In this opening scene, Shakespeare is setting the mood and theme for the play. Egeus has come before Theseus, the Duke of Athens, with a complaint against his daughter, Hermia, who refuses to wed the man Egeus has promised her to. She is in love with another man, Lysander, and...
In this opening scene, Shakespeare is setting the mood and theme for the play. Egeus has come before Theseus, the Duke of Athens, with a complaint against his daughter, Hermia, who refuses to wed the man Egeus has promised her to. She is in love with another man, Lysander, and refuses to love or wed Demetrius, whom her father favors. Duke Theseus is reminding Hermia that Egeus is correct in saying that, according to Athenian law, as his daughter, she must consent or be forced against her will to marry Demetrius, because her father has given his pledge, or she may be put to death:
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
Theseus asks her what she will choose, considering that her life might hang by her choice. He reminds her that she is beholden by Athenian law to obey her father's choices for her. It is in this context that Theseus says, "To you your father should be a god," thus he should be given unwavering obedience and unquestioning devotion. Theseus's arguments for upholding this element of law are that (1) Egeus is the maker of her beauty as her father, (2) he has raised her to have the quality traits that she has, (3) it is in his power to protect or abandon her:
[He] that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.
Theseus's motive in speaking as he does, aside from his responsibility to administer Athenian law, is to coax Hermia to act sensibly and take Demetrius as her husband, thus preserving herself in safety. Hermia’s response is to defend Lysander. Though the play starts out with allusions to such dark and dangerous customs, Hermia rejects the dark threats of reality and escapes with Lysander to the forest where Oberon overrules the rigid, unfeeling, and dehumanizing laws of the city by presiding over the administration of the flexible intuitive laws of the divine supernatural.