Titania was ready for bed. She was sleepy and the bed was inviting – all soft and perfumed. Her fairy attendants brought her nightdress and helped her prepare.

‘Come now,’ she said, smiling round at them. ‘Let’s sing a fairy song. Then all of you go: some to kill worms in the rosebuds, some to catch bats for their leather wings, to make coats for my elves: and some to restrain the noisy owl that hoots all through the night, wondering at our antics. Sing me to sleep now, and then off to your duties and let me rest.’

She lay down and the fairies grouped around her bed of flowers. They began a delicate, intricate dance. One of them sang:
You spotted snakes with double tongue:
You spikey hedgehogs, don’t be seen:
Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong,
Come not near our fairy queen.

The fairies, still dancing, weaving patterns of movement all round their queen, joined in a harmonious chorus:
Nightingale with melody,
Sing in our sweet lullaby:
Lulla, lulla, lullaby: lulla, lulla, lullaby:
Never harm, not spell, nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh:
So goodbye with lullaby.

Another fairy sang the second verse as Titania’s eyelids fluttered and closed.

Weaving spiders, come not here,
Hence, you long-legged spinners, hence!
Beetles b lack, approach not near:
Worm nor snail, do no offence.

The fairies repeated the chorus:
Nightingale with melody,
Sing in our sweet lullaby:
Lulla, lulla, lullaby: lulla, lulla, lullaby:
Never harm, not spell, nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh:
So goodbye with lullaby.

The first singer put her finger to her lips. ‘Come, away,’ she whispered to the others. ‘She’s asleep. One of you stay and guard her.’

Within a second Titania lay alone in the moonlight, sleeping comfortably on her bed of flowers on the edge of a clearing, just inside the wood. Suddenly Oberon was there. He lost no time in completing his task. He leant down and squeezed the flower so that the juice dropped on to her eyelids.

‘What you see when you awake,
Do it for your true love take.
Love and suffer for his sake,
Be it lynx, wild cat or bear,
Leopard, boar with bristled hair.
In your eye what shall appear
When you awake, will be your dear.
Wake when some vile thing is near.’

He kissed her gently on the cheek then flew up and was gone in an instant.

It was all quiet. Titania lay in complete repose. Two figures wandered into the clearing. They were Hermia and Lysander, tired and confused. Lysander looked around to try and get his bearings.

‘Dearest love,’ he said, you’re exhausted with wandering through the wood, and quite honestly, I’m lost. We’ll rest, Hermia, if you like, and wait till tomorrow. It will be easier in daylight.’

‘Let’s do that,’ she said. ‘Find yourself a bed. I’ll sleep here.’ She lay down in the middle of a large patch of soft grass.

‘One turf can serve as a pillow for both of us,’ said Lysander, preparing to lie down beside her. ‘One heart, one bed, two hearts beating as one.’

She sat up and pushed him away gently. ‘No, dear Lysander. For my sake, dearest, lie further away: don’t lie so close.’

‘Oh, trust me, my sweet!’ he exclaimed. ‘Don’t misunderstand me. Love has its own meaning when lovers talk. I meant that we are so closely knit that we share one heart. As we have sworn our love for each other our hearts are, in effect, bound together, and that’s the simple truth that unites us. So don’t deny me bed-room at your side because if I lie beside you then I’m not lying.’

She laughed. ‘Lysander puns most charmingly. Now shame on me if I seemed to suggest that you were lying.’
He came close again and made to lie down beside her but she pushed him away, less gently this time. ‘Gentle friend!’ she exclaimed. ‘In the name of love and good manners, lie further away! For the sake of modesty.’ He moved a few feet away. ‘As far away as would be thought proper between a decent bachelor and a virgin.’ She got up and went halfway across the clearing. She stamped her foot on the ground. ‘This far away!’ she said. He went and lay down where she had told him to and she went back to her place. ‘Good night, sweet friend,’ she said, speaking gently again. ‘May your love never change as long as you live.’

‘Amen, amen, to that, say I!’ said Lysander. ‘And I’ll die before I betray that loyalty.’ He sighed. ‘Well this is my bed. Sleep well.’

‘On that wish, my eyes are closing,’ she murmured. They were both asleep on the instant.

Puck zoomed into the clearing.
‘Through the forest I have gone,’ he said,
But Athenian found I none
On whose eyes I have to prove
The flower’s power to stir love.’
He listened to hear if there were any sounds.
‘Night and silence!’

As he was about to leave he saw Lysander.
‘Who is here?
Clothes of Athens he does wear:
This is he my master said
Despised the sweet Athenian maid.
And here the maiden, sleeping sound,
On the dank and dirty ground.
Pretty soul, she dared not lie
Beside this cad, this wretched guy.’
He knelt at Lysander’s side and squeezed some juice on to his eyes.
‘Selfish man, your eyes I smear
With this magic liquid here
When you awaken love forbids
That you ever shut your lids.
So, awake when I am gone:
For I must go to Oberon.’

A few minutes after he had gone, during which time the two lovers and Titania all slept soundly, there was a crashing in the undergrowth and Demetrius burst into the clearing, still pursued by Helena. She stopped, gasping for breath.

‘Stop,’ she called, ‘even if it’s just to kill me!’

‘Get away!’ he snapped. ‘Stop pestering me!’ He started running again.

‘Oh, are you going to leave me here in the dark?’ she said. ‘Please don’t!’

‘Stay, at your peril,’ he said. ‘I’m going.’ He ran off into the wood.

Helena sank to the ground. She was out of breath after all that foolish chasing after him. The more she prayed for what she wanted the less she got. Lucky Hermia, wherever she was, because she had such lovely eyes. How had she managed that! Not with salt tears or she would have had them too, her eyes were so washed with tears! No, she was as ugly as a bear. Animals that encountered her ran away in terror: no wonder Demetrius ran away from her as though she were a monster. How distorted her mirror must be that she had compared her eyes with Hermia’s starry eyes!

She suddenly saw a man lying sleeping on the ground right beside her. Who was that? Lysander? Was he dead? Or sleeping? She couldn’t see any blood or any wound. She shook him. ‘Lysander! If you’re alive wake up!’

Lysander stirred. He opened his eyes, looked at her and sprang up. ‘I’d run through fire for your sweet sake!’ he exclaimed. ‘Transparent Helena! Nature is wonderful: it makes me see right through you into your loving heart. Where’s Demetrius? Oh, vile name, fit only to die on my sword!’

‘Don’t say that, Lysander, don’t say it!’ exclaimed Helena. ‘What if he is in love with your Hermia? Lord! so what! She loves you. Be satisfied with that.’

‘Satisfied with Hermia?’ said Lysander. ‘Never! I regret the tedious minutes I’ve spent with her. It’s not Hermia but Helena I’m in love with. Who wouldn’t exchange a raven for a dove? The mind is governed by reason and reason tells me you’re the better woman. Growing things don’t ripen till the right time. I was too young until now to be guided by reason. But now I’ve matured and reason guides my mind to your eyes, where I see volumes of rich love.’

Hermia stared at him in growing dismay as he spoke. ‘Why was I born to be mocked so mercilessly?’ she said. ‘What have I done to deserve this scorn? Isn’t it enough, isn’t it enough, that I’ve never had, nor ever could have, a kind look from Demetrius, without you making fun of me? Good God, you’re doing me wrong, you really are, to treat me so disrespectfully! Goodbye. I must confess, I thought you were a gentleman. Oh, that a woman rejected by one man should be so abused by another!’

She ran off into the wood.

Lysander darted a look at the sleeping Hermia. Helena hadn’t noticed her. Well, as far as he was concerned Hermia could just sleep on, as long as she didn’t come anywhere near him! In the same way as having too much of sweet things leads to hating them, or people who have had strong beliefs and then abandoned them hate what they had formerly believed, so she – his over-stuffed appetite, his mistaken belief – had become hateful. His entire being would be dedicated to Helena from now on and he would serve her faithfully. He took off in the direction she had gone.

Hermia was having a nightmare and woke up screaming. ‘Help me, Lysander!’ she cried. ‘Help me! Pull this snake from my breast! Oh God, what a nightmare I had, Lysander: look how I’m trembling. I thought a snake was eating my heart away and you sat smiling as it preyed on me. Lysander!’

There was silence. She listened. He wasn’t there! What? Had he gone somewhere? ‘Lysander!’ Silence. ‘Can’t you hear me? Gone? Not answering? Not saying anything? Where are you? If you can hear me say something. Speak! Speak in the name of love! I’m desperate with fear.’

There was nothing. He couldn’t be there. She stood up. She would look for him and find either him or her death straight away.

She looked about and decided on the direction in which the others had gone, leaving Titania sleeping peacefully and dreaming the dreams that fairy queens dream.


Read more scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Modern English|A Midsummer Night’s Dream original text
Modern A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 1, Scene 1|A Midsummer Night’s Dream text Act 1, Scene 1
Modern A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 1, Scene 2|A Midsummer Night’s Dream text Act 1, Scene 2
Modern A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 2, Scene 1|A Midsummer Night’s Dream text Act 2, Scene 1
Modern A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 2, Scene 2|A Midsummer Night’s Dream text Act 2, Scene 2
Modern A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 3, Scene 1|A Midsummer Night’s Dream text Act 3, Scene 1
Modern A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 3, Scene 2|A Midsummer Night’s Dream text Act 3, Scene 2
Modern A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 4, Scene 1|A Midsummer Night’s Dream text Act 4, Scene 1
Modern A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 4, Scene 2|A Midsummer Night’s Dream text Act 4, Scene 2
Modern A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 5, Scene 1|A Midsummer Night’s Dream text Act 5, Scene 1

Read all of Shakespeare’s plays translated to modern English >>

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