Act I - Scene I


[The Palace of Theseus in Athens]

Enter Theseus, Hippolyta, [with Philostrate, and Attendants]

THESEUS:
Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon; but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager,(5)
Long withering out a young man's revenue.
HIPPOLYTA:
Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night(10)
Of our solemnities.
THESEUS:
Go, Philostrate,
Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments;
Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth;
Turn melancholy forth to funerals;(15)
The pale companion is not for our pomp.

[Exit Philostrate]

Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won thy love doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph, and with revelling.(20)


Enter Egeus, and his daughter Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius


EGEUS:
Happy be Theseus, our renowned duke!
THESEUS:
Thanks, good Egeus; what's the news with thee?
EGEUS:
Full of vexation come I, with complaint
Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,(25)
This man hath my consent to marry her.
Stand forth, Lysander. And, my gracious duke,
This man hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child.
Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
And interchanged love-tokens with my child;(30)
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,
With feigning voice, verses of feigning love,
And stolen the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers(35)
Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth;
With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's heart;
Turn'd her obedience, which is due to me,
To stubborn harshness. And, my gracious duke,
Be it so she will not here before your Grace(40)
Consent to marry with Demetrius,
I beg the ancient privilege of Athens:
As she is mine, I may dispose of her;
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death, according to our law(45)
Immediately provided in that case.
THESEUS:
What say you, Hermia? Be advis'd, fair maid.
To you your father should be as a god;
One that composed your beauties; yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax,(50)
By him imprinted, and within his power
To leave the figure, or disfigure it.
Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.
HERMIA:
So is Lysander.
THESEUS:
In himself he is;(55)
But in this kind, wanting your father's voice,
The other must be held the worthier.
HERMIA:
I would my father look'd but with my eyes.
THESEUS:
Rather your eyes must with his judgment look.
HERMIA:
I do entreat your Grace to pardon me.(60)
I know not by what power I am made bold,
Nor how it may concern my modesty,
In such a presence here to plead my thoughts;
But I beseech your Grace that I may know
The worst that may befall me in this case,(65)
If I refuse to wed Demetrius.
THESEUS:
Either to die the death, or to abjure
For ever the society of men.
Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires,
Know of your youth, examine well your blood,(70)
Whether, if you yield not to your father's choice,
You can endure the livery of a nun,
For aye to be in shady cloister mew'd,
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.(75)
Thrice-blessed they that master so their blood
To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
But earthlier happy is the rose distill'd
Than that which, withering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives, and dies, in single blessedness.(80)
HERMIA:
So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,
Ere I will yield my virgin patent up
Unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke
My soul consents not to give sovereignty.
THESEUS:
Take time to pause; and by the next new moon—(85)
The sealing-day betwixt my love and me
For everlasting bond of fellowship,—
Upon that day either prepare to die
For disobedience to your father's will,
Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would,(90)
Or on Diana's altar to protest
For aye austerity and single life.
DEMETRIUS:
Relent, sweet Hermia; and, Lysander, yield
Thy crazed title to my certain right.
LYSANDER:
You have her father's love, Demetrius;(95)
Let me have Hermia's; do you marry him.
EGEUS:
Scornful Lysander! True, he hath my love;
And what is mine my love shall render him;
And she is mine; and all my right of her
I do estate unto Demetrius.(100)
LYSANDER:
I am, my lord, as well derived as he,
As well possess'd; my love is more than his;
My fortunes every way as fairly rank'd,
If not with vantage, as Demetrius';
And, which is more than all these boasts can be,(105)
I am belov'd of beauteous Hermia.
Why should not I then prosecute my right?
Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head,
Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena,
And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,(110)
Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,
Upon this spotted and inconstant man.
THESEUS:
I must confess that I have heard so much,
And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof;
But, being over-full of self-affairs,(115)
My mind did lose it. But, Demetrius, come;
And come, Egeus; you shall go with me;
I have some private schooling for you both.
For you, fair Hermia, look you arm yourself
To fit your fancies to your father's will,(120)
Or else the law of Athens yields you up—
Which by no means we may extenuate—
To death, or to a vow of single life.
Come, my Hippolyta; what cheer, my love?
Demetrius and Egeus, go along;(125)
I must employ you in some business
Against our nuptial, and confer with you
Of something nearly that concerns yourselves.
EGEUS:
With duty and desire we follow you.

Exeunt [all but] Lysander and Hermia

LYSANDER:
How now, my love! Why is your cheek so pale?
How chance the roses there do fade so fast?
HERMIA:
Belike for want of rain, which I could well
Beteem them from the tempest of my eyes.
LYSANDER:
Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,(135)
The course of true love never did run smooth;
But, either it was different in blood—
HERMIA:
O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low.
LYSANDER:
Or else misgraffed in respect of years—
HERMIA:
O spite! too old to be engag'd to young.(140)
LYSANDER:
Or else it stood upon the choice of friends—
HERMIA:
O hell! to choose love by another's eyes.
LYSANDER:
Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness, did lay siege to it,
Making it momentany as a sound,(145)
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
Brief as the lightning in the collied night
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say ‘Behold!’
The jaws of darkness do devour it up;(150)
So quick bright things come to confusion.
HERMIA:
If then true lovers have ever cross'd,
It stands as an edict in destiny.
Then let us teach our trial patience,
Because it is a customary cross,(155)
As due to love as thoughts and dreams and sighs,
Wishes and tears, poor fancy's followers.
LYSANDER:
A good persuasion; therefore, hear me, Hermia.
I have a widow aunt, a dowager
Of great revenue, and she hath no child:(160)
From Athens is her house remote seven leagues;
And she respects me as her only son.
There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee;
And to that place the sharp Athenian law
Cannot pursue us. If thou lovest me then,(165)
Steal forth thy father's house tomorrow night;
And in the wood, a league without the town,
Where I did meet thee once with Helena
To do observance to a morn of May,
There will I stay for thee.(170)
HERMIA:
My good Lysander!
I swear to thee, by Cupid's strongest bow,
By his best arrow, with the golden head,
By the simplicity of Venus' doves,
By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves,(175)
And by that fire which burn'd the Carthage Queen,
When the false Trojan under sail was seen,
By all the vows that ever men have broke,
In number more than ever women spoke,
In that same place thou hast appointed me,(180)
Tomorrow truly will I meet with thee.
LYSANDER:
Keep promise, love. Look, here comes Helena.

Enter Helena

HERMIA:
God speed fair Helena! Whither away?
HELENA:
Call you me fair? That fair again unsay.
Demetrius loves your fair. O happy fair!(185)
Your eyes are lode-stars and your tongue's sweet air
More tuneable than lark to shepherd's ear,
When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear.
Sickness is catching; O, were favor so,
Yours would I catch, fair Hermia, ere I go!(190)
My ear should catch your voice, my eye your eye,
My tongue should catch your tongue's sweet melody.
Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated,
The rest I'd give to be to you translated.
O, teach me how you look, and with what art(195)
You sway the motion of Demetrius' heart!
HERMIA:
I frown upon him, yet he loves me still.
HELENA:
O that your frowns would teach my smiles such
skill!
HERMIA:
I give him curses, yet he gives me love.(200)
HELENA:
O that my prayers could such affection move!
HERMIA:
The more I hate, the more he follows me.
HELENA:
The more I love, the more he hateth me.
HERMIA:
His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.
HELENA:
None, but your beauty; would that fault were(205)
mine!
HERMIA:
Take comfort: he no more shall see my face;
Lysander and myself will fly this place.
Before the time I did Lysander see,
Seem'd Athens as a paradise to me.(210)
O, then, what graces in my love do dwell,
That he hath turn'd a heaven unto a hell!
LYSANDER:
Helen, to you our minds we will unfold:
Tomorrow night, when Phoebe doth behold
Her silver visage in the watery glass,(215)
Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass,
A time that lovers' flights doth still conceal,
Through Athens' gates have we devised to steal.
HERMIA:
And in the wood, where often you and I
Upon faint primrose-beds were wont to lie,(220)
Emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet,
There my Lysander and myself shall meet;
And thence from Athens turn away our eyes,
To seek new friends and stranger companies.
Farewell, sweet playfellow; pray thou for us,(225)
And good luck grant thee thy Demetrius!
Keep word, Lysander; we must starve our sight
From lovers' food till morrow deep midnight.

Exit Hermia

LYSANDER:
I will, my Hermia. Helena, adieu;
As you on him, Demetrius dote on you.(230)

Exit Lysander

HELENA:
How happy some o'er other some can be!
Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so;
He will not know what all but he do know.
And as he errs, doting on Hermia's eyes,(235)
So I, admiring of his qualities.
Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind.(240)
Nor hath Love's mind of any judgment taste;
Wings and no eyes, figure unheedy haste;
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.
As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,(245)
So the boy Love is perjured everywhere;
For ere Demetrius look'd on Hermia's eyne,
He hail'd down oaths that he was only mine;
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolv'd, and showers of oaths did melt.(250)
I will go tell him of fair Hermia's flight;
Then to the wood will he tomorrow night
Pursue her; and for this intelligence
If I have thanks, it is a dear expense.
But herein mean I to enrich my pain,(255)
To have his sight thither and back again.

Exit


Footnotes

  1. The expression “made love” here could refer to sexual intercourse, but this meaning came into play in the mid-to-late 16th century. Another meaning of this phrase at that time meant to express a declaration of love, or to make one’s love known to their object of desire. Regardless of the meaning, Lysander’s point is that Demetrius had previously been in love with Helena, and now he is changing his mind.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The two lovers worry about their situation after the others leave, and Lysander points out that their situation, while not ideal, is not unusual, and many lovers have faced similar troubles. Lysander’s language suggests his familiarity with such situations, with “Ay me” expressing a strong sense of despair while “for aught” emphatically refers to everyone as in “for all” or “in all.” Such expressions allow him to make a grand claim about their situation, but he appears to temper their situation rather than inflate it. It is known that Shakespeare was writing this play at the same time as Romeo and Juliet, and Lysander’s claim situates A Midsummer Night’s Dream within the context of all romantic stories and “fated lovers.”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. In order to make his point about love, Lysander employs several key word choices here. The word “dote” is repeated with increasing intensity to show the depth of Helena’s love for Demetrius, which Lysander depicts as too devout. Meanwhile Lysander calls Demetrius “spotted,” or impure, and “inconstant” because he has changed his mind about whom he loves. Therefore, Lysander not only depicts Demetrius negatively, but he also appears to mock Helena’s affection because it is too devout. For him, it seems, love and romance must exist somewhere between these two extremes.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Having heard Theseus and Egeus tell Hermia that she must obey her father, Lysander finally speaks up for himself, defending his right to marry Hermia and his own qualities. In order to do that, he makes several observations about Demetrius, pointing out that Demetrius is not faithful nor constant in his affections. To do this, Lysander contrasts Helena’s love with Demetrius’s fickle nature. His claims here provide insight into the morality of these characters in that while they may value romantic love, consistent affection is seen as more desirable.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The eye imagery here and the focus on blindness is important. Since Cupid is “painted blind,” this love god represents action based on emotion rather than vision. However, note how later in the play many characters will experience love through seeing, even though that seeing will be affected by outside forces. Regardless, Helena’s claim here that vision is not important in the affairs of love is simultaneously accurate and ironic. As we’ll see, Shakespeare uses literal sight as the foundation for the metaphorical blindness that love can create.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. This is an archaic, obscure form of the plural of “eye” and is only used today in some forms of poetry, rather than in everyday speech.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Helena uses several expressive metaphors here to emphasize the qualities that Hermia has that have made Demetrius fall in love with here. In this case, Hermia’s eyes are called “lode-stars” and her tongue is “sweet air.” Both cases refer to Hermia’s ability to inspire, enchant, or guide, in the sense that her eyes and words have led Demetrius to her. A “lode-star” refers to a guiding star, like the North Star, and the noun “air” here refers to the musical quality of her voice and words.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The term “distill’d,” or “distilled,” means to be purified. In Shakespeare’s time, for a woman to be “pure” she was expected to either remain celibate and virginal or to choose to love one person whom she would marry. When Hermia asks Theseus what will happen if she refuses to marry Demetrius, he replies that she can either become a nun or be executed. Since there was incredible value placed on romantic love and marriage during this time, Theseus suggests that Hermia marry Demetrius. He says that her life as a nun would resemble that of “the rose” that simply “grows, lives, and dies”—or in other words, it would involve no “meaningful” life changes.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Theseus states that Hermia will face death or a life in solitude and prayer as a nun should she refuse to comply with her father’s wishes. The word “livery” means the particular clothing or accessories of a particular profession or station. In this sense, Theseus uses clothing as a symbol of status, or one’s position in life.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place in a time in which Athenian law forced women to marry whomever their fathers chose, and they could be executed for disobeying. When Theseus compares Egeus’s authority to that of a “god,” Shakespeare introduces the theme of male dominance in disputes between men and women. Here, men are given the legal right to make decisions for women in all aspects of their lives. Throughout the play, pay attention to the various ways in which women are forced into subservient positions and denied agency and how such actions by these women play into the expected gender roles during Shakespeare’s time.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. The “pale companion” that Theseus refers to here is “melancholy,” or sadness. Theseus means that his and Hippolyta’s wedding shall be a joyful celebration even though the wait feels long and wears on his patience.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. This is an allusion to Vergil's Aeneid, in which he describes Dido's love for Aeneas, a Trojan hero. The fire and burning here refers to what happens when Aeneas sails away for Italy: Dido, the Carthage Queen, throws herself onto a burning funeral pyre. Hermia uses this string of allusions, vows, and devotion to strengthen the promise she makes to meet Lysander in the forest.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. In this soliloquy, Helena muses on love and her unfair situation. She is unlucky in her unrequited love, but she is also the character that seems to understand real love the most. She claims here that love is nonjudgemental and comes from understanding rather than lusting after a person. Even though she has this rational perception of love, she still loses confidence after Demetrius's rejection and becomes cynical when she is the subject of both men's desire later in the play.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. In one of the most famous and quotable lines from this play Lysander elevates his love to the status of famous doomed romances and historical "star-crossed" lovers. Ironically, he uses this comparison to reassure Hermia that hope is not lost. Notice that in comparing their love to history, Lysander is able to claim that their love is "true love." This could set up Hermia and Lysander to be tragic characters; however, these lines are spoken within a comedy making Lysander's claims to tragic, ill-fated love not as serious as they are intended.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. "Swift as a shadow" comes from a 12th-century proverb "to flee like a shadow." Lysander uses this metaphor to highlight the brevity of love and its ephemeral nature. Hermia complains that the biggest obstacle to love is choice. But Lysander notes that the forces of nature often conspire against love even if one gets to choose, and death, war, or sickness cut it short. These lines begin the play in a more dramatic tone than one would expect from a comedy. There is a darker theme that runs throughout the play and underscores the lighter romantic themes and tropes. This darker theme questions the truth and value of a love that is so fickle it can be drawn from perception and so ephemeral that it can change its object frequently over the course of this short play.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. Helena's soliloquy underscores a major theme within this play: the connection between love and perception. Helena notes that she is just as beautiful as Hermia, but does not appear so to Demetrius because love colors his perception. The relationship between love and eyesight continue to develop throughout the rest of the play as Puck's love potion causes the characters to fall in love by sight. The play continues to explore whether or not love comes from the heart or from the eye after the question is posed within this speech.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. That is, you have impressed your image on her imagination (or, her mind).

    — Stephen Holliday
  18. This is a widow who is endowed (therefore, a dowager) with the right to an estate's revenue during her lifetime.

    — Stephen Holliday
  19. As Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta would have been a worshiper of the virgin goddess of the hunt and of the moon, Artemis/Diana. The following references to the moon as a measurement of slowly-passing time thus take on a measure of irony: Hippolyta will lose the virginity cherished by her goddess.

    — Sonya Cashdan