What was the law in the city of Athens? Was it ever put in execution? Who was Theseus? Why did Egeus come before him?
According to Act 1, sc. 1, Egeus says the "ancient privilege of Athens" is that he, as the father of Hermia, may choose to make her obey him or have her put to death for disobeying. In this case, what he wants his daughter to do is to marry Demetrius. She refuses because she wants to marry Lysander. Egeus brings his suit to Theseus who is the Duke of Athens which means he is essentially the governor. Theseus does not want to put Hermia to death because she refuses to marry against her will since he, Theseus, is making Hippolyta marry him after having conquered her in battle. Therefore, Theseus tells Hermia that she has a choice to make by the next new moon (which just happens to be the day he and Hippolyta are set to marry). She can either marry Demetrius as her father wishes, go and live forever in a convent shut away from people, or be put to death. In Act 4, sc. 1, when Thesesu, Egeus, and others come upon Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena in the forest, Egeus wants Theseus to uphold the judgement he made about Hermia's choices. Demetrius, however, now loves Helena and begs that the four lovers be with the person of his/her choice. Gladly, Theseus declares that the four lovers - Demetrius and Helena, Lysander and Hermia - marry as they wish.