A Midsummer Night's Dream: Act 2, Scene 1 - Summary & Analysis

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      Summary: A third stream of story is introduced in this scene. The wood where Lysander and Hermia have escaped is now shown to have fairies, who are headed by their king and queen, Oberon and Titania respectively. A mischievous attendant to Oberon, Puck (also known as Robin Goodfellow), and a fairy who serves the queen discuss the intense fight brewing between the royal fairy couple. The feud, so tempestuous that the fearful elves "Creep into acorn-cups" for protection is over a changeling, a "lovely boy, stol'n from an Indian king". Titania has made this boy her source of joy and her most favorite attendant. Oberon is also smitten with this boy and wants to acquire him. However, Titania objects to this and does not allow Oberon or any of his attendants lay claim to her changeling. Puck and the fairy cut short their conversation as they hear their masters come from different sides of the forest. As soon as Oberon and Titania see each other they begin to shout at and bicker with each other. Oberon again asks for the boy but Titania asserts that she can never part with the changeling due to an obligation to his dead mother, a mortal who was once in her service. Titania leaves and Oberon vows revenge, exclaiming, "I will torment thee for this injury". He instructs Puck to pick a flower called "love-in-idleness" and while Titania is sleeping, Oberon sueezes drops of its juice onto her eyelids. The juice will cause Titania to fall in love with the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes, be it a "lion, bear, or wolf, or bull/On meddling monkey, or a busy ape". Puck rushes off to find the flower, assuring his master that he will "put a girdle round about the earth/In forty minutes".

      While Oberon is waiting for Puck to return, he sees Demetrius who is being followed by Helena. Helena is in a pitiable state begging to be taken back by Demetrius who had earlier wooed her. Demetrius is behaving in a cold, heartless and a cruel manner, telling Helena that he becomes sick when he looks at her, but nothing he can say or do will quench her consuming desire. Oberon is angry that Demetrius does not return Helena's love and decides Demetrius should also have a dose of the magical juice. When Puck returns, Oberon explains the change in plans:

"A sweet Athenian lady is in love
With a disdainful youth: anoint his eyes;
But do it when the next thing he espies
May be the lady: thou shalt know the man
By the Athenian garments, he hath on.
Effect it with some care, that he may prove
More fond on her than she upon her love:
And look thou meet me ere the first cock crow."

      Critical Analysis: This scene is important as it introduces the characters in a full and round way to us. The aggressive attitude of Titania, the obstinate nature of Oberon, the helplessness of Helena and the ruthless attitude of Demetrius is brought on the surface in this particular scene. It also makes the reader or the spectator get engaged in the play as the quarrel between Titania and Oberon makes one agitated while the plight and vulnerability makes one disregard Demetrius and sympathize towards Helena.

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