Summary: In the dark forest outside Athens the mischevious fairy Puck, aka Robin Goodfellow discusses the quarrel between the King and Queen of Fairyland over an Indian changeling with another fairy. Suddenly both parties, Oberon and Titania arrive in the forest with their retinues. They square off and jealously accuse each other of wanting to break up Theseus and Hippolyta’s weddings, both of them former lovers respectively. Their main argument is about a young boy Titania brought with her from India. Oberon wants him to be his attendant but she doesn’t want to give him up. After arguing a bit Titania takes off with her fairies.
Oberon summons Puck and tells him about a magical flower, its nectar if put on the eyelids of a sleeper will cause that person to fall in love with the first thing they see when waked. His plan is to have Puck fetch the flower so he can put the nectar on Titania’s eyes making her fall in love with the first ugly beastly creature that she sees. Puck takes off to find the flower.
Demetrius enters the grove chased by Helena. She is professing her love for him and he keeps on telling her off. All he wants to do is find Hermia so he could bring her back. Oberon watches the whole scene hidden from sight and he feels bad Helena.
After the two leave Puck returns with the magic flower. Oberon takes some of it and orders Puck to find the Athenian and make him fall in love with the woman he is mistreating. He means Demetrius and Helena.
Commentary: In act 2 we start off right away in the magical and mythological world by meeting the famous Puck along with the King and Queen, Oberon and Titania. Like most portrayals of the Fey, they are powerful and prone to quarrels and irrational behavior for spite or just chaos. The whole Indian boy side plot is kind of weird and really just an exotic sounding pretext to cause the argument between the two.
What we have here, of course, is the comedic setup. Whenever a love potion is involved the reader knows something is going to go wrong, it’s a trope that was most likely cemented by this play(off the top of my head I think the older play/poem Tristan and Isolde has a love potion but no comedy). The last modern version I remember is the episode of Rick and Morty called Rick Potion No. 9 involving a love potion plot that goes really really wrong.
Summary: In another part of the forest Titania is sung to sleep by her fairies who watch over her. Oberon sneaks up and squeezes the magic flower juice onto her eyelids casting the love spell that will make her fall in love with the first thing she sees.
Meanwhile, Hermia and Lysander are lost in the forest and decide to sleep for a bit. Lysander tries to sleep next to Hermia but she chides him and they end up sleeping apart when Puck finds them. Seeing Lysander away from Hermia he assumes that he is the Athenian Oberon wants enchanted so he squeezes the magic flower juice on his eyes before disappearing.
Demetrius runs through with Helena chasing him still professing her love. She finally gives up in despair and stops to catch her breath when she notices Lysander sleeping on the ground. Worried about him she wakes shakes him and he awakens with the spell taking hold of him he instantly falls in love with her. He begins to profess his love for her but she gets mad thinking that he is mocking her so she runs away with him chasing her.
Finally, Hermia wakes up and finds herself alone in the forest.
Commentary: So magic potions make everything a mess, Puck messed up and now the wrong guy is in love with Helena and poor Hermia is left alone in the woods to fend for herself. I like that initially Helena is the desperate creep chasing Demetrius but ends up being creeply chased by a melodramatic Lysander professing his undying love.
NOTE: While looking for Oberon and Titania art I came across the above artist Arthur Rackham whos illustrations I immediately recognized. He was a famous early 20th-century British illustrator who did lots of fantastic work. Check his stuff out, I’m sure it will be familiar.