Foreshadowing doesn’t play a large role in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but in a few instances characters suggest the nature of the action that follows. Most significantly, the play opens with a discussion of the troubles lovers often face. “The course of true love never did run smooth,” Lysander says in Act I scene i. His observation essentially foreshadows everything that happens in the rest of the play.
Oberon and Titania’s fight
In the play’s first scene, Theseus provides the backstory to his relationship with Hippolyta. They weren’t always lovers; in fact, he tells Hippolyta “I wooed thee with my sword / And won thy love doing thee injuries.” The subtle discord between Theseus and Hippolyta in these opening lines foreshadows the dispute between Oberon and Titania, their counterparts in the fairy realm. Here Shakespeare intertwines the two realms into a complex relationship. Titania feels jealous of Oberon’s affection for Hippolyta, and Oberon feels equally jealous of Titania’s affection for Theseus. These and other examples of the play’s interweaving of reality and fantasy set up for the audience the way the play juxtaposes human problems with fairy problems.
Lysander’s abandonment of Hermia
In the final moments of Act II, just after a charmed Lysander leaves Hermia’s side to pursue Helena, Hermia awakens from a nightmare in which a serpent devoured her heart as Lysander stood by and watched. The symbolism of Hermia’s dream foreshadows Lysander’s betrayal. Yet despite the clear symbolic link between Hermia’s dream and Lysander’s abandonment, there remains something paradoxical about this example of foreshadowing. Specifically, Shakespeare reverses the usual chronology that foreshadowing requires. In this case the foreshadowed event (Lysander’s abandonment) actually precedes the event that foreshadows it (Hermia’s dream). How, then, does this count as foreshadowing? It counts because Hermia will not actually find out that Lysander betrayed her until Act III, scene ii. Shakespeare makes this foreshadowing paradox work through the use of dramatic irony, in which the audience understands something that the characters don’t.
The rift between Hermia and Helena
In the play’s opening scene, Hermia informs Helena of her plan to run away with Lysander, recalling the two women’s girlhood friendship: “And in the wood where often you and I / Upon faint primrose beds were wont to lie, / Emptying our bosoms of their counsel swelled, / There my Lysander and myself shall meet.” (I.i.) This mention of the spot where Helena and Hermia used to spend time foreshadows the fact that Hermia plans to replace Helena in her affections with Lysander. The lines also foreshadow Helena’s return to this spot in Act II scene ii, where she’ll awaken the enchanted Lysander, causing him to fall in love with her instead of Hermia.