Athens. A room in the palace of Theseus.
(Theseus; Hippolyta; Philostrate; Egeus; Hermia; Lysander; Demetrius; Helena)
Duke Theseus orders Philostrate to stir up merriment in the streets of Athens before his wedding to Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons he defeated in battle. Egeus brings in his daughter Hermia in order to ask the Duke to force her to marry Demetrius, his choice for her husband. Hermia is insisting on marrying Lysander instead, and Egeus begs permission to either force her to wed Demetrius, or to have her killed, as is his right by the law. Theseus gives Hermia until his own wedding to either give in or become a nun. Lysander argues his case, pointing out that he is in all ways equal to Demetrius and that the latter had earlier promised to marry Helena, but Theseus will not go against the law. Left alone, the two lovers lament their fate. Lysander comes up with a plan to flee to an aunt of his, who lives outside the boundaries of Athens and where they could therefore be safely married. They tell this plan to Helena, who is lovesick for Demetrius. Learning that the two runaways will be meeting in the wood that night, she decides to tell Demetrius, in the hopes of winning his favor. (255 lines)
Enter Theseus, Hippolyta, Philostrate, with others.
Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace. Four happy days bring in
Another moon; but O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame, or a dowager,
Long withering out a young man’s revenue.
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.
Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments,
Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth,
Turn melancholy forth to funerals:
The pale companion is not for our pomp.
Hippolyta, I woo’d thee with my sword,
And won thy love doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph, and with revelling.
Enter Egeus and his daughter Hermia and Lysander and Demetrius.
Happy be Theseus, our renowned Duke!
Thanks, good Egeus. What’s the news with thee?
Full of vexation come I, with complaint
Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,
This man hath my consent to marry her.
Stand forth, Lysander. And, my gracious Duke,
This man hath bewitch’d the bosom of my child.
Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
And interchang’d love-tokens with my child;
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung
With faining voice verses of faining love,
And stol’n the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats—messengers
Of strong prevailment in unhardened youth.
With cunning hast thou filch’d my daughter’s heart,
Turn’d her obedience (which is due to me)
To stubborn harshness. And, my gracious Duke,
Be it so she will not here before your Grace
Consent to marry with Demetrius,
I beg the ancient privilege of Athens:
As she is mine, I may dispose of her;
Which shall be either to this gentleman,
Or to her death, according to our law
Immediately provided in that case.
What say you, Hermia? Be advis’d, fair maid.
To you your father should be as a god;
One that compos’d your beauties; yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax,
By him imprinted, and within his power,
To leave the figure, or disfigure it.
Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.
So is Lysander.
In himself he is;
But in this kind, wanting your father’s voice,
The other must be held the worthier.
I would my father look’d but with my eyes.
Rather your eyes must with his judgment look.
I do entreat your Grace to pardon me.
I know not by what power I am made bold,
Nor how it may concern my modesty,
In such a presence here to plead my thoughts;
But I beseech your Grace that I may know
The worst that may befall me in this case,
If I refuse to wed Demetrius.
Either to die the death, or to abjure
Forever the society of men.
Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires,
Know of your youth, examine well your blood,
Whether (if you yield not to your father’s choice)
You can endure the livery of a nun,
For aye to be in shady cloister mew’d,
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chaunting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
Thrice blessed they that master so their blood
To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
But earthlier happy is the rose distill’d,
Than that which withering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives, and dies in single blessedness.
So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,
Ere I will yield my virgin patent up
Unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke
My soul consents not to give sovereignty.
Take time to pause, and by the next new moon—
The sealing-day betwixt my love and me
For everlasting bond of fellowship—
Upon that day either prepare to die
For disobedience to your father’s will,
Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would,
Or on Diana’s altar to protest
For aye austerity and single life.
Relent, sweet Hermia, and, Lysander, yield
Thy crazed title to my certain right.
You have her father’s love, Demetrius,
Let me have Hermia’s; do you marry him.
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.
I am, my lord, as well deriv’d as he,
As well possess’d; my love is more than his;
My fortunes every way as fairly rank’d
(If not with vantage) as Demetrius’;
And (which is more than all these boasts can be)
I am belov’d of beauteous Hermia.
Why should not I then prosecute my right?
Demetrius, I’ll avouch it to his head,
Made love to Nedar’s daughter, Helena,
And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,
Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,
Upon this spotted and inconstant man.
I must confess that I have heard so much,
And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof;
But, being over-full of self-affairs,
My mind did lose it. But, Demetrius, come,
And come, Egeus, you shall go with me;
I have some private schooling for you both.
For you, fair Hermia, look you arm yourself
To fit your fancies to your father’s will;
Or else the law of Athens yields you up
(Which by no means we may extenuate)
To death, or to a vow of single life.
Come, my Hippolyta; what cheer, my love?
Demetrius and Egeus, go along;
I must employ you in some business
Against our nuptial, and confer with you
Of something nearly that concerns yourselves.
With duty and desire we follow you.
Exeunt. Manent Lysander and Hermia.
How now, my love? Why is your cheek so pale?
How chance the roses there do fade so fast?
Belike for want of rain; which I could well
Beteem them from the tempest of my eyes.
Ay me! For aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth;
But either it was different in blood—
O cross! Too high to be enthrall’d to low.
Or else misgraffed in respect of years—
O spite! Too old to be engag’d to young.
Or else it stood upon the choice of friends—
O hell, to choose love by another’s eyes!
Or if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it,
Making it momentany as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth;
And ere a man hath power to say “Behold!”
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.
If then true lovers have been ever cross’d,
It stands as an edict in destiny.
Then let us teach our trial patience,
Because it is a customary cross,
As due to love as thoughts and dreams and sighs,
Wishes and tears, poor fancy’s followers.
A good persuasion; therefore hear me, Hermia:
I have a widow aunt, a dowager,
Of great revenue, and she hath no child.
From Athens is her house remote seven leagues;
And she respects me as her only son.
There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee;
And to that place the sharp Athenian law
Cannot pursue us. If thou lovest me, then
Steal forth thy father’s house tomorrow night;
And in the wood, a league without the town
(Where I did meet thee once with Helena
To do observance to a morn of May),
There will I stay for thee.
My good Lysander,
I swear to thee, by Cupid’s strongest bow,
By his best arrow with the golden head,
By the simplicity of Venus’ doves,
By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves,
And by that fire which burn’d the Carthage queen
When the false Troyan under sail was seen,
By all the vows that ever men have broke
(In number more than ever women spoke),
In that same place thou hast appointed me
Tomorrow truly will I meet with thee.
Keep promise, love. Look, here comes Helena.
God speed fair Helena! Whither away?
Call you me fair? That fair again unsay.
Demetrius loves your fair, O happy fair!
Your eyes are lodestars, and your tongue’s sweet air
More tuneable than lark to shepherd’s ear
When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear.
Sickness is catching; O, were favor so,
Yours would I catch, fair Hermia, ere I go;
My ear should catch your voice, my eye your eye,
My tongue should catch your tongue’s sweet melody.
Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated,
The rest I’ll give to be to you translated.
O, teach me how you look, and with what art
You sway the motion of Demetrius’ heart.
I frown upon him; yet he loves me still.
O that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill!
I give him curses; yet he gives me love.
O that my prayers could such affection move!
The more I hate, the more he follows me.
The more I love, the more he hateth me.
His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.
None but your beauty; would that fault were mine!
Take comfort; he no more shall see my face;
Lysander and myself will fly this place.
Before the time I did Lysander see,
Seem’d Athens as a paradise to me;
O then, what graces in my love do dwell,
That he hath turn’d a heaven unto a hell!
Helen, to you our minds we will unfold:
Tomorrow night, when Phoebe doth behold
Her silver visage in the wat’ry glass,
Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass
(A time that lovers’ flights doth still conceal),
Through Athens gates have we devis’d to steal.
And in the wood, where often you and I
Upon faint primrose beds were wont to lie,
Emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet,
There my Lysander and myself shall meet;
And thence from Athens turn away our eyes,
To seek new friends and stranger companies.
Farewell, sweet playfellow, pray thou for us;
And good luck grant thee thy Demetrius!
Keep word, Lysander; we must starve our sight
From lovers’ food till morrow deep midnight.
I will, my Hermia.
As you on him, Demetrius dote on you!
How happy some o’er other some can be!
Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so;
He will not know what all but he do know;
And as he errs, doting on Hermia’s eyes,
So I, admiring of his qualities.
Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind;
And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgment taste;
Wings, and no eyes, figure unheedy haste;
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguil’d.
As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjur’d every where;
For ere Demetrius look’d on Hermia’s eyne,
He hail’d down oaths that he was only mine;
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolv’d, and show’rs of oaths did melt.
I will go tell him of fair Hermia’s flight;
Then to the wood will he tomorrow night
Pursue her; and for this intelligence
If I have thanks, it is a dear expense.
But herein mean I to enrich my pain,
To have his sight thither and back again.