A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

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Act I Commentary

Scene i: A Midsummer Night's Dream opens with two romantic conflicts. The first part of the scene features two famous characters from Greek mythology: Theseus, the hero who defeats the Minotaur in the labyrinth, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Theseus, the "duke" or ruler of Athens, has just led his people to a defeat of the Amazons. In four days, Theseus will take Hippolyta as his wife as a spoil of the war, despite the fact that the Amazons, as devotees of the virgin goddess of the moon Diana, swear an oath of chastity. Even though this romantic/marital relationship has a very rocky beginning, Theseus demonstrates his impatience to marry Hippolyta and his intentions of good will. This first section of Scene 1 demonstrates a major theme in the play—love, whether romantic or marital, has its problems. These problems must be overcome in order to maintain a healthy relationship.

The second section of Scene 1 introduces one of the major plot issues of the play. Ordinarily a love triangle like that of Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius would cause a great deal of trouble just for the sake of love, but this is complicated further by Egeus' staunch insistence that Hermia marry Demetrius despite her love for Lysander. This conflict highlights a key issue in parent-child relationships—the amount of control a parent should have over a child. By Athenian law, Egeus has the right to decide whom his daughter will marry. Egeus is shocked and angered by his daughter's refusal to follow his wishes on the matter because she should, by both ancient Greek and Elizabethan societal standards, be governed by her father. However, Egeus completely disregards Hermia's preferences and Demetrius' reputation, which has been tarnished by the breaking of his oath to Helena. Theseus claims at this point that he cannot change the law, and he tells Hermia to choose between Demetrius, life as a nun, and death. Although Theseus upholds Egeus' right to determine whom his daughter will marry, Theseus is clearly unhappy about the manner in which Egeus and Demetrius have handled the situation when he tells them that he has some "private schooling for them both" (l. 116). The action of the play also creates sympathy for Hermia and Lysander as well.

The third part of the scene gives more information about the relationship between Hermia and Lysander, and introduces another important character, Helena. When Theseus leaves with Egeus, Demetrius, and Hippolyta, Hermia begins to cry over the situation. Lysander then reminds her that "The course of true love never did run smooth," meaning that she should accept the fact that there will be problems for their relationship to overcome (l. 134). Although things definitely look bad for the lovers, Lysander is able to keep his head. His calm approach to the problem soothes Hermia's worries, and leads her to "teach our trial patience,/Because it is a customary cross" (ll. 152-153). Because Lysander and Hermia are able to stay calm, they are capable of creating a plan to elope from Athens and still have plenty of money to survive. The problem with the plan, however, is that they reveal it to Helena.

Helena is the symbol of everything that can go wrong with love. She pines, wails, and wastes away for Demetrius, who has spurned her several times over. Helena's obsession with Demetrius makes her try to view everything through his eyes, including Hermia, and this obsession punishes Helena constantly. Love that it out of control or obsessive is punished throughout the play, and Helena is the first, but not nearly the last, example of it. During her lament, Helena gives a soliloquy discoursing on the nature of love, which she paints as blind. Love, according to Helena, does not see with the eyes, which tell the truth, but with the mind, which changes the truth to what the person wants. Therefore, everyone in love is blind, including Cupid himself. The eyes also have the power to make people fall in love with others. This is what Helena...

(The entire section is 3,993 words.)