim unable to see clearly. It should also be noted that this is an example of scenes where a character (Titania) is sleeping while the action of the scene occurs. The fact that a character sleeps brings the issue of dreams into question—are these actions actually occurring, or are we watching nothing more than the dreams of the characters who are sleeping? The "reality" of the scenes is also complicated by the title of the play itself. The play is a "dream" in terms of the reality of the audience, but plays usually are "real" to the characters in them. In this play, the playworld is called into question not only by those watching but also by those living in it. This reality/dream presumption occurs throughout the play.
Puck, the mischievous spirit, utters the famous line, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”. A series of events have occurred in the play: Helena loves Demetrius; Demetrius loves Hermia; Hermia loves Lysander, and he loves her in return. In Act 3, we see an inversion of all the original loves as lovers are manipulated by the darker side of the fairies power and the power of the flower. In an unexpected twist, Oberon feels sorry for Helena and orders Puck to put the magic love juice on the eyelids of the sleeping young Athenian man, meaning Demetrius. Puck mistakenly puts the oil on Lysander's eyelids instead, and when he wakes and sees Helena, he falls madly and passionately in love with her. The idea of this potion demonstrates another aspect of the love theme of the play—true love is not necessarily all-powerful; the “love-in-idleness” flower is a metaphor for all the ways that romantic young love can be easily swayed from one person to another. The love juice has the capacity to not only make someone fall in love with someone else, but it also has the power to turn someone away from true love. Lysander awakes, enchanted and manipulated by the fairies. Helena and Lysander run off, leaving Hermia asleep by herself and leaving the audience to question whether this may just be a dream of Hermia's.
The lovesick Helena is the symbol of everything that can go wrong with love. She has been abandoned by her beloved Demetrius, whom she pines and wails over, even though he has rejected her on several occasions, because he loves the more attractive Hermia. It can be seen in Act III that Hermia treats Demetrius very much like Demetrius treats Helena—with plenty of insults and sarcasm. Because Demetrius treats Helena this way, he should be prepared to receive Hermia's insults, but the exchange upsets him, and when he goes to sleep the topic of the happenings in the play being a reality or dream is brought up once again.
This gives Oberon time to put the potion on Demetrius' eyes. Thus, part of the problem of the play is solved at this point—the original love triangle is over, and Demetrius is again in love with Helena. However, the interference of the fairies has caused another love triangle (Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander) to occur. When Helena enters the scene, she believes that Demetrius and Lysander are mocking her. She even goes so far as to accuse Hermia of participating in this torment. If Helena were thinking, she would realize that Hermia wants nothing more than to elope with Lysander, and that such a game would be of no advantage in accomplishing that. However, Helena is as "blind" as the rest of the lovers. At this point in the play Helena is still unhappy, even though she now has both men doting on her (as Hermia did in the Theseus’ domain), which again shows a darker side to the power of love and magic.
Helena gives a soliloquy contemplating on the transforming nature and power of love, “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind” which she paints as “blind”. Love, according to Helena, does not see with the eyes, which tell the truth, but with the mind, which changes the truth to what the person wants. By the "mind" Helena plainly does not mean reason, but instead, something parallel to the power of the imagination. Therefore, everyone in love is blind, including Cupid himself because their eyes see what their minds want to them to see. The eyes also have the power to make people fall in love with others (a reason for why the love-in-idleness flower is applied to the eyes). This is what Helena believes has occurred to transfer Demetrius' love for her to Hermia and that love can rob people of their common sense, which is also demonstrated when Titania falls in love with Bottom under the influence of magic. The uniting and comic juxtaposition of the two symbolises a complete reversal of normal power structures in Elizabethan hierarchy, and shows contrast between the woods and the court. The connection of love to eyesight and vision are matters of vital importance in this play about love and the confusion it sometimes brings.
Oberon maliciously seeks revenge on his wife by using magic and exploiting the unexpected presence of a human in the woods. Puck transforms Bottom – a mechanical’s head into that of an ass. Although the rest of the mechanicals panic and run away, Puck has merely given Bottom a head that is a reflection of his character. Being the "ass" that he is, Bottom does not realize his transformation until after his own head has been restored (Act IV), believing it was a dream. He claims that anyone who talks about what he has dreamed is a fool, and yet this is exactly what Shakespeare does in showing Bottom's adventures through the night. Shakespeare is again making fun of his profession here—plays sometimes have idiotic storylines. Bottom also shows himself to be a fool when he says that he will have Quince write a tale of this dream (which he says only a fool will tell), which he himself will sing as an epilogue to Thisbe's death in a play within the play. Shakespeare provides Bottom with plenty of references to asses in order to make the situation more farcical, “You see an ass-head of your own, do you?”.
Under the influence of the power of the flower, Titania wakes and instantly falls in love with Bottom. Bottom's response to Titania's declaration of love reflects a theme of the play:
"And yet, to say the truth, reason and
love keep little company together nowadays. The more
the pity that some honest neighbours will not make them
friends" (ll. 140-143)
Reason and love keep very little company in this play, which is the cause of all of the problems. Love tends to make people do strange things when under the influence of its powers, and Titania’s language becomes even more flowery and fluent once she awakes under the influence of the flower. She mirrors the language used in Act I by Lysander and Hermia in society, and by taking the two worlds and mirroring them, Shakespeare shows the idea of the superficiality and fickleness of love. The flower is symbolic and does not only represents this, but it controls the opposing hierarchy seen in the woods between Titania and Bottom.
Oberon’s trick upon Titania is not mean-spirited, and the conflict between the monarchs of the woods is clearly superficial. As for Titania, we see her in both her imperial role and in the ridiculous stance of courting the ass-headed Bottom. This shows how the woods is a world where normal power structures of Elizabethan society can be turned upside down, and things which normally would not happen, occur. But Titania’s stature is not diminished by this, for she returns at the conclusion of Act V as her dignified self. At the end of the play, she emerges enriched, alike the four lovers.
Shakespeare uses rhyme and imagery to re-create the fairy world in the play and to show how important the use of the imagination is, as few props should be needed. The common folk in the court of Athens, the mechanicals, all speak in prose, which sets them apart from the "Athenians", or nobles, who speak in iambic pentameter. This class distinction through language is also evident in the fairy world, where Oberon, Titania, and Puck speak in iambic pentameter, but the fairies often speak in a different meter. The songs the fairies sing, as well as the spells they cast, are typically in iambic tetrameter (either in couplets or in alternating rhyme), which gives them a musical and magical quality.
By the end of Act I scene II, it is evident that the mechanicals have no idea how to put on a play. In the beginning of the scene, Quince attempts to organize the men, but Bottom immediately takes over. A major aspect of Bottom's character is that he pretends to be very knowledgeable and logical, but he is clearly lacking in both traits. One example of this is Bottom's attempt to play Pyramus, Thisbe, and the lion all at the same time. The other players are no better off. Flute does not want to play Thisbe because he has a beard coming (and is afraid of being cast in a female role although young men always played the female roles in Shakespeare's time), and Snug needs lines to play a lion when all he has to do is roar. The players are also frightened by the concept of being too realistic, and believe they would be hanged if the lion were to roar so well that it would scare the ladies. The solution, given by Bottom, is to write prologues explaining the situation. This theatrical convention, is made fun of through the mechanicals, who feel the need to explain everything through prologues instead of trusting to the intelligence of their audience. The mechanicals do not realize that their audience already knows that they are watching a work of fiction and spoil the illusion. Through the bumbling errors of the mechanicals, Shakespeare makes fun of his own profession.
The play that the mechanicals perform allows Shakespeare to parody the lesser poets and playwrights of his time. The story of Pyramus's love for Thisbe and its tragic ending is transmuted into a farce. The play is performed so badly, “I present a wall” with such terrible poetry, “O sisters three, come, come, to me” that it reminds us of the power of a good poet, who can, through language, re-create a make-believe world without the use of props. By contrasting and comparing the poetry used by the mechanicals in the play within the play and the poetry used in the woods, Shakespeare is subtly able to mimic bad poets and show their limitations.
It is believed the play was written to be performed during a wedding ceremony, and so Theseus and Hippolyta are stand-ins for the real married couple for whom the play was written. Their marital relationship has a very unsound beginning, and Scene 1 demonstrates a major theme in the play - love - whether romantic or marital, has its problems and these problems must be overcome in order to maintain a healthy relationship. Hippolyta makes reference to a mythological episode where she “was with Hercules and Cadmus once”. Her pleasure over the remembrance of the incident seemed to spark a bit of jealousy from Theseus, who quickly states that his hunting dogs are more musical than those of Hercules (Act IV, ll.119-127). This shows further complications in the relationship of Hippolyta and Theseus, and although they will wed, it is unlikely that they will ever have a successful marital relationship because of the circumstances surrounding their wedding. It could be implied that Shakespeare uses his power, as a poet to show that he believes that the real couple’s future is disastrous also.
The lovers emerge from the woods enriched, their lives complete, with both passion and now reason combined. Shakespeare uses the idea of opposing worlds, both of which are indispensable for a balanced equilibrium and both places learn from each other as everyone emerges enriched at the end of their journey - the play. However, Theseus, who represents authority and believes in logic, has not been affected as he does not believe in, nor understand romantic love or magic. He has no idea what love is like and has not made any sacrifices for it (unlike Hermia and Lysander, who were willing to leave everything they knew for a life they could spend together). He has no imagination whatsoever, nor does he understand how rich the lovers’ imagination is. Atypically Shakespeare, through the voice of the logical Theseus, says that a good poet should be able to create things simply out of their imagination and he subtly complements himself saying that he is one of the few poets that can actually do this.
After having made fun of the conventions of the prologue and epilogue through the mechanicals, Shakespeare gives Puck an epilogue to deliver to the audience. Stepping out of the play, Puck advises the audience that if they do not like the play, they should think of it as nothing more than a dream. This recalls one last time the issue of reality and dreams in the play. The suggestion that the audience should accept the play as unreal if they did not enjoy it correlates with the characters' acceptance of the unpleasant events of the Midsummer's night as nothing more than a dream. However, if the audience did enjoy the play, then they should "Give Puck your hands, if we be friends", or applaud (ll. 425). The advice here seems to be that unpleasant things should be remembered as only a dream, and good things remembered as reality.
Of the many types of power that can be seen in the jovial comedy, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ the most powerful of all is power of the poet, which is can be seen throughout.