A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act I scene 1 1- 19 text 1 Opening scene INTRODUCTION Who is speaking to who, why, where and when? Theseus, mythical king of Athens who federated the cities of Attica is addressing his wife to be, Hippolyta, on the topic of their upcoming wedding. The action is set in Athens, the city which invented the notion of polis, of politics and of democracy, under the patronage of the goddess of reason Athena. The characters are either in the Duke’s palace or gardens. The play is thus anchored in mythology not history. PLAN: The themes of time and of joy are central to this exposition.
We may wonder what is the function of Theseus’s announcement of the marriage with regards to the whole play? I—How time is represented “Now” is the very first word of the play. What seems to be most important is the present, the here and now, which is what lovers care about. “Nuptial hour”, “four happy days” indicate that Theseus is about to get married in four days time. The perception of time is affected by love, this is universally known. Maybe the play’s focus is to represent and make perceptible this transformation of Time. The
If we study the meter of these two lines we find out that the iambic pentameter is modified by a spondee at the head of the lines so that the rhythm accelerates. The meaning of the lines where “quickly” is repeated twice in parallel sentences, and the poetic form match. Therefore the audience / reader is made sensitive to the musicality of the text. Actually music also plays with time and timing. (Later in the play we will discover that music is a crucial theme too. ) Furthermore, Hippolyta announces that night will make time disappear (“away”) in a dream.
The motif of the dream, which is in the title of the play is introduced. The repetition of the structure of the lines gives them a magical quality, like an incantation, a spell. Magic in central in the play and the powers of gods such as Love, known as Cupid in Greek mythology are active: “And then the moon, like to a silver bow New bent in heaven, shall behold the night Of our solemnities” The crescent of the moon is compared to Cupid’s bow. It is no longer personified as an old woman but as an attribute of the child god Cupid (“new”, young moon) who will witness and bless the wedding “solemnities”. Mini conclusion): Time is something which love, dreams and magic modifies. Humans who are in love perceive it differently than in everyday life. The wedding of the Duke of Athens with Hippolyta is the event which frames the play and suspends time in an atmosphere of love. II—A call for joy Theseus uses imperatives to address Philostrate, his Master of revels (person who is in charge of entertaining the court): “Go, stir up, awake, turn”. This gives momentum (speed) to his lines and highlights the joyful mood of the character. Lightheartedness “merriment, mirth” is the main characteristic of comedy.
So is liveliness “nimble, pert”. These adjectives describe the atmosphere of Shakespearian comedy perfectly. Theseus pronounces an invocation to cast away sadness so that the comedy can begin. His voice could be the echo of the voice in the playwright’s head when he was starting to write the play. “Turn melancholy forth to funerals; The pale companion is not for our pomp. ” Theseus refuses to see sadness at his wedding (“pomp”: spectacular procession). “The pale companion” is a personification of death which has no place in comedy. The two anapests slow down the rhythm of the line to show the deadly effects of melancholy.
This contrasts with the spondees associated with joy earlier. The dialogue between Theseus and Hippolyta ends with an evocation of the way Theseus took her by force (rapt). He adds: “But I will wed thee in another key” He wants to marry her in more harmonious circumstances: “another key” is a reference to music. The word “key” is also underlined by the internal rhyme: “thee” /Di:/ “key” /ki:/. (Thee = you, wed = marry). CONCLUSION The audience has discovered that a wedding might frame the play, and that love and magic will suspend time in a comedy filled with enchantment.