The play opens on the pre-nuptial ceremony of Duke Theseus of Athens and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Enter Egeus, a courtier of Theseus’ and Hermia’s father, who complains to the Duke that his daughter refuses to wed the partner he has chosen for her (Demetrius), and explains how the mischievous Lysander has secretly seduced her and tricked her into falling in love with him. Theseus tells Hermia that her options are to wed Demetrius, die, or submit to a nun’s life of celibacy. Lysander comforts the inconsolable Hermia by telling her of an aunt’s house they can run away to. They make arrangements to elope and Hermia tells her best friend, Helena, who promptly reveals the plan to Demetrius, Hermia’s intended, whom she (Helena) is madly in love with. Hermia and Helena exit for the woods with Helena and Demetrius in hot pursuit. Almost immediately, the four young people lose their way.
Oberon, the King of the Fairies, hot off a lovers quarrel with Titania, his Queen, hears Helena and