In the evening, in Theseus’s palace, Hippolyta remarks on the strange tale the four lovers have told them. Theseus is prepared to dismiss it as a fanciful story, no more true than something a madman or a poet (who both have vivid imaginations) might conjure up. Hippolyta is not convinced. She points out that the stories the young people tell are all consistent with one another, which makes her think they are reliable.
Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia and Helena enter. Theseus asks Philostrate what the entertainment will be for the remainder of the evening. Philostrate hands him a sheet of paper with a list of acts for him to choose from. The artisans’ play, Pyramus and Thisbe, is fourth on the list, and it attracts Theseus’s attention. Philostrate tells him that it is a very bad play, and that when he saw it in rehearsal it made him laugh, even though it is a tragedy. Theseus asks who is to perform it, and after Philostrate tells him that it is being done by some artisans from Athens who have never exercised their minds in anything before, Theseus decides, over Philostrate’s protests, to hear it. He tells the doubtful Hippolyta that what matters is not the quality of the product, but the honesty and simplicity with which it is offered.
There is a flourish of trumpets. Peter Quince enters and speaks the play’s prologue. according to the watching aristocrats, Theseus, Hippolyta and Lysander, he delivers the lines badly.
As the rest of the players enter, Peter Quince continues his prologue, explaining who the characters are, including Wall (played by Snout), Moonshine (played by Starveling), and Lion (played by Snug). He also explains the plot of the play. Pyramus and Thisbe are to meet at Ninus’ tomb and woo each other there. But Thisbe is scared away by a lion, and as she flees she drops her mantle. The lion mangles it and leaves it looking bloodstained. When Pyramus arrives, he is so distraught at the sight of the apparently bloody mantle that he kills himself, thinking his lover dead.
The players perform their parts as best they can, despite the rude interruptions from the aristocrats, who enjoy themselves by mocking the farcical performance.
Snout explains at length that he is playing a wall. Pyramus approaches the wall, on the other side of which Thisbe eventually appears. The two lovers engage in a love dialogue in which they both mangle the names of the characters from classical mythology. Then they part, agreeing to meet at Ninus’ tomb.
Snug enters and explains that he is Lion, as does Starveling as Moonshine. They manage to get their lines out in spite of the mocking comments from the aristocrats. Lion chases Thisbe away, and then Pyramus enters and passionately laments what he thinks is the death of Thisbe. He stabs himself and dies. Thisbe returns to find her lover dead, and stabs herself in grief.
After some generous praise for their performance from Theseus, they conclude with a rustic dance.
It is midnight, and Theseus and the others retire to bed. Puck enters and announces that now is the time that fairies frolic. Oberon and Titania and their train sing and dance a blessing on the house.
The last word is given to Puck, who speaks directly to the audience. He says that if anything in the play has offended them, they should consider themselves to have been sleeping, and the play to be nothing more than a dream.
In his famous speech about the lunatic, the lover and the poet, Theseus reveals himself to be a rationalist. He does not give any credence to the world of imagination. Perhaps this is to be expected from a man who is an efficient ruler and practical man of affairs. He puts his trust in his day-to-day experience, rather than the imaginative worlds inhabited by lovers or poets.
The artisans’ play is usually extremely funny in performance, as actors get the opportunity to act as non-actors trying to be actors. It also suggests that the theater need not strive overmuch for realism, since the artisans’ attempts at realism actually make their play less rather than more believable.
Oberon and Titania, now restored to friendship, show the true role of the fairies, which is to bless the human world and guard it from dangers.