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A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

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What are the figurative and connotative meanings in Egeus's speech in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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Egeus is a minor but key character in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream. Egeus appears to have one goal and one goal only: to marry his daughter Hermia to the gentleman Demetrius at any cost. The man whom she loves, Lysander, is despised by Egeus.

At the beginning of the play, Egeus presents his case to the lord of Athens, Theseus. He demands that Hermia marry Demetrius. If not, he says, he will request the evocation of ancient Athenian law—he may send her to a nunnery or have her executed. Theseus gives Hermia until the next new moon to come around to her father's way of thinking.

Connotative and figurative language are connected. All words have literal meanings. The connotative meaning, however, of a word or expression is its secondary and associated meaning; it is often contextual to the speaker and the listener.

It is not surprising that we find Egeus employing the use of much connotative and figurative language. He feels passionate, he is frustrated by Hermia's denial of Demetrius and her love for Lysander, and he needs to present the case to Theseus as distinctly as possible to get what he wants.

Egeus opens by stating,

This man hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child . . .

Here, Egeus does not simply state that Lysander loves Hermia, but dresses up the phrase with the idea that Lysander has cast a spell on his daughter's heart—"bewitch'd the bosom" adds a supernatural connotation to their mutual affection and implies that Hermia does not really know what she is doing. Egeus is both using the negative connotation of "bewitch'd" and exaggerating the situation figuratively by inferring their love is a false spell.

Egeus continues his line of sale thusly:

Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
With feigning voice verses of feigning love,
And stolen the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers
Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth:

The connotation of "feigning love" is that Lysander's love is a lie, a sham. He has "stolen" her fantasies— he is a thief. Lysander has given Hermia "bracelets of thy hair" and other gifts as well. Egeus suggests these "messengers of strong prevalent in unhardened youth" are bribes that have turned his poor, youthful daughter's head.

Lysander basically says, "Well, if you love Demetrius so much, why don't you marry him, and I'll marry Hermia." Egeus blows back:

Scornful Lysander! true, he hath my love,
And what is mine my love shall render him.
And she is mine, and all my right of her
I do estate unto Demetrius.

Egeus makes no secret that he is fond of Demetrius, and this is why "all my right of her I do estate unto Demetrius." Here he uses the the words "right" and "estate" to reinforce the connotative association that he "owns" Hermia and can therefore do whatever he wants with her, including forcing her to marry to his will.

We do not see Egeus again until the end of the play, after the lovers have been actually bewitched and run around the woods all night. Egeus and the court of Theseus discover them sleeping in the forest, and wake them up. Lysander admits that he and Hermia had run away so they could be together. Egeus is outraged and responds:

Enough, enough, my lord; you have enough:
I beg the law, the law, upon his head.
They would have stolen away; they would, Demetrius,
Thereby to have defeated you and me,
You of your wife and me of my consent,
Of my consent that she should be your wife.

Now Egeus wants "the law, the law, upon his head," a figurative exclamation that their realm's laws should now literally fall upon the head of Lysander for going against Egeus' will. "Stolen away" is another connotation, suggesting once again that Hermia and Lysander are like thieves and criminals in their plan to run away. He seals the deal by stating that they would have "defeated" he and Demetrius if they had succeeded in running away, the connotation being that there are only winners and losers here, and Egeus and Demetrius were nearly the losers.

Egeus loses anyway. Theseus "overbears his will" and allows the lovers to wed whom they will. Egeus has nothing more to say on the matter.

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