Act Five, Scene One
In the palace where Theseus and Hippolyta reside, the guests are waiting for some form of after dinner entertainment. Theseus has Egeus read him a list of possible performances, and Theseus finally settles on 'A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe: very tragical mirth' as the play he wants to see performed. Egeus tries to dissuade him, telling him that the actors are workingmen will no talent, but Theseus is adamant that he watch them perform.
Quince delivers the prologue, a masterpiece of writing fraught with sentence fragments which serve to reverse the meaning of the actual phrases:
If we offend, it is with our good will. That you should think: we come not to offend But with good will. To show our simple skill, That is the true beginning of our end. Consider then we come but in despite. We do not come as minding to content you, Our true intent is. All for your delight We are not here. That you should here repent you The actors are at hand, and by their show You shall know all that you are like to know. (5.1.108-117)
The play is then performed, with numerous linguistic errors and incorrect references making it into a complete farce. Hippolyta condemns the play as being "silly" while Theseus defends it as being nothing more than imaginative. During the performance, Theseus, Lysander, Demetrius and Hippolyta add commentary which criticizes the action, and makes fun of the antics of the laymen.
At the end of the play both Bottom and Flute get up from where they are lying, supposedly dead, and offer to perform an epilogue or a bergamask (a type of dance). Theseus quickly intervenes and tells them they need no epilogue, but rather should only perform the dance, which they do.
Act Five, Scene Two and Epilogue
Puck enters with a broom and sweeps the stage. In a monologue he informs the audience that not even a mouse will disturb the lovers, and it can be inferred that he is protecting their bedchambers. Oberon and Titania arrive in order to bless the union of Theseus and Hippolyta. They perform a fairy dance and depart, leaving Puck alone on stage. Puck's epilogue begs forgiveness of the audience and says: If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended: That you have but slumbered here, While these visions did appear; (Epilogue, 1-4) indicating that if someone did not like the play, then he or she should imagine that it was all a dream.
This final act at first seems completely unnecessary to the overall plot of the play. After all, in Act Four we not only have the lovers getting married, but there has been a happy resolution to the conflict. Thus, the immediate question which arises is why Shakespeare felt it necessary to include this act.
The answer lies in the fact that Shakespeare is trying to drive home a point about theater; he wants to make it very clear that the ending to this play could just as easily have been tragedy, not comedy. The Pyramus and Thisbe play makes this very clear because it parallels the actual action of the lovers so closely. Pyramus and Thisbe decide to run away, a lion (one of the monsters in the forest) emerges and seizes Thisbe's cloak, and when Pyramus sees the bloodied cloak he rashly commits suicide. This ending could easily have been the ending to A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The final act also serves to challenge the audience's notions about reality and imagination. Seeing the pathetic acting of the artisans, Theseus remarks that, "The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / Are of imagination all compact" (5.1.7-8). By this he means that it is imagination which makes people crazy, but it is also the imagination which inspires people. Without imagination it would be much more difficult to enjoy a play, as evidenced by the farce of Pyramus and Thisbe, about which Hippolyta comments, "This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard." Theseus helps her overcome this problem by saying, "The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse if imagination amend them" (5.1.207,208). Thus, the imagination can solve all the problems.
Perhaps the most telling line of the last act is when Theseus asks, "How shall we find the concord of this discord?" (5.1.60). That is exactly what has happened in the play itself, namely there has been a resolution to the discord of the lovers in the initial scenes, which by the end has turned into concord.