William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 2

— 3.2 —

In another part of the forest, Oberon said to himself, “I wonder whether Titania has awakened, and I wonder what living thing it was that first she saw — that is the thing that she must love fiercely.”

Puck flew to Oberon, who said, “Welcome back, Puck. How now, mad spirit! What night sports are going on now about this much-populated forest?”

Puck replied, “Titania with a monster is in love. Near to her secret and consecrated bower, while she was in her dull and sleeping hour, a crew of fools, ignorant craftsmen, who work in Athens, met together to rehearse a play intended for great Theseus’ wedding day. The most foolish of all those actors, who played the part of Pyramus, exited the ‘stage’ and entered a thicket, and there I played a joke on his thick head, on which I placed an ass’ head. He returned to Thisby to talk, and when his fellow actors did him spy, they scattered as do geese whom hunters stalk. At the sound of a gun, geese and jackdaws rise in the sky, and in the forest the actors did fly as they scattered and fled. Over a stump an actor fell and rolled and cried ‘Murder’ and called for help from Athens. Their strong fears conquered their weak minds, and they became afraid of bushes and vines, for briers and thorns at their clothing snatched, and from some actors hats and from other actors sleeves catched. I led the actors on in this distracted fear, and left foolish Pyramus transformed there. At that moment, so it came to pass, Titania woke up and loved an ass.”

“This has turned out better than I could have planned,” Oberon said. “But have you yet put the juice of the flower upon the Athenian’s eyelids as I ordered you to do?”

“I did that while he was sleeping,” Puck replied, “so that is done, too. The Athenian woman was by his side, and so, when he wakes up, by him she must be eyed.”

Hermia and Demetrius ran onto the scene, and Oberon and Puck made themselves invisible.

“Here comes the Athenian man,” Oberon said.

“This is the woman I saw, but I have never seen this man,” Puck said.

Demetrius said, “Why do you rebuke me when I love you so? You should be this bitter to your bitter foe.”

Hermia replied, “My rebuke of you is now gentle, but it can become much worse. I am afraid that you may have given me reason enough you to curse. If you have slain Lysander in his sleep, you are up to your ankles in blood, and you might as well wade into a deep ocean of blood and kill me, too.”

She added, “Lysander is more faithful to me than the Sun is to the day. Would Lysander from his sleeping Hermia have stolen away? I will sooner believe that the Earth has a hole bored through it and the Moon has passed through the hole and has come out on the other side of the Earth to disrupt the tides and annoy her brother, the Sun. You must have murdered Lysander. You even look like a murderer: deadly and grim.”

“The murdered should look dead and grim,” Demetrius said, “and that is how I should look. Your stern cruelty has pierced me through the heart, yet you, my murderer, look as bright, as clear, as yonder Venus in her glimmering sphere.”

“What do your words have to do with Lysander?” Hermia said. “What have you done with him? Where is he? Demetrius, will you give him back to me?”

“I prefer to give his carcass to my hounds.”

“Go away, dog! Go away, cur! You have driven me past the bounds of a maiden’s patience! Have you murdered Lysander? If so, then from here on never be thought to be a man! Just for once, tell me the truth. Do it for my sake! Would you have been capable of even looking at him when he was awake? Did you kill him while he was asleep? How brave! Could not a poisonous snake that way behave? You are the snake who murdered Lysander. You, Demetrius, have a tongue that is more forked than that of any biting snake.”

“You are angry at the wrong person,” Demetrius said. “I am not guilty of killing Lysander. He is still alive, for all that I can tell.”

“Please tell me then that he is well.”

“And if I could, what should I get therefore?”

“The privilege never to see me more. From your hated presence I now part. See me no more, whether Lysander is dead or not.”

Hermia ran away from Demetrius.

“There is no use following her when she is in this fierce vein,” Demetrius said. “Here therefore for a while I will remain. The heaviness of my sorrow grows even heavier because I have lost sleep due to my woe. Because of my sorrow, I am owed a debt by sleep. Here for a while I will stay, and some of that debt sleep shall repay.”

Demetrius lay on the ground and slept.

“What have you done!” Oberon said to Puck. “You were mistaken quite, and you laid the love-juice on some true love’s sight. Because of your mistake, that which ensued is a true love turned false and not a false love turned true.”

“Fate is at fault, not I,” Puck said. “In this world, for every man who is faithful to his lover, a million fail, breaking oath on oath.”

“Throughout the forest, go swifter than the wind, no matter how much your path may wind, and Helena of Athens make sure you find,” Oberon ordered. “All lovesick she is and lacks good cheer; she makes sighs of love that cost her dear. By some illusion, bring her here. I’ll charm Demetrius’ eyes in preparation for when she does appear.”

“I go! I go! Look how I go, swifter than an arrow from a Tartar’s bow.”

Puck flew swiftly away.

Oberon squeezed the flower, and let the juice drip onto Demetrius’ sleeping eyelids, saying, “Flower of this purple dye, hit with Cupid’s arrow, make Helena the apple of his eye. When his love he do espy, let her shine as gloriously as does Venus in the sky.”

Oberon then said to Demetrius, “When you awake, may Helena be by. Sincerely beg her to love you — do not lie.”

Puck returned and said, “Captain of our fairy band, Helena is here at hand, and the youth, mistook by me, pleading for a lover’s fee. Shall we their foolish pageant see? Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

“Stand back,” Oberon said. “The noise that Helena and Lysander make will awaken Demetrius.”

Delighted, Puck said, “Then will two at the same time woo one, and that will make good fun. All the things that best please me are those that happen preposterously.”

Lysander and Helena walked near Demetrius.

Lysander pleaded, “Why should you think that I woo you in scorn? Tears never accompany scorn and derision. Look, when I vow that I love you, I weep; and vows so born and accompanied with tears are known to be true. How can my tears seem like scorn to you, when they are evidence that shows that I am true?”

“Your words grow trickier and trickier,” Helena said. “When someone misuses the truth and uses one truth to kill another truth, then there is a battle between a devil and an angel. These vows you make to me belong to Hermia. Have you forgotten her? If you weigh the oaths you now make to me and the oaths you have made to her, they will weigh exactly the same. Neither scale will outweigh the other, and both scales will be full of lies.”

“I lacked sound judgment when I swore to Hermia that I loved her,” Lysander said.

“And I think that you lack good judgment now that you have forgotten her,” Helena replied.

“Demetrius loves her, and he does not love you,” Lysander said loudly.

Demetrius awoke, saw Helena, and said, “Helena, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine! To what, my love, shall I compare your eyes? Crystal is muddy compared to them. How ripe in show do your lips, those kissing cherries, tempting grow! That newly fallen white, high mountain snow, fanned by the Eastern wind, turns the color of a crow when compared to the color of your hand. Let me your hand kiss, which is that of a princess of pure white and a promise of bliss!”

Helena said, “Oh, spite! Oh, Hell! I see you all are bent to join against me for your merriment. If you were civilized and understood courtesy, you would not do to me all this injury. I know that you hate me, indeed I do, but why must you join together to mock me, too? If you were men, as men you are in show, you would not treat a gentle lady so. You vow and swear that you do love me, and you superpraise my parts, but I know that you two hate me with all your hearts. You men both are rivals, and both of you love Hermia. And you are both rivals in mocking me. This is a ‘splendid’ exploit, a ‘manly’ enterprise, done to conjure tears up in a poor maiden’s eyes so at her you can laugh! No one of a noble sort would so offend a virgin, and extort the patience of a maiden, all to make you laugh.”

“You are unkind, Demetrius,” Lysander said. “Be not so. You love Hermia; this you know I know. And here, with all good will, with all my heart, all of Hermia’s love for me I yield up to you. So give to me all of Helena’s love for you — grant me my request. Helena is the woman whom I love and will love until my death.”

Disgusted, Helena said, “Never did mockers waste more idle breath.”

Demetrius said, “Lysander, keep your Hermia. I do not want her. If ever I was of her fond, all of that love is gone. When I gave my heart to her, my heart was like a guest travelling away from its domain. But now my heart has returned home to Helena, and there it shall remain.”

“Helena, he lies,” Lysander said. “Do not believe him.”

“Do not disparage a love to which you cannot come near, or you will regret it,” Demetrius said. “But, look, here comes your dear.”

Hermia arrived on the scene, saw Lysander, and said to him, “Dark night, that from the eyes sight away takes, the ears more keen of hearing makes. Although night does impair the seeing sense, it pays the hearing sense a double recompense. Not by my eyes have I you, Lysander, found; instead, my ears brought to me your voice’s sound, but why did you unkindly leave me so?”

“Why should I stay, when love did press me to go?”

“What love could take Lysander from my side?”

“Lysander’s love would not let him stay by your side. I love beautiful Helena, who more enlightens the night than the Moon and the stars that are the eyes of light in the night. Why did you try to find me? Didn’t my leaving you let you know that I hate you?”

“You cannot be saying the truth! You cannot mean what you say!”

Helena was certain that Hermia was mocking her: “Lo, Hermia is one of this confederacy! Now I see that they have planned all three to fashion this false trick to spite me! Insulting Hermia! Most ungrateful maiden! Why have you conspired, why have you with these two men contrived to mock me with this foul derision? Is all the talk that we two have shared, the vows to be like sisters, the hours that we have spent together never wishing to be parted — have you forgotten all of that? Have you forgotten all our school days of friendship and of childhood innocence? We, Hermia, like two artists working together, have with our needles created both one flower as we both worked on one sampler, sitting on one cushion, singing one song, both in one key, as if our hands, our sides, our voices, and our minds had been those of one person. So we grew together, like a double cherry, two cherries on one stem, seeming to be parted, but yet united. Likewise, in appearance we had two bodies, but yet we had only one heart. We were like a coat of arms that represented two people. Are you willing to tear apart our long-time friendship by joining with these two men in mocking me? Doing that is not friendly, and it is not maidenly. The entire female sex, as well as me, may rebuke you for it, even though I alone do feel the injury.”

“I am amazed at your passionate words,” Hermia replied. “I scorn you not; it seems that you scorn me.”

“Have you not persuaded Lysander to mock me, to follow me, and to praise my eyes and face?” Helena asked. “And have you not persuaded your other love, Demetrius, who recently threatened to kick me, to call me goddess, nymph, divine and rare, precious and celestial? Who would speak these things to a woman he hates? And why does Lysander deny his love of you, so rich within his soul, and tender me affection, unless you made him do it? I am not as much in favor as you, or as loved, or as fortunate; instead, I am miserable because I, who love, am unloved. You should pity me, not despise me.”

“I don’t understand what you mean by this,” Hermia replied.

“Go on, continue to counterfeit serious looks, make faces at me when I turn my back, wink at each other, and keep up this joke. If you carry it out well, this joke will be talked about for years. If you have any pity, grace, or manners, you would not make me such a butt of your joke. But farewell. I am the butt of your joke partly because I followed all of you here, but my death or my absence shall soon remedy that.”

“Stay, gentle Helena; hear my plea to you,” Lysander said. “You are my love, my life, my soul, fair Helena!”

“Don’t you ever stop?” Helena said.

Hermia said to Lysander, “Dear, do not mock her so.”

Demetrius said to Lysander, “If she cannot persuade you to stop mocking Helena, I can force you to stop mocking her.”

“Neither you nor she can stop me from worshipping Helena,” Lysander said to Demetrius. “Your threats have no more strength than Hermia’s weak requests.”

Lysander then said, “Helena, I love you. I swear it by my life. I swear by that which I will lose for you, to prove him false who says that I do not love you.”

Demetrius said to Helena, “I say that I love you more than he can do.”

“If you say you do,” Lysander said, “come and fight me and prove your words are true.”

“Let’s do it!” Demetrius said.

Hermia asked, “Lysander, what is going on?”

She grabbed Lysander and held on to him, preventing him from leaving to fight Demetrius.

Lysander shouted at her, “Away, you addict to tanning beds!”

“Lysander is not serious about fighting me,” Demetrius said. “He will put on an act, storm and shout, pretend to want to leave to fight me, but find an excuse the fight to back out.”

He said to Lysander, “You’re only half a man.”

Lysander yelled at Hermia, “Let go of me, you cat, you burr! You vile thing, let loose, or I will shake you from me like a serpent!”

“Why are you grown so violent?” Hermia asked him. “Why have you changed, darling —”

“Don’t ‘darling’ me!” Lysander raged. “Get away from me, tawny tabby! Get away from me, loathed medicine! Hated potion, get away from me!”

“You must be joking!” Hermia said to Lysander.

“He is,” Helena said, “and you are also joking.”

“Demetrius, I will keep my word and fight you,” Lysander said.

“Would you like to bet?” Demetrius said. “Hermia has her arms around you and is preventing you from leaving with me and fighting me. It looks to me as if you aren’t fighting very hard to get away from Hermia.”

“Should I hurt her, strike her, kill her dead?” Lysander replied. “Although I hate her, I’ll not harm a hair of her head.”

“Can you do me any greater harm than to hate me?” Hermia asked Lysander. “Why should you hate me? Why? Am not I Hermia? Are not you Lysander? I am as pretty now as I was a while ago. When the night began, you loved me, but since the night began you left me. Why did you leave me? Did you really mean to leave me?”

“Yes, I did,” Lysander said, “and I hoped to never see you again. Therefore, be out of hope, of question, of doubt; instead, be certain that nothing is truer than that it is no joke that I do hate you and I do love Helena.”

Hermia turned her attention to Helena: “You trickster! You thief of love! You boyfriend-stealer! You have come to this forest this night and stolen the man I love!”

“Have you no modesty, no maidenly shame, no touch of bashfulness?” Helena asked. “Will you tear answers from my throat before I have a chance to speak? You are not a real woman! You are a counterfeit! You are a puppet!”

“A puppet!” Hermia shouted. “Now I understand what is going on. Helena has used her height to steal my boyfriend. Helena has compared her height, her tall height, to my shortness, and now my Lysander belongs to her.”

She shouted at Helena, “And are you grown so high in Lysander’s esteem because I am so dwarfish and so low? How low am I, you tall painted maypole? Tell me: How low am I? I may be short, but my fingernails can still reach your eyes!”

Helena was afraid: “Please, although you are mocking me, gentlemen, let her not hurt me. I was never assertive. I have no gift for standing up for myself. My reputation for cowardice is well deserved. Don’t let her hit me. You perhaps may think that because she is somewhat shorter than myself, that I am a match for her, but I am not.”

“Shorter!” Hermia shouted. “Do you have to keep saying that I am short?”

Helena replied, “Good Hermia, do not be so angry at me. I always did love you, Hermia. I always kept your secrets, and I have never wronged you, except that, because I love Demetrius, I told him of your flight into this forest. He followed you, and because I love him I followed him. But he has been angry at me and threatened me. He has threatened to strike me, spurn me, and even to kill me. And now, if you will let me, a fool, quietly go, I will return to Athens and follow you no further. Please, let me go. I am a simple and foolish woman.”

Still angry, Hermia said, “Why, get you gone! What is stopping you?”

“A foolish heart,” Helena said, “but I will leave it here.”

“What, with Lysander?” Hermia shouted.

“No, with Demetrius.”

“Helena, be not afraid,” Lysander said, “Hermia shall not harm you.”

“No, she won’t,” Demetrius said, “not even if Lysander here is on Hermia’s side.”

Still afraid, Helena said, “When she’s angry, she is keen and sharp-tongued! She was sometimes a mean girl when she was in school, and though she be but little, she is fierce.”

“‘Little’ again!” Hermia complained. “She keeps calling me ‘low’ and ‘little.’ Why do you men allow her to say such things about me? You won’t do anything about it, but I will!”

Hermia let go of Lysander and started toward Helena, but Lysander and Demetrius quickly blocked her way.

Lysander said to her, “Go away, you dwarf, you minimus, you user of growth-stunting tobacco, you bead, you acorn.”

“You are too ready to rise to the defense of a woman who scorns your service,” Demetrius said to Lysander. “Let Helena alone. Don’t talk about her. Don’t try to ‘help’ her. If you continue to pretend to show even a little interest in her, you shall regret it.”

“Hermia has let go of me and is not preventing me from leaving,” Lysander said. “Follow me, if you dare, and fight me to see who gets Helena.”

“Follow you!” Demetrius said. “No, I will walk beside you, cheek by jowl.”

The two men departed, leaving Helena and Hermia alone.

“You are the cause of all this turmoil,” Hermia said, walking toward Helena, who backed away from her. “Don’t back away from me.”

“I will not trust you enough to let you close to me,” Helena said, “and I will no longer stay in your cursed company. Your hands are quicker than mine for a fray. My legs are longer, though, to run away.”

Helena ran away.

Confused by recent events, Hermia said, “I am amazed and know not what to say.”

Hermia then ran after Helena.

“All of this is your fault,” Oberon said to Puck. “You keep making accidental mistakes, or perhaps, you make your mistakes accidentally on purpose.”

“Believe me, King of shadows, these mistakes are accidental,” Puck said. “Did not you tell me I should know the man by the Athenian clothing he had on? And so far blameless proves my enterprise, that I have anointed an Athenian’s eyes. Still, I am glad events did so pass because this their arguing I think is worth a laugh.”

“Let’s make things right,” Oberon said. “The two male lovers are seeking a place to fight. Therefore, Robin Goodfellow, make overcast the night. Make fog dim the starry sky and lead these testy rivals so astray that one comes not within the other’s way. Similar to Lysander’s sometimes make your tongue, then make Demetrius angry — for you that should be fun. Sometimes shout in the voice of Demetrius and use these lovers’ voices to lead each lover away from the other. Keep them seeking each other until over their brows death-like sleep with leaden legs and bat-like wings does creep. When they are asleep, then squeeze the juice of this herbal antidote onto Lysander’s eyelids. The juice will make everything all right. It has the power to take from him all error with his sight, and make him love again Hermia, thus ending his and her plight. When the lovers — male and female — next awake, all this night’s derision shall seem like a dream and fruitless vision, and back to Athens shall the lovers wend, matched correctly with a love that shall never end.”

He added, “While I in this affair do you employ, I will go to my Queen and ask for her boy who comes from the East, and then I will release her charmed eyes from loving a monster, and reigning again shall be peace.”

“My fairy lord, this must be done with haste,” Puck said. “The dragons that draw the chariot of night are nearing their home, and in the East I see the morning star, at whose approach ghosts, wandering here and far, go home to their churchyards. Other damned spirits, those of suicides who were buried at crossroads and those of people who drowned in floods and whose bodies were never recovered, already to their wormy beds have gone for fear that day should look upon them — they willfully exile themselves from light and must forever consort with black-browed night.”

“But we are spirits of another sort,” Oberon said, “I in the morning’s light have often made sport. Far from being driven away by the coming of day, we fairy spirits are able to enjoy it and stay, although we prefer the Moonlit night to the morning light. Like the keeper of a royal forest, I often tread the groves until the full morning Sunlight, all fiery red, shines down on the ocean with fair blessed beams, and turns into yellow gold the ocean’s salty green streams. Nevertheless, Puck, act quickly and make no delay. We may be able to set everything to rights before day.”

Oberon flew away to go to Titania.

“Up and down, up and down, I will lead them up and down. I am feared in field and town,” Puck said. “Robin Hobgoblin, lead them up and down. Here comes one.”

Lysander came near and shouted, “Where are you, proud Demetrius? Speak up now!”

In Demetrius’ voice, Puck shouted, “Here I am, villain. My sword is drawn and ready. Where are you?”

“I will be with you immediately.”

In Demetrius’ voice, Puck replied, “Follow me, then, to leveler ground so we can fight.”

Lysander left, following — he thought — Demetrius’ voice.

Demetrius came near and shouted, “Lysander, speak again! You runaway, you coward, have you fled? Speak! Are you cowering in some bush? Where are you hiding your head?”

Puck shouted in Lysander’s voice, “You coward, you are bragging to the stars and telling the bushes that you are looking for me near and far, yet you will not come and fight me. Come, coward! Come, child! I’ll whip you with a rod. Anyone who draws a sword on you is defiled.”

Demetrius shouted, “Where are you?”

Puck shouted in Lysander’s voice, “Follow my voice. This is not a good place to fight.”

They left, but soon Lysander returned, stumbled in the darkness, and complained, “He goes before me and continuously dares me to come on, but when I come to where he called, then he is gone. The villain is much lighter-heeled than me. I followed fast, but faster he did flee. I am fallen into a dark uneven way, and here will I rest myself and stay.”

He lay down and said, “Come, gentle day! Once you show me your light, I will find Demetrius and get revenge for this spite.”

He slept.

Soon, Puck led Demetrius near Lysander.

Puck shouted in Lysander’s voice, “Coward, why are you avoiding me?”

“Wait for me, if you dare,” Demetrius shouted. “I know well that you are running away from me. You keep changing your position, and you dare not stay in one place and look me in the face. Where are you now?”

“Come here,” Puck shouted in Lysander’s voice. “Here I am.”

“Not for long,” Demetrius said. “You will be gone by the time I get there and so you do me wrong. You shall dearly pay for mocking me this night if ever I see your face in daylight. Now, go your way. I am tired, and on this cold ground I will make my bed. When morning arrives, expect me to break your head.”

He lay on the ground and slept.

Helena arrived and complained, “Oh, weary night! Oh, long and tedious night, make your hours shorter! May dawn soon shine in the East so that I may go back to Athens by daylight and escape my former friends who now detest me. Sleep, who for a time stops sorrow, keep me from my misery.”

Helena lay on the ground and slept.

Puck said, “Yet but three? I need one more — two of both kinds make up four. Here she comes, cursed and sad. Cupid is a knavish lad, thus to make poor females mad.”

Hermia arrived and complained, “I have been never so weary, never so in woe. Bedabbled with the dew and torn with briers, I can no further crawl, no further go. My legs cannot keep pace with my desires. Here will I rest until the break of light. May Heaven protect Lysander if there is a fight!”

Hermia lay on the ground and slept.

Puck said to all four lovers, “On the ground, sleep sound.”

To Lysander, he said, “I’ll apply to your eyes, gentle lover, something that will make you truly love the one you should love when her you spy.”

Puck squeezed the juice of the herbal antidote onto Lysander’s sleeping eyelids, and then he said, “When you wake, you will take true delight in the sight of your former lady’s eyes. And the country proverb by all men known, that every man should have his own, in your waking shall be shown. Jack shall have Jill; nothing shall go ill, and each man and woman shall be matched well.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

David Bruce has retold in today’s modern English all 38 of William Shakespeare’s plays.

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