Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
ACT III, SCENE 2
Oberon wonders if Titania has awakened and if she has fallen in love with some nearby creature. Puck enters to report that Titania is in love with "a monster." He narrates elaborately how, due to his mischief, Nick Bottom was transformed into an ass and how Titania has spied him first upon waking. Oberon inquires about the Athenian on whose eyes he had him squeeze the juice. Puck is about to answer when Oberon sees Hermia and Demetrius approaching. Puck admits that "this is the woman, but not this the man." The ensuing dialogue between Hermia and Demetrius proves that Puck has made a mistake. Oberon chides Puck and orders him to bring Helena to the scene.
Hoping to correct the mistake, Oberon squeezes the juice of the flower on the eyes of Demetrius. Lysander and Helena then enter the scene. In his attempt to prove his love for Helena, Lysander awakens Demetrius, who sees Helena and vows his love for her. Helena is now convinced that she is being teased. She cries, "O spite! O Hell! I see you all are bent / To set against me for your merriment." Hermia enters and is shocked to see the change in Lysander. Helena accuses Hermia of having conspired with both men "to fashion this false sport." Hermia declares her innocence, saying, "I am amazed at your passionate words. / I scorn you not; it seems that you scorn me." The misunderstanding leads to a quarrel between the two women.
When Hermia tries to sort out the tangle by speaking to Lysander, he insults her. Demetrius too joins the fray. The scene runs through a course of allegation and counter allegation. Demetrius and Lysander finally leave the scene, followed by Helena and Hermia. Oberon and Puck, who have been watching the quarrel, come forward. Oberon criticizes Puck: "This is thy negligence. Still thou mistakest / Or else committest thy knaveries willfully." Oberon orders him to create a fog, and through the fog to lead the lovers to the same spot where he will set things right so that "When they next wake, all this division / Shall seem a dream and fruitless vision."
Puck imitates Demetrius and Lysander and leads them to a spot where, out of exhaustion, they fall asleep. Helena and Hermia in turn arrive on the spot and fall asleep. Puck squeezes the juice on Lysander's eyes and pronounces, "The very man should take his own./ In your waking shall be shown." Oberon has already left to go to Titania.
This is the longest scene in the play as Shakespeare masterfully prepares for the climax of the plot. With the anointing of the eyelids of Lysander and Demetrius, the audience realizes that all the wrongs between the lovers will soon be set right. The characters are really only puppets in the hands of Shakespeare, the master puppeteer. Since this is a comedy of situation, there is little evolution in the characters, who are merely placed in a situation and handle it to the best of their abilities.
It is important to notice the contrast of Lysander while he is under the spell of the fairies to his earlier self. His unkind remarks about Hermia are completely opposite his earlier protestations of love for her. No longer enamored with his fiancée, he sees all the blemishes in Hermia: her short stature, her complexion, and her whole being seem not good enough in comparison to Helena. Hermia does not comprehend the change in Lysander and shares the view with Helena that he is teasing both of them. She even pleads on behalf of Helena, "Do not scorn her so." She also realizes that Lysander is really scorning her, and she inquires, "Why are you grown so rude? What change is this Sweet love?" Lysander rudely retorts, "Thy love? Out, tawny Tartar, out! / Out loathèd med'cine! O hated potion, hence!" Hermia is forced to acknowledge that the change in Lysander is real.
Not wanting to find fault with Lysander, Hermia turns her anger on her friend Helena: "You thief of love! / What, have you come by night / And stolen my loves heart from him?" The audience at first sympathizes with poor Helena, who is upset first by Demetrius, then Lysander, and now Hermia. Helena, however, decides to shed her self-pity and strike back at her friend. As a result, the two women quarrel.
Oberon blames Puck for the unhappiness that he sees and wonders whether his attendant has been negligent or intentional in his mix- up. Obviously, Oberon realizes that Puck is a mischief-loving imp, who cannot be fully trusted. But Shakespeare's fairies are usually lovable creatures. In spite of all the pranks they play on others, they do not do permanent damage. Oberon takes care that the wrong done by Puck is corrected.
Not leaving things to chance, the fairy king gives elaborate instructions to Puck to make sure that he neither by mistake nor by knavery blunders again as he rights the wrong. Oberon then remembers the mischief that he himself has played on Titania and decides to go to her and "beg her Indian boy;" he will then remove the hex from her "charmed eye" so that "all things shall be peace."