What aspects of love are explored with Theseus and Hippolyta?  

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We can see coercive love and patriarchal power explored in the relationship of Theseus and Hippolyta. Theseus is the Duke of Athens. Hippolyta is (or was) Queen of the Amazons, a fierce tribe of warrior women. The backstory to their relationship is that when Theseus wooed Hippolyta as his bride, she rejected him, believing it more important to rule her people than to marry. In response, Theseus kidnapped her.

As the play opens, Theseus and Hippolyta are going to be married in four days. Theseus is anxious for the wedding to take place and says,

Four happy days bring in
Another moon. But oh, methinks how slow
This old moon wanes!
In other words, he wants to get married quickly.
 
Hippolyta, on the other hand, is not in such a great hurry, which perhaps is not surprising since she was kidnapped and forced into this wedding. She thinks the time will pass quickly. As she perhaps dryly states:
Four days will quickly steep themselves in night.
Four nights will quickly dream away the time.
Then Theseus offers this explanation of his "courtship" with Hippolyta:
Hippolyta, I wooed 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 reveling.
Remarkably, the standard critical line is to accept Theseus's version of the story when he says he "won" Hippolyta's love while hurting her. Maybe he did: the whole theme of the play is that love is irrational, but on the other hand, this is his version of events. We don't hear from Hippolyta what she thinks. What we know, however, is that she is not so anxious for those four days to pass before the wedding, so maybe she is not so in "love" as Theseus would like to believe. (You might compare her to Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, a girl deeply in love who doesn't want to wait to get married.)
 
Also, to what extent are "pomp" and "triumph" and "reveling" another "key?" These words of Theseus still sound like a warrior's victory dance and celebration of his spoils.
 
That Theseus's idea of love might be coercive and patriarchal (male-centered) is reinforced by his willingness to consign Hermia to the convent if she refuses to marry the man her father has chosen for her. He disregards that Hermia is in love with someone else. In both his own story and with Hermia, Theseus seems to equate "love" with what powerful males desire and to assume that women, once they realize they have no choice, will fall in line. We might call this Shakespeare's exploration of the darker side of love or the way patriarchal power makes love difficult for women.
Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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