A Midsummer Night's Dream: Act 1, Scene 1 - Summary & Analysis

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      Summary: The opening of Act I of the play takes place at the palace of Theseus who is the Duke of Athens. Theseus is eagerly awaiting his marriage to Hippolyta who is the Queen of the Amazons. This wedding is to take place in four days on the first night of the rising of the new moon. Theseus sends his chief attendant of entertainment, at the court, Philostrate, to "Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments". He means to instruct all Athenian people to prepare some form of entertainment for the occasion of his wedding. He also wants the fellow Athenians to be in a festive and cheerful temperament. A commoner named Egeus then arrives with his daughter, Hermia, and her two young suitors, Demetrius and Lysander. Egeus is very angry and complains against Hermia because she is in love with Lysander and refuses to marry her father's choice, Demetrius. Egeus claims that Lysander has schemed and attracted his innocent and silly daughter, singing mesmerizing love songs by moonlight under her open window, and lavishing her with fancy rings and other showy gifts including eatables.

      Egeus has chosen Demetrius as a worthy husband for Hermia and demands that, if Hermia does not agree to marry Demetrius, Theseus must grant him "the ancient privilege of Athens", which means that Hermia for her disobedience or send her to a nunnery to forever live in seclusion. Hermia will be punished brutally in both these situations if she does not give her consent to get married to Demetrius. Although Theseus finds Lysander to be an honest and respectable young man, he advises Hermia to perform her duty as a respectful child and marry Demetrius as her father commands, for he feels obligated to uphold Athenian law. When she refuses, Theseus tells her to "take time to pause" and think over her decision more sincerely, giving her some time to reconsider her decision. He gives her until the day of his own wedding to make and declare her final and well thought answer.

      Demetrius is extremely furious with Lysander and asserts that Hermia is his "right" and Lysander must voluntarily stay away from her. Defiantly, Lysander insists that he is the better man, emphasizing that Demetrius is an inconstant lover who had earlier wooed Helena and then deserted her, who still "dotes in idolatry /Upon this spotted and inconstant man". Theseus admits that he is himself too preoccupied with his own matters to care about the subtleties of the feud between Lysander and Demetrius, and he leaves, taking with him Egeus and Demetrius to employ them "in some business/Against our nuptial". To escape this predicament, Lysander makes a plan to elope with Hermia. He has an aunt, who loves him like his own mother and lives outside Athens. He convinces Hermia to run away with him who diligently agrees to meet him at the striking of midnight in the woods. Hermia is a childhood friend of Helena and tells her about the plan of running away. She does this because Helena is upset with Demetrius rejecting her. Hermia innocently tells her about this plan to console her. However, Helena tells Demetrius about this plan who vows to follow Lysander and Hermia into the woods. Helena also vows to follow him to the woods to be able to spend more time with him.

      Critical Analysis: The opening scene in all Shakespearean plays has always been very important. It sets the tone and the tenor of the play, introduces the main characters to us and also the main plot and the sub plot to the spectator or the reader. There is contrast in the atmosphere presented in this scene. There is both merriments due to the fast approaching day of the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, who instruct all Athenians to join in this merriment. There is also an atmosphere of conflict which arises because Egeus has complained about his daughter, Hermia and wants the Athenian law to be invoked if she does not obey his wishes.

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