In A Midsummer Night's Dream, what does Theseus think of the lovers' adventures?  Why does Hippolyta initially seem hesitant to watch the play?

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robertwilliam's profile pic

robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Theseus doesn't believe them, and thinks that their imaginations have quite a lot to do with it. Theseus contradicts Hippolyta's opinion that the lovers' stories are "strange", by telling her

More strange than true....

Moreover, talking of the imagination, he suggests that the mind,

...if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear?

They have, Theseus thinks, seen what they wanted to see.

Hippolyta is hesitant to watch the play, quite simply, because she fears that the mechanicals aren't up to the job:

 I love not to see wretchedness o'er-charged,
And duty in his service perishing.

"They can do nothing in this kind", she thinks - the mechanicals won't be able to act, and pull off the play. She's worried she might be about to witness a theatrical disaster.

teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 2) Educator

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Theseus kindly overrides Egeus to allow Lysander and Hermia to marry, but primarily he is bemused by love's irrationality and thus sees all four of the lovers' adventures as a form of madness or delusion, informed primarily by imagination, not reason. He calls their stories more strange than true. Says Theseus:
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold—
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
To Hippolyta, the lovers' stories of their adventures hold together with a certain internal consistency which she describes as a "great constancy."
Theseus chooses the Pyramus and Thisbe play over others that are offered because it is being performed by simple people trying sincerely to do a good job. Hippolyta is initially reluctant to watch the play because she fears it will be poorly performed and doesn't want to see simple people looking bad (and by implication open to ridicule) by over-acting during a performance in which they are trying to do well.  She fears they will overplay their roles because she has been told they can't act. Theseus overrides her. 
thetall's profile pic

thetall | (Level 3) Educator

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Theseus thinks the lovers are unwise and at some point after Pyramus’s death he sarcastically states that if Pyramus were to be assisted by a surgeon, he would survive and come off as a “donkey”. Theseus has no pity for Pyramus and thinks his death was unnecessary. At the end of the play Theseus is very disappointed at how the two lovers met their death. His suggestion is the play should have ended differently since in the presentation the lovers have been portrayed as impulsive individuals, as seen when Pyramus does not take his time to look for Thisbe’s remains to at least confirm her death.

Hippolyta is opposed to the play because she knows of the story, and believes that the two lovers’ misery should not be overplayed. She would have liked a different themed play better.

“I love not to see wretchedness o'er-charged, And duty in his service perishing.”


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