Modern Acceptance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream

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“The course of true love never goes smoothly.”

The text explores how Act 1 scene 1 of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ reflects Lysander’s comment about the potential for tragedy, yet ultimately leading to a happy resolution. It also considers the differences in response between a modern and Elizabethan audience.
Act 1 Scene 1 of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ portrays a complicated love triangle among Athenian lovers, showcasing intense emotions. The scene opens with Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and his soon-to-be wife Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, preparing for their upcoming wedding. Theseus and Hippolyta clearly share a deep love, exchanging romantic words as they discuss their wedding plans.

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Theseus expresses to Hippolyta that their wedding is approaching quickly, stating “Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour draws on apace: four happy days bring in another moon.” In response, Hippolyta declares that the four days will pass swiftly and will be filled with dreams, leading to the moon witnessing their solemn celebration as a silver bow in the sky, declaring “Four days will quickly steep themselves in night; four nights will quickly dream away the time; and then the moon, like to a silver bow, new bent in heaven, shall behold the night of our solemnities.”

However, beneath their romantic facade, it is evident that their love story was not always perfect. Theseus admits that he won Hippolyta’s love through violence, saying “Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword, and won thy love doing thee injuries.” This reveals that their path to love was not without obstacles, as they were previously enemies engaged in warfare. Yet, circumstances have changed and their animosity has transformed into love. Theseus declares “But I will wed thee in another key, with pomp, with triumph, and with revelling.”

The paragraph illustrates the joyous anticipation of the lovers as they approach their wedding. It also highlights the contrasting emotions of war. During this romantic moment, Theseus and Hippolyta are interrupted by Egeus, an Athenian lord. Egeus is determined to arrange a marriage between his daughter Hermia and Demetrius. However, Hermia is in love with Lysander. Her father considers Lysander unworthy of marrying her. Egeus seeks Theseus’ counsel on invoking the traditional law of Athens. This law would compel Hermia to marry Demetrius, or else she would face either death for disobedience or a life of chastity as a nun.

Hermia and Lysander’s protests against their situation are useless. Egeus complains to Theseus, claiming that Lysander has magically enchanted Hermia into loving him. Egeus says, “This man hath bewitched the bosom of my child; Thou, thou Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes, and interchanged love tokens with my child.” However, Lysander defends himself by asserting that he is just as worthy of Hermia’s love as Demetrius, if not more so. He emphasizes his noble family background, wealth, and the fact that Hermia reciprocates his feelings. Lysander boldly states, “You have her father’s love, Demetrius: let me have Hermia’s; do you marry him.” Both young men continue to argue about why they should be allowed to marry Hermia. Their disagreements highlight how even minor issues can disrupt true love, preventing the potential marriage between Lysander and Hermia.

The man who is hindering the couple’s true love, Demetrius, is revealed to have a questionable character. Lysander informs us that “Demetrius… pursued a romantic relationship with Nedar’s daughter, Helena, and won her affections. She, dear lady, is deeply infatuated and idolizes this flawed and unpredictable man.

The repetition of how Helena “dotes” upon Demetrius by Lysander suggests her obsessive idolization of him, indicating a strong rivalry with Hermia for Demetrius’ affections. Despite Hermia’s lack of encouragement, Demetrius’ attention remains fixed on her. This hints at a bitter story of jealousy unfolding and suggests that Demetrius is a sinful and unpredictable man who could disrupt the lovers’ relationships. The underlying feeling is that this feud will have tragic consequences. In her desperation, Hermia expresses her wish for her father to see Lysander as he truly is and to respect their love.

Theseus firmly states to Hermia that she must choose between Demetrius and death in accordance with the laws of Athens. He advises her to see through Demetrius’ perspective instead of relying on her own. This reflects the theme of love not going smoothly, and highlights how true love is being disregarded for what could be seen as Hermia’s infatuation with Demetrius. I believe that this response to Hermia’s plea would have elicited significantly different reactions from modern audiences compared to Elizabethan audiences. In today’s society, freedom of speech and thought is permitted, and fathers do not have complete authority over their daughters.

It is considered socially acceptable and a woman’s right to choose her own spouse. The idea of being forced to marry someone against your will because your father prefers someone else would be seen as absurd. A contemporary audience would be shocked that Hermia could potentially face death for defying her father’s wishes, and they may feel both indignant and sympathetic towards her unfair situation. A modern-day director could highlight Hippolyta’s discontent and upset at her fiancé’s support for Egeus to align with the reactions of a modern audience.

An Elizabethan audience, however, would perceive this situation as authentic, ordinary, and easy to empathize with. It was customary for a father to select suitable husbands for his daughters, and the father’s decision would be final. There was no concept of opposing his choice unless alternative punishments were chosen. The manner in which Theseus abruptly imposes an ultimatum appears to upset Hippolyta, Theseus’ fiancé. This is evident when Theseus states, “Come, my Hippolyta; what cheer, my love?” This implies a silent reaction or a disagreement with Theseus’ instructions.

Throughout the play, Theseus’s love for Hippolyta is emphasized, suggesting that his feelings may be stronger than hers. In scene 1, Theseus exits to talk to Egeus and Demetrius about their predicament. This leaves Lysander and Hermia alone to lament their situation. It is during this moment that Lysander conveys the central message of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to Hermia: “The path of true love never did run smooth,” he says.

The audience is prepared for a dramatic play that explores the concept of smooth-running love. However, by medicating the lovers and manipulating their feelings, the question arises whether their love is genuine or artificial. Meanwhile, Hermia and Lysander plan to elope and get married without breaking the law. They arrange to meet in the Wood to make their escape, expressing their love for each other passionately.

Helena arrives promptly, feeling miserable because Demetrius does not return her affections or find her beautiful, but loves Hermia instead. However, Hermia and Lysander comfort Helena by revealing their plan to elope. They console Helena by assuring her that this will leave Demetrius free for her to win back his attention. Since the audience is aware of Helena’s resentful feelings towards Hermia, we can infer that telling her about the secret elopement might not have been a wise choice. This introduces an element of unpredictability – what will Helena do? How desperate is she to regain Demetrius’ affections? Ultimately, Helena decides that to earn Demetrius’s gratitude, she will inform him about the planned elopement.

In the Woods, Hermia and Lysander encounter each other after the events of Scene 1 Act 1. At the same time, Oberon, the King of the fairies, arrives to meet his queen, Titania, who is infuriating him by refusing to give him an Indian Changeling boy. This situation further exemplifies Lysander’s statement that “The course of true love never did run smooth,” as the King and Queen of the fairies, despite their past love for each other, are currently engaged in quarrels and conflicts. Oberon schemes to enchant Titania to obtain the boy. However, while carrying out his plan, he comes across Helena degrading herself and pursuing Demetrius, who has no interest in her. Oberon decides to assist Helena by using a potion to make Demetrius fall in love with her. Unfortunately, the spell goes awry and falls upon Lysander instead of Demetrius, causing him to fall in love with Helena.

Trying to rectify his error, Oberon commands that Demetrius, originally his target, should also be enchanted. As a result, both Demetrius and Lysander mistakenly believe they are in love with Helena, leaving Hermia bewildered and hurt as her beloved denies his affection for her. Once again, this reflects Lysander’s earlier statement that true love never runs smoothly, as the four lovers find themselves in a state of emotional turmoil. This situation reaches its climax as the unpredictable actions of the lovers intensify, and the audience desperately hopes that Lysander can reignite his genuine love for Hermia.

In the play, this is the main point where it appears that there is no happy resolution and a tragic ending is inevitable. As the story progresses, Lysander’s spell is lifted, and the two couples wake up to find themselves with a partner who, in the case of Hermia and Lysander, is completely engaged in a deep, genuine love, and for Helena and Demetrius, a customized love under Oberon’s spell. Despite the happy resolution of the situation, the underlying message that “the course of true love never did run smooth” is still evident. The course of true love for Lysander and Hermia is made official when, with the formation of two couples, Theseus declares a rejection of Egeus’ plans so that both couples can be happily married.

The play performed at the Duke Theseus’ wedding tells a tragic love story, aligning with the theme of tangled love-triangles and the associated mishaps. Act 1 Scene 1 presents quotes and events that continuously hint at a tragic ending, evoking sympathy and compassion from the audience. The play concludes with Theseus and Hippolyta’s marriage, as well as Lysander and Hermia’s, Helena and Demetrius’s, and Oberon and Titania’s resolution of their conflicts. However, the love between Demetrius and Helena may not be considered truly genuine, serving as a continuous symbol that true love is a long and confusing journey filled with obstacles.

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Modern Acceptance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. (2017, Dec 24). Retrieved from

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