What sort of leader is Theseus, as presented by Shakespeare in Act 1, Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night's Dream ?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Act 1, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Theseus is presented as a very caring, compassionate ruler, who knows how to lead a city and be consistent with respect to laws and justice.

We see Theseus's caring nature when we first meet him in the scene while he is alone with Hippolyta and pining for their upcoming wedding day. His sensuality towards his bride shows us that he has a very caring nature. We especially see his sensuality expressed in the lines, "Another moon; but, O, methinks, how slow / This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires" (I.i.3-4). He also shows his caring nature by referring to the fact that he met Hippolyta while at war with her country and says he is making it up to her by wedding her with "pomp, with triumph, and with reveling" (20).

We see his compassionate nature when, despite the fact that Egeus petitions for Hermia's death instead of the alternative option of sending her to a convent, Theseus keeps the convent option in the conversation. According to Athenian "ancient privilege," or law, a father has the right to either kill his daughter or send her to a convent should she disobey him (42). Interestingly though, when Egeus brings his daughter before Theseus to petition for permission to enforce the law he only asks for permission to "dispose of her," either through marriage to Demetrius, or through death. He completely leaves out the more humane option of sending her to a convent. On the other hand, when Hermia asks Theseus what could happen to her if she continues to refuse doing her father's bidding, Theseus adds the latter back in as an option. We see this in Theseus's response to her question, "Either to die the death, or to adjure / For ever the society of men" (67-68). To "adjure" means to reject; hence, in this line, Theseus is referring to the vow of chastity nuns must take, thereby referring to a convent. The fact that Theseus adds the more humane option back into the conversation, despite what Egeus has asked for, shows us that he is a very compassionate leader.

Furthermore, Theseus's ability adhere to the laws that have been created to protect his citizens shows us that he is a very just and consistent leader. While Theseus may object to the idea of forcing Hermia to marry Demetrius while she is in love with Lysander who is equal to Demetrius in birth and wealth, Theseus also knows that maintaining obedience is critical for a society. Hence, he is willing to implement the harsh law that Egeus has requested him to ordain, showing us that Theseus is also a very just and noble leader.

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