The play opens with Theseus, Duke of Athens, planning his marriage to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Egeus, an Athenian nobleman, marches in with his daughter, Hermia, and two men: Lysander, the man she loves, and Demetrius, the man Egeus wants her to marry. With Hermia refusing to marry Demetrius, Egeus demands for an ancient Athenian law: to marry Demetrius, or face execution.
When Hermia insists on finding out the worst punishment for her disobedience, Theseus gives her a third option of spending the rest of her life in a nunnery. He gives her until the day of the wedding to make her choice.
In secret, Lysander and Hermia plan to elope outside of Athens. They tell Helena, their friend, whom is in love with Demetrius, of their plans. In the hope of regaining Demetrius' love, Helena decides to tell him about the secret plan.
A group of Athenian craftsmen gather outside Peter Quince's house. Quince, a carpenter, is directing them in a play they wish to perform, for Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding. He announces that they will perform Pyramus and Thisbe, a tragic love story. Nick Bottom, the weaver, is eager to play all the parts but is assigned the main role of Pyramus. The craftsmen agree to meet in the woods the next night to rehearse.