The Men Of Rule In William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

1380 words - 6 pages

In William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” two worlds are contrasted throughout the play. The Athenian state is governed by order, law, and reason; the forest or Fairy world lies within the realm of the imagination where anything is possible. While both worlds run parallel in the play, their inhabitants are influenced by one another. Their rulers, Theseus and Oberon, play critical roles in the events of the story. Theseus acts compassionately with a sense of duty, order and respect; his initial rulings for Hermia provide the exposition for the comedy (May 75). Oberon acts compassionately as well, but acts on a whim and resorts to trickery if it suits his desires; his actions direct the complication in the plot (May 75). Their personalities are characterized by how they attempt to help the young lovers, how and why they make decisions and how they interact with their loved ones and subjects. The rulers’ similarities govern the reasons behind their actions; their differences contribute to the success of the story.
Theseus and Oberon are both compassionate and understanding towards the young lovers, Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius. They are involved in a love triangle that encompasses matters of the law and love. Demetrius intends to marry Hermia, although, she shares a mutual love with Lysander; Helena loves Demetrius, although, he no longer loves her. Theseus, as the Duke of Athens, maintains the laws and standards of Athenian society. He acknowledges “the Ancient privilege of Athens” (I.1.41) that allows Egeus to “dispose of” (I.1.42) Hermia. This law permits Egeus to give his daughter to Demetrius or “to death, according to [the] law” (I.1.44). However, Theseus takes pity on Hermia and gives her a third choice. She can choose marriage, death, or she can “endure the livery of a nun” (I.1.70). Theseus allows her time to think over her choice, telling her to “Take time to pause” (I.1.83) and give him an answer “by the next new moon” (I.1.83). Near the end of the play, Theseus overrules the law in favour of the lovers. He tells Egeus that he “will overbear your will” (IV.1.178), and Theseus cedes to the wishes of the lovers over the law of the state. Oberon also shows this same sympathy to the lovers throughout the play. When he sees that Helena follows Demetrius into the forest, he feels sorry for the “sweet Athenian Lady” (II.2.260), who is in love with a “disdainful youth” (II.2.261). He tells Puck to “Anoint [Demetrius’] eyes; / But do it when the next thing he espies / May be the lady.” (II.2.261-263). Thus he shows the same empathy that Theseus does toward the young lovers. At the end of the play Oberon also shows a special interest in the sets of lovers. Puck anoints Lysander, rather than Demetrius, so Oberon rectifies the effects of the love potion by reversing its effects. He makes Demetrius love Helena, and Lysander fall in love again with Hermia. Oberon wishes the Athenians to “back again repair, /...

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