Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare II by Edith Nesbit Stories from Shakespeare II by Edith Nesbit    

Lesson 28: A Midsummer Night's Dream Act I, Scene i

Performer: Librivox - Group

ACT I, SCENE i. Athens. A room in the palace of THESEUS.
ACT I, SCENE i. Athens. A room in the palace of THESEUS, Duke of Athens.
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.
THESEUS (Duke of Athens)
Lovely Hippolyta, we will be married
in a short time. Only four days
until our marriage under the new moon.
But the moon seems to be
disappearing very slowly,
Like an old stepmother or elderly widow refusing to die
and draining a young man's inheritance.
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.
HIPPOLYTA (Amazon Queen)
Four days will quickly turn into night.
Four nights will pass quickly while we sleep and dream.
The new moon, bent like a bow,
will gaze down
on our marriage ceremony.
Go, Philostrate,
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.
THESEUS (Duke of Athens)
Go on Philostrate, our Master of Celebrations,
arrange celebrations for the youth of Athens.
Make them happy,
for sadness is for funerals,
not for our wedding.
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 reveling.
THESEUS (Duke of Athens)
Hippolyta, I won your love
while we fought with swords,
But I will marry you
with ceremony, success, and celebrating.
Happy be Theseus, our renowned duke!
EGEUS (Athenian citizen and Hermia's father)
Greetings Theseus, our great duke!
Thanks, good Egeus: what's the news with thee?
THESEUS (Duke of Athens)
Thank you, Egeus. How are you?
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 interchanged love-tokens with my child:
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,
With feigning voice verses of feigning love,
And stolen the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers
Of strong prevailment in unharden'd 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.
EGEUS (Athenian citizen and Hermia's father)
I am angry and here to complain
about my daughter Hermia.
Stand up, Demetrius. My noble lord,
I have given Demetrius permission to marry her.
Stand up, Lysander. My good Duke,
Lysander has bewitched my daughter's heart
with poems that rhyme
And exchanged love tokens with her.
Lysander has sung at her window in the moonlight
with a pretending voice singing songs of pretend love.
Lysander has captured her imagination,
by giving her locks of his hair, rings, jewelry,
knick-knacks, flowers, candies, and messages.
Which manipulate a young girl's heart.
He has stolen my daughter's heart,
and caused her to disobey me
with a harsh stubbornness. My gracious duke,
if she will not agree
to marry Demetrius before you,
I beg your permission to exercise my lawful right as a father
to do with my own daughter as I please
to either marry her to Demetrius
or to kill her in accordance with our laws
immediately if she refuses to obey me.
What say you, Hermia? be advised fair maid:
To you your father should be as a god;
One that composed 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.
THESEUS (Duke of Athens)
What do you have to say for yourself, Hermia? Be warned, dear,
you should treat your father like a god.
He made your beautiful form,
molded you like a doll out of wax,
and it is in his power
to leave you whole or destroy you.
Demetrius is worthy enough to marry you.
So is Lysander.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
Lysander is worthy too.
In himself he is;
But in this kind, wanting your father's voice,
The other must be held the worthier.
THESEUS (Duke of Athens)
Lysander, as a man, is worthy,
but not enough to marry you against your father's wishes.
Your father wants to you to marry Demetrius, so he is worthier.
I would my father look'd but with my eyes.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
If only my father could see things as I do.
Rather your eyes must with his judgment look.
THESEUS (Duke of Athens)
Instead, you must see things as your father does.
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.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
I beg you to forgive me, Theseus.
I don't know why I am so bold to speak my mind to you,
or how it will affect my reputation,
to plainly speak my thoughts to you,
but I beg you, sir, to know
the worst that can happen to me
if I refuse to marry 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,
Chanting 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.
THESEUS (Duke of Athens)
You'll either die or give up
the company of men forever to become a nun.
Lovely Hermia, think long and hard about this.
Realize you are young and passionate.
If you refuse to obey your father,
you'll be forced to dress in the black robes of a nun.
You'll be trapped in a dark convent,
living a life with no husband and children,
singing hymns to the cold and barren moon.
Those that become nuns are triply blessed,
to make such a sacrifice,
but most women are happier
if they marry and have children,
rather than remaining single and childless.
So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,
Ere I will my virgin patent up
Unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke
My soul consents not to give sovereignty.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
I'd rather grow, live, and die in freedom as I wish to.
I won't be forced to marry someone
by you without my consent.
My soul refuses to give up that freedom.
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.
THESEUS (Duke of Athens)
Stop and think on your decision until the new moon
the day I'm joined with my beloved Hippolyta
in holy matrimony.
On that day, prepare to either die
for disobeying father,
to wed Demetrius as your father wishes,
or become a nun
and live a barren life as an unmarried, childless woman.
Relent, sweet Hermia: and, Lysander, yield
Thy crazed title to my certain right.
DEMETRIUS (Loves Hermia, but she does not love him.)
Change your mind Hermia, Lysander, give her up,
I have more of a right to her.
You have her father's love, Demetrius;
Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him.
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
Hermia's father loves you so much, Demetrius.
Why don't you marry him and let me have Hermia?
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.
EGEUS (Father of Hermia)
Disrespectful Lysander! Yes, he has my love.
That's why I'm giving him Hermia.
She is mine, and I give my rights to her
over to him.
I am, my lord, as well derived 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 beloved 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.
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
Theseus, I am as worthy
as Demetrius, and I love Hermia more.
I have as much money,
if not even more than Demetrius.
Most importantly,
the beautiful Hermia loves me.
Why shouldn't I be allowed to marry her?
Demetrius, I'll say it to his face,
he already wooed Nedar's daughter, Helena,
and won her love. The sweet lady Helena adores
and completely worships
this fickle man like a god.
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.
THESEUS (Duke of Athens)
I admit I've heard about Demetrius and Helena.
I meant to ask Demetrius about it.
But, I've been so busy,
I forgot. Come with me Demetrius,
and you too, Egeus,
so we can all talk in private.
And you, beautiful Hermia, either
obey your father
or you will be punished in accordance with law,
which we cannot lessen,
either with death or becoming a nun.
Come with me Hippolyta. How are you doing, my love?
Come with me Demetrius and Egeus
so we can discuss some business
about the wedding. I must also talk to you,
about other matters that will interest you.
With duty and desire we follow you.
EGEUS (Father of Hermia)
We are happy to follow you.
Exeunt all but LYSANDER and HERMIA
How now, my love! why is your cheek so pale?
How chance the roses there do fade so fast?
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
How are you now, Hermia? Why are you so pale?
Where are your rosy cheeks?
Belike for want of rain, which I could well
Beteem them from the tempest of my eyes.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
My rosy cheeks have not faded due to lack of water.
My tears have watered them well.
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,--
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
Oh, boy! In all stories I've read
and all the stories I've heard,
true love must always struggle,
whether due to differences in class--
O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
Oh, that would be hard!
To love someone from a far lower class.
Or else misgraffed in respect of years,--
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
Or to be far apart in age--
O spite! too old to be engaged to young.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
Oh, how awful!
Being prevented from marrying someone much younger.
Or else it stood upon the choice of friends,--
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
Or perhaps family and friends disapprove--
O hell! to choose love by another's eyes.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
It would be horrible to have to choose love based on what other people think.
Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it,
Making it momentary 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.
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
Even if two people want to unite in true love,
war, death, and sickness can block it,
making it last only an instant
as short-lived as a shadow, a dream,
or a bolt of lightning in a stormy night
that angrily flashes across the sky and the land.
Before a man can say, "Behold!"
love may be consumed by darkness
as bright things may quickly end.
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.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
If true love has ever been blocked,
It must be the way fate works.
Give us patience,
because obstacles to love
are as common as the dreams, sighs,
wishes, and tears of lovers.
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.
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
You make good points. So listen, Hermia.
I have a widowed aunt
with lots of money but no children.
Her house is twenty miles from Athens.
She treats me like a son.
There, darling Hermia, we can be married,
Where the cruel Athenian law
doesn't apply. If you love me,
sneak out of your father's house tomorrow night
and meet me in the forest three miles from town
where we once met with Helena
one May morning.
I will wait for you there.
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 Trojan 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.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
My sweet Lysander!
I swear on Cupid's strongest bow
and best gold-headed arrow,
on Venus' doves,
by that which nourishes souls and grows love,
by the fire that burned Queen Dido
after her betrayal by the false Trojan, Aeneas,
by all the promises men have broken,
more promises than women have ever made,
In the place you specified,
I swear I will meet you tomorrow.
Keep promise, love. Look, here comes Helena.
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
Keep your promise, love. Look, here comes Helena.
HELENA enters
God speed fair Helena! whither away?
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
Hello, lovely Helena! Where are you off to?
Call you me fair? that fair again unsay.
Demetrius loves your fair: O happy fair!
Your eyes are lode-stars; and your tongue's sweet air
More tunable 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'd give to be to you translated.
O, teach me how you look, and with what art
You sway the motion of Demetrius' heart.
HELENA (Loves Demetrius)
You call me beautiful? Take it back!
Demetrius loves your beauty, not mine.
Your eyes shine like stars, and your voice is as sweet
as a springtime lark to a shepherd.
In spring, when the wheat is green and the hawthorn tree flowers,
you can catch a sickness. If only I was lucky enough
I would catch your beauty, Hermia, before I go.
I would be able to talk like you. I would get your sparkling eyes,
and your sweet singing voice.
If I ruled the world, I'd only keep Demetrius
and give you everything else.
Oh, teach me how to look like you
and how you won Demetrius' love.
I frown upon him, yet he loves me still.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
I frown at Demetrius, but he still loves me.
O that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill!
HELENA (Loves Demetrius)
If only your frowns could teach my smiles to win Demetrius' love.
I give him curses, yet he gives me love.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
I say mean things to him, but he gives me his love.
O that my prayers could such affection move!
HELENA (Loves Demetrius)
If only my prayers could win his love like your insults.
The more I hate, the more he follows me.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
The more I hate him, the more he follows me.
The more I love, the more he hateth me.
HELENA (Loves Demetrius)
The more I love him, the more he hates me.
His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
His foolishness is not my fault, Helena.
None, but your beauty: would that fault were mine!
HELENA (Loves Demetrius)
It's your beauty's fault. If only I were as beautiful as you!
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!
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
Take comfort. He will no longer see my face,
as Lysander and I are leaving Athens.
Before I met Lysander,
Athens seemed like a paradise.
But then I fell in love with Lysander,
and he turned heaven into hell.
Helen, to you our minds we will unfold:
tomorrow night, when Phoebe doth behold
Her silver visage in the watery glass,
Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass,
A time that lovers' flights doth still conceal,
Through Athens' gates have we devised to steal.
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
Listen Helena, we'll tell you our plan.
Tomorrow when the moon rises
and its silvery face is reflected
by the pearls of dew on the grass,
that time of night that hides fleeing lovers,
we are sneaking out of Athens.
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.
HERMIA (Daughter of Egeus, Loves Lysander)
And in the woods, where we
used to lie on flowers
and talk,
Lysander and I will meet.
We'll leave Athens behind
to seek new friends and the company of strangers.
Goodbye, my childhood friend. Pray for us.
I wish you good luck with Demetrius!
Promise Lysander, that we will not see each other
until tomorrow at midnight.
I will, my Hermia.
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
I promise, Hermia.
HERMIA leaves
Helena, adieu:
As you on him, Demetrius dote on you!
LYSANDER (Loves Hermia)
Goodbye Helena.
I hope Demetrius will come to love you as much as you love him.
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 judgement taste;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste:
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.
As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjured everywhere:
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 dissolved, and showers 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.
HELENA (Loves Demetrius)
How much happier some are than others.
Though in Athens, people find me as beautiful as Hermia.
But who cares? Demetrius doesn't think so.
He doesn't know what all the others know.
He makes a mistake, loving Hermia's eyes,
I'm making a mistake too, by adoring him.
Love can transform the lowly, hateful, and worthless
into things of beauty and dignity.
Love should be based not on looks, but who we are inside.
That's why Cupid, god of love, is painted as blind.
Cupid is rash and hasty,
since he has wings, but no eyes.
This is why Cupid is shown as a child,
Because he's tricked into making bad choices.
As playful boys make a game of telling lies,
Boy Cupid lies as well,
Before Demetrius saw Hermia,
he swore he was mine.
But when he felt the heat of attraction of Hermia,
He and his many promises to me disappeared.
I'll Demetrius of Hermia's plan to leave Athens.
He'll chase her into the woods tomorrow night.
If he thanks me for the information,
it's worth the cost
even if it hurts me.
At least I'll see him as he travels to and from Athens.
HELENA leaves

    Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare II by Edith Nesbit Stories from Shakespeare II by Edith Nesbit    

Lesson 28: A Midsummer Night's Dream Act I, Scene i

Performer: Librivox - Group


Study the assigned Shakespeare scene over the week.

Over the week:

  • Review the synopsis.
  • Read along while listening to the lesson audio recording.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


In Act I, Scene i of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' Athenian citizen Egeus, father of the lovely Hermia, asks Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to invoke Athenian law. Egeus wants Hermia to marry Demetrius, even though Hermia has fallen in love with another man named Lysander. Duke Theseus gives Hermia until his upcoming wedding to Hippolyta to choose between marrying Demetrius, death, or becoming a nun. Hermia and Lysander decide to flee through a magical fairy forest to be married in secret. Hermia confides in her jealous best friend, Helena, who loves Demetrius. To please Demetrius and to finagle an opportunity to see him, Helena tells Demetrius of Hermia and Lysander's escape plan.


Activity 1: Recite the Play Information

  • Recite aloud the play title, the numbers of the act and scene, and the author of the play.

Activity 2: Narrate the Scene

  • After reading or listening to the scene, narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 3: Read Aloud the Dramatis Personae of the Scene

The Athenians

  • THESEUS, Duke of Athens
  • HIPPOLYTA, Queen of the Amazons, betrothed to Theseus
  • EGEUS, Father to Hermia
  • HERMIA, daughter to Egeus, in love with Lysander
  • HELENA, in love with Demetrius
  • LYSANDER, in love with Hermia
  • DEMETRIUS, in love with Hermia
  • Attendants (servants) to Theseus and Hippolyta

Referred to as the Players, Clowns, or Mechanicals:

  • PHILOSTRATE, Master of the Revels to Theseus

Activity 4: Map the Play

  • The comedic play, 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' takes place in and around the city of Athens, Greece.
  • Study the map featuring Greece.
  • Which three countries border Greece to the north? Recite their names.

Activity 5: Read the Modern Translation Aloud

  • With family or friends, choose roles and read the modern translation of the scene aloud.

Activity 6: Read the Original Text Aloud

  • With family or friends, choose roles and read the original text of the scene aloud.

Activity 7: Discuss the Story

  • Discuss your thoughts on whether Egeus and Duke Theseus should have the right to ask Hermia to choose between marrying Demetrius, dying, or becoming a nun.
  • Discuss whether you feel Helena betrayed Hermia by telling Demetrius about Hermia and Lysander's plan to flee Athens and marry in secret.


  1. 'Shakespeare's Comedy of A Midsummer-Night's Dream,' by William Shakespeare and William Heath {1914, PD-US}. n.p.
  2. Illustrations from 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream for Young People,' by Lucy Fitch Perkins {1907, PD-US}. n.p.