Oberon is thrilled that Titania with "a monster is in love," and is delighted by Puck's story about how "Titania waked and straightway loved an ass" (or, at least, a Bottom). He also thanks Puck for successfully finding the "Athenian youth" and drugging him into reciprocal love for the woman who lay sleeping by his side. At that very moment, however, Demetrius enters, followed by the enraged Hermia, who accuses him of murdering her lover, Lysander. Demetrius, of course, denies this, even though he admits that he'd like to give his rival's "carcass to [his] hounds." Hermia is thrilled at the suggestion that Lysander might still be alive, and after calling Demetrius "dog" and "cur" runs off to search for her lover. Puck exclaims that "this is the woman, but this is not the man" that he saw in the woods, and Oberon realizes that Puck has made a terrible mistake, and has "some true love turned, and not a false turned true." Luckily, at this point Demetrius decides to go to sleep right in front of the two (invisible) fairies. Oberon tells Puck to head into the woods, find the love-sick"Helena of Athens," and bring her back to the sleeping Demetrius. Meanwhile, Oberon will administer more love-juice - this time, on the right Athenian youth.
Puck soon returns with Helena. Helena, however, is followed by Lysander, who - to Helena's considerable frustration and confusion - continues to declare his undying love for her ("Lord, what fools these mortals be!" exclaims the unsympathetic Puck, who looks forward to seeing things turn out "prepost'rously"). Sure enough, the drugged Demetrius wakes up and - presto! - falls in love with Helena as well, calling her "goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!" Helena is far from overjoyed about this turn of events. Instead, she is skeptical, and finally concludes that the two men are playing a sick joke on her -- crying "Oh spite! Oh hell! I see you all are bent / To set against me for your merriment. . . Can you not hate me - as I know you do - / But you must join in souls to mock me too?"
At this point, to make matters worse, Hermia arrives in pursuit of Lysander. When she discovers her beloved fiancÚ, he proclaims that he now loves Helena. Hermia, of course, thinks he's joking at first - even when he says that "the hate I bare thee made me leave thee so." Hermia gasps, "It cannot be!" Helena, observing this, thinks that Hermia must be in on the joke to mock her. Hermia, however, realizing that the same two men who loved her the night before now both love Helena, concludes that Helena, Lysander and Demetrius have joined forces to mock her. In other words, each woman believes that the other one is playing a huge, insensitive practical joke on her with the help of the two men. The two women, who remember their "schooldays' friendship, childhood innocence" spent like "two lovely berries moulded on one stem," both have tremendously hurt feelings, and come close to beginning a serious cat fight. (Helena calls the small dark Hermia "puppet," while Hermia calls the tall Helena "painted Maypole").
Meanwhile, the love-juiced boys Demetrius and Lysander also abuse Hermia (it is actually rather painful to hear Lysander calling his formerly beloved lady "you dwarf / You minimus [small thing] of hindering knot-grass made / You bead, you acorn"). The two men continue to argue over who has the better claim to Helena, and finally run off into the woods to settle the matter with blows.
After witnessing this mess, Oberon accuses Puck of having "commit'st thy knaveries willfully" for his own amusement. Puck, of course, insists that it was an honest mistake and that he wishes to straighten everything out among the two couples - though he admits that "their jangling I esteem a sport." Oberon has an idea, based on the curious fact that (as we have already noted) night in the Athenian forest can be so dark that no one can actually see anyone else. He tells Puck first to "overcast the night," making things extra dark. Puck will then lead Demetrius on through the woods by imitating Lysander's voice, and vice versa, until "o'er their brows death-counterfeiting sleep / With leaden legs and batty wings doth creep." Once they've fallen asleep, Puck will put on Lysander's eyes a handy love-juice antidote, so that he will have "true sight" once more, and return to his love for Hermia, thinking that his infidelity was but "a dream and fruitless vision." Demetrius will be left in his love-juiced state, and so will continue to love Helena. While Puck does all this, Oberon will find Titania, and will use the antidote to release her from the spell that makes her love the ass-headed Bottom -- once she agrees to give up her servant boy. After all this has been accomplished, announces Oberon, "all things shall be peace."
Seeing that it is nearly daylight Puck takes off and performs his part of the plan with speed. Singing a merry song about leading his victims "Up and down, up and down," Puck confuses Demetrius and Lysander until they become exhausted from running around and finally sleep. Once again, there is a helpful coincidence: Hermia and Helena arrive, utter short poems about how tired they are, and fall asleep in exactly the same place, without seeing each other or their boyfriends. (It must be really dark in the Athenian woods!) Puck gives Lysander the "remedy" for the original love-juice announcing that "Jack shall have Jill, / Naught shall go ill, / The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well." In other words, each of the four Athenian teenagers will now love the "right" person and be loved back.
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