In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, please provide a character sketch for Egeus's in Act 1.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of the minor, but pivotal, characters in the play is Egeus, Hermia's father.

The play is a comedy—a lot of fun if you can watch it on stage. This play is wonderful because of the humor. Some of the insults between the women may get lost the first time around, but the physical humor—like slapstick—is entertaining to watch, and more easily understood on stage.

Egeus is pivotal because it is his insistence that Hermia marry Demetrius, who she cannot stand—because she loves Lysander. Egeus' determination that she marry his choice of husband is what drives Hermia to elope with Lysander, eventually finding the young people in the woods at night—one of the central focuses of the plot.

Egeus has come to Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to make Hermia marry Demetrius. He accuses Lysander of misbehavior, saying he has "bewitched the bosom of my child" (I.i.29), and lists the way he has done so: he has written her poems, has sung to her in the moonlight...


And stolen the impression of her fantasy

With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,

Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers

Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth... (33-36)

Ironically, rather than taking advantage of her youthful innocence as Egeus implies, Lysander has only done things that appeal to the romantic heart of a young woman. By comparison, Demetrius has simply endeared himself to Hermia's father. Lysander knows how to woo a girl; Demetrius knows how to curry favor.

Egeus is not romantic soul. (One wonders how he managed to have such a lovely daughter—who sincerely loves Lysander.) Egeus is determined to have Hermia marry Demetrius, and has come to the Duke to force Hermia's hand. For if she refuses to marry as her father wishes, Egeus wants her put to death

Be it so she will not here before your Grace

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 (40-45)

Theseus must support the law. When Hermia asks the Duke if there is any other choice before her, he notes that she can become a nun if she is willing to live in a cloister for the rest of her life, or she can die...or marry Demetrius. Her father's wishes count for a great deal, and he approves of Demetrius.

Some of Shakespeare's timeless humor is delivered here by Lysander. Demetrius insists that he have Hermia:


Relent, sweet Hermia; and, Lysander, yield

Thy crazed title to my certain right. (93-94)

Lysander has no intention of backing out:


You have her father's love, Demetrius;

Let me have Hermia's; do you marry him. (95-96)

In other words, if you two like each other so much, why don't you marry Egeus. Egeus responds:


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. (97-100)

Egeus chooses to give his daughter's hand to Demetrius.

Egeus is intelligent: he knows the law and his rights. He is respectful of the Duke, and as is his right, comes to his sovereign to force Hermia to submit to his will. He does not have a romantic soul—interested not so much in who his daughter loves but who he admires. He notes that Hermia belongs to him and he will do with her as he chooses, giving her to Demetrius—or having her put to death. He is not a gentle and loving father.



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