When Duke Theseus gives Hermia the options of becoming a nun or death if she refuses to marry Demetrius,what does Hermia's response tell us?

lit24 | Student

In the opening scene of the play, Hermia's father Egeus complains to Duke Theseus that his daughter Hermia refuses to marry the man of his choice, namely Demetrius. He pleads with Theseus to allow him to exercise his right and privilege  as a father according to the law of Athens:

"I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
As she is mine, I may dispose of her:
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death, according to our law
Immediately provided in that case."

Theseus being a strict a ruler  however, tones down the harshness of the Athenian law and decrees that if she does not obey her father she will either have to face death or she will have to cut off all her connections with the outside world and join a convent and become a nun:

Either to die the death or to abjure
For ever the society of men.

Hermia boldly asserts that she is ready to face the consequences of her decision to remain single for the rest of her life by becoming a nun and die a virgin:

So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,
Ere I will my virgin patent up
Unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke
My soul consents not to give sovereignty.

Hermia says that she would rather live and die as a virgin nun rather than yield her most prized bodily possession, her virginity, to someone her heart and soul will not permit to accept as her husband. The word 'patent' means 'to confer sole authority as the owner.' The husband is the 'sovereign' who enjoys sole ownership over his wife. Hermia courageously and firmly tells Duke Theseus that she will not yield her body to a husband whom her heart and soul and mind cannot accept as her ruler.

Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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