In William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, how might discuss the style and purpose of Hippolyta's seven-line comment in Act IV beginning "I was with Hercules"?
At one point in Act 4 of William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hippolyta speaks to Theseus by saying,
Hippolyta. I was with Hercules and Cadmus once,
When in a wood of Crete they bay'd the bear
With hounds of Sparta: never did I hear
Such gallant chiding: for, besides the groves,
The skies, the fountains, every region near
Seem'd all one mutual cry: I never heard
So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.
This passage employs a number of stylistic devices, including the following:
- Classical allusion in the first three quoted lines, in the references to Hercules (the famous hero and ally of Theseus in a battle with the Amazons) and Cadmus (the son of Phoenix and legendary founder of Thebes). Crete and Sparta, in Greece, were associated in legend with hounds, which were often used to “bay” (or chase and corner) bears.
- Alliteration in the second quoted line: “bay’d the bear.”
- Perfect iambic pentameter rhythm in the second quoted line: ten syllables are used, and each even syllable is accented: “When in a wood of Crete they bay'd the bear.”
- Strong caesuras (or heavy pauses) in the third and fourth quoted lines, thanks in part to the colons.
- A list or "catalog" of nouns in the fourth and fifth quoted lines.
- A combination of alliteration and assonance in the sixth and seventh quoted lines in “mutual” and “musical.”
- A hint of onomatopoeia (in which words sound like the things they describe) in the use of “thunder” in the seventh quoted lines.
- Nice balance in the seventh quoted line; the comma separates two similarly structured phrases.
This passage is relevant to the meaning of the play in several ways, including the following:
- It emphasizes the theme of hunting , a focus of this scene.
- It helps emphasize the supposed setting of the play in a classical world and context.
- It alludes to Hippolyta’s status as queen of the Amazons.
- It helps briefly interrupt the romantic and comic moods of the play that have dominated the middle section of the work.