'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' Characters: Descriptions and Analysis

In William Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, characters make countless failed attempts to control fate. Many of the male characters, including Egeus, Oberon, and Theseus, are insecure and characterized by a need for female obedience. The female characters also display insecurity, but resist obeying their male counterparts. These differences emphasize the play's central theme of order versus chaos.

Hermia

Hermia is a feisty, confident young woman from Athens. She is in love with a man named Lysander, but her father, Egeus, commands her to marry Demetrius instead. Hermia refuses, confidently opposing her father. Despite her self-possession, Hermia is still affected by the whims of fate during the play. Notably, Hermia loses her confidence when Lysander, who is bewitched by a love potion, abandons her in favor of her friend Helena. Hermia also has insecurities, particularly her short stature in contrast to the taller Helena. At one point, she becomes so jealous that she challenges Helena to a fight. Nevertheless, Hermia shows respect for the rules of propriety, as when she insists that her beloved, Lysander, sleep apart from her.

Helena

Helena is a young woman from Athens and a friend of Hermia. She was betrothed to Demetrius until he left her for Hermia, and she remains desperately in love with him. During the play, both Demetrius and Lysander fall in love with Helena as a result of the love potion. This event reveals the depth of Helena’s inferiority complex. Helena cannot believe both men are actually in love with her; instead, she assumes they are mocking her. When Hermia challenges Helena to a fight, Helena implies that her own fearfulness is an attractive maidenly attribute; however, she also admits that she inhabits a stereotypically masculine role by pursuing Demetrius. Like Hermia, Helena is aware of propriety's rules but willing to break them in order to achieve her romantic goals.

Lysander

Lysander is a young man from Athens who is in love with Hermia at the start of the play. Egeus, Hermia's father, accuses Lysander of “bewitching the bosom of [his] child” and ignoring that Hermia is betrothed to another man. Despite Lysander's alleged devotion to Hermia, he is no match for Puck's magic love potion. Puck accidentally applies the potion to Lysander's eyes, and as a result Lysander abandons his original love and falls in love with Helena. Lysander is eager to prove himself for Helena and is willing to duel Demetrius for her love.

Demetrius

Demetrius, a young man from Athens, was previously betrothed to Helena but abandoned her in order to pursue Hermia. He can be brash, rude, and even violent, as when he insults and threatens Helena and provokes Lysander into a duel. Demetrius did originally love Helena, and by the end of the play, he loves her once again, resulting in a harmonious ending. However, it is notable that Demetrius' love is rekindled only by magic.

Puck

Puck is Oberon’s mischievous and merry jester. Technically, he is Oberon’s servant, but he is both unable and unwilling to obey his master. Puck represents the forces of chaos and disorder, challenging the ability of humans and fairies to enact their will. Indeed, Puck himself is no match for the force of chaos. His attempt to use a magic love potion to help Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander achieve romantic harmony leads to the central misunderstandings of the play. When he tries to undo his mistake, he causes even greater chaos. Puck's failed attempts to control fate bring about much of the action of the play.

Oberon

Oberon is the king of the fairies. After witnessing Demetrius’ poor treatment of Helena, Oberon orders Puck to repair the situation through the use of a love potion. In this way, Oberon shows kindness, but he is . He demands obedience from his wife, Titania, and he expresses furious jealousy over Titania's adoption of and love for a young changeling boy. When Titania refuses to give up the boy, Oberon orders Puck to make Titania fall in love with an animal—all because he wishes to embarrass Titania into obedience. Thus, Oberon shows himself to be vulnerable to the same insecurities that provoke the human characters into action.

Titania

Titania is the queen of the fairies. She recently returned from a trip to India, where she adopted a young changeling boy whose mother died in childbirth. Titania adores the boy and lavishes attention on him, which makes Oberon jealous. When Oberon orders Titania to give up the boy, she refuses, but she is no match for the magic love spell that makes her falls in love with the donkey-headed Bottom. Although we do not witness Titania's eventual decision to hand over the boy, Oberon reports that Titania did so.

Theseus

Theseus is the king of Athens and a force of order and justice. At the beginning of the play, Theseus recalls his defeat of the Amazons, a society of warlike women who traditionally represent a threat to patriarchal society. Theseus takes pride in his strength. He tells Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons that he “woo’d [her] with the sword,” erasing Hippolyta's claim to masculine power. Theseus only appears at the beginning and end of the play; however, as king of Athens, he is the counterpart of Oberon, reinforcing the contrast between human and fairy, reason and emotion, and ultimately, order and chaos. This balance is investigated and critiqued throughout the play.

Hippolyta

Hippolyta is the queen of the Amazons and Theseus’ bride. The Amazons are a powerful tribe led by fearsome women warriors, and as their queen, Hippolyta represents a threat to the patriarchal society of Athens. When we first meet Hippolyta, the Amazons have been defeated by Theseus, and the play begins with the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta, an event that represents the victory of "order" (patriarchal society) over "chaos" (the Amazons). However, that sense of order is immediately challenged by Hermia’s subsequent disobedience to her father.

Egeus

Egeus is Hermia’s father. At the start of the play, Egeus is enraged that his daughter will not obey his wishes to marry Demetrius. He turns to King Theseus, encouraging Theseus to invoke the law that a daughter must marry her father’s choice of husband, at penalty of death. Egeus is a demanding father who prioritizes his daughter's obedience over his own life. Like many of the play's other characters, Egeus' insecurities drive the action of the play. He attempts to connect his perhaps uncontrollable emotions with the orderliness of law, but this reliance on law makes him an inhumane father.

Bottom

Perhaps the most foolish of the players, Nick Bottom gets wrapped up in the drama between Oberon and Titania. Puck chooses Bottom as the object of Titania's magic-induced love, as per Oberon’s order that she fall in love with an animal of the forest to embarrass her into obedience. Puck mischievously turns his head into that of a donkey, as he decides Bottom’s name alludes to an ass.

Players

The group of traveling players includes Peter Quince, Nick Bottom, Francis Flute, Robin Starveling, Tom Snout, and Snug. They rehearse the play Pyramus and Thisbe in the woods outside Athens, hoping to perform it for the king’s upcoming wedding. At the end of the play, they give the performance, but they are so foolish and their performance so absurd that the tragedy ends up coming off as a comedy.