In what way does Shakespeare portray Theseus? Can he be considered a wise king or is he a tyrant?

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jalden | College Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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Theseus is portrayed as a very human, very wise and compassionate ruler. When first we meet him in Act I, scene 1, he is speaking very privately and feelingly to Hippolyta, the Amazon Queen with whom he is in love and to whom he is about to be married. (And whose kingdom he has recently conquered). He speaks to her of his impatience to be wed and his yearning for her. This is interrupted by a problem of state to which he must attend. The problem that he must hear and rule upon is the complaint of Egeus against his daughter Hermia, who refuses to marry the man of his choice, for love of another of her own choice. Theseus cannot change the law, which requires daughters to obey their fathers or else be killed or live in a nunnery, but he expresses compassion for Hermia and counsels her kindly, to choose carefully, remembering the consequences of her choice, which will decide her fate, not he. At the end of the play, upon the eve of his wedding and in the presence of his court, the two pairs of lovers, the rustic performers and the woman he loves, he is relaxed and kind and wise in his dealings with all of them. This character represents the conflict between passion and duty, and Theseus manages to hold that conflict within himself, balancing them equally, which is a characteristic of an evolved and mature temperament.

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