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Why does Egeus prefer Demetrius over Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream by...

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karenstalick | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:17 AM via web

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Why does Egeus prefer Demetrius over Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare?

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act I, scene i
by William Shakespeare

Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,
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:
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
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
Consent to marry with Demetrius,
I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
As she is mine, I may dispose of her:

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted May 26, 2013 at 8:27 PM (Answer #1)

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The text does not tell us why Egeus prefers Demetrius over Lysander. The text does tell us what Egeus did and what Lysander did. The text also implies an order to these actions. The best we can do to answer why Egeus prefers Demetrius is to make inferences about his preference from the textual information.

We can infer that before Lysander began paying court to Hermia, Demetrius had already wooed her and had already asked Egeus for Hermia's hand in marriage. We are told without a doubt that Egeus granted Demetrius permission to marry Hermia.

We can infer that sometime (soon or later) Lysander began to pay court to Hermia (he must have known about Demetrius's successful suit for her hand because these things were widely known then as they are now). Lysander wages an active suit for Hermia's love. Yete Lysander seems to have no intention of persuading Egeus to grant him permission to wed her, since she is already betrothed to Demetrius (does this cast Lysander as unscrupulous or merely as wildly in love?). 

This man [Lysander] hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child;
Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
And interchanged love-tokens with my child:
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,
With feigning voice verses of feigning love,...

As a result of our inferences, based upon their society and what the text does say, we can conclude that Egeus prefers Demetrius to Lysander because there was an honorable contract of upcoming marriage to Hermia between Egeus and Demetrius. Lysander was a usurper of rights that were no longer available: the right to woo Hermia and the right to engage her love. Egeus prefers Demetrius because he behaved honorably while Lysander did not behave honorably.

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