[Ancient Athens. Enter Duke Theseus, ruler of Athens; Hippolyta, his soon to be wife; Philostrate, Theseus' Master of Revels; and various attendants]
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 stepdame 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
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 wooed 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.
[Enter Egeus, a nobleman; his daughter Hermia; her boyfriend Lysander; and Demetrius, the man Egeus wants Hermia to marry]
Happy be Theseus, our renownèd 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 bewitched 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 stol’n the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gauds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats — messengers
Of strong prevailment in unhardened youth.
With cunning hast thou filched my daughter's heart,
Turned 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 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.
But in this kind, wanting your father's voice,
The other must be held the worthier.
I would my father looked 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
For ever 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 mewed,
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
Thrice blessèd they that master so their blood,
To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
But earthlier happy is the rose distilled
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 unwishèd 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 crazèd 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.
[To Theseus] I am, my lord, as well derived as he,
As well possessed. My love is more than his,
My fortunes every way as fairly ranked,
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.
I must confess that I have heard so much,
And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof,
But, being overfull 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.
[Exit all but 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 enthralled to low.
Or else misgrafted in respect of years —
O spite! Too old to be engaged to young.
Or merit 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 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.
If then true lovers have been ever crossed,
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 lov’st 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.
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 burned 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.
Keep promise, love. Look, here comes Helena.
[Enter Helena who was supposedly seduced by Demetrius at some earlier point in time, though Demetrius is now pursuing Hermia.]
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!
Your words 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.
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,
Seemed Athens as a paradise to me.
O, then, what graces in my love do dwell,
That he hath turned 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 devised 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.
As you on him, Demetrius dote on you.
[Exit Lysander, leaving Helena alone to end the scene with this soliloquy.]
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,
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 winged 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 looked on Hermia's eyne
He hailed 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.