1: There are people running, hiding, and meeting in the woods for their own various reasons.
2: The woods have fairies in them.
3: Some of the fairies have access to a magic drug that makes people fall in love with the next living creature they see.
4: Farcical chaos ensues.
5: One of the groups of people is a troupe of actors rehearsing a play.
Actually, you don’t really need to know any of that except the last detail. The main fairies-and-lovers plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a regular Shakespearean romantic comedy, no more meta than any other, which gets interrupted occasionally by this acting troupe subplot.
Only one of the actors gets drawn into any of the fairy magic, and then the troupe performs at the obligatory wedding at the end for all the couples. Otherwise the two plots have nothing to do with each other. It’s like Shakespeare just needed to pad the runtime to justify the ticket prices and felt like riffing on his actors and rival companies for an extra half hour.
You’ve got the writer/director who’s holding the show together (yes, Mr. S, we appreciate how hard you must have worked), but who expects the audience to be unbelievably hostile and stupid, insists that every plot point be explained at least twice, and compulsively sanitizes the slightest hint of violence for fear of stepping on the wrong toes.
Yes, his name is Bottom, and he’s the one who gets mixed up with the fairies and is famously transfigured to have the head of an ass.
Ha ha, get it?
We get to watch him be the worst troupe-mate possible at the first rehearsal, then end up an unwitting tool in a royal fairy marital spat. On King Oberon’s orders, Queen Titania is dosed with the love drug to make her crazy about Bottom, which would honestly be bad enough without any bestiality entering into it at all, but fairies apparently don’t half-ass their domestic squabbles.
Anyway, when Oberon decides Titania’s suffered enough, he gives them both the antidote for their respective afflictions. Bottom wakes up alone in the woods with his original head and announces that he’s had a dream. He goes on for a while about how he’ll have to have Peter Quince (the writer/director) write a play about it for him to star in, and concludes that it shall be called… (a savvy actor pauses here long enough to let the first timers in the audience think he’s going to guess the name of the play he’s in)… “Bottom’s Dream!”
A swing and a miss, Bottom.
Then the troupe meets back up to perform and gets heckled by some more royalty for how much their play sucks.