Egeus in A Midsummer Night's Dream: Characteristics & Character Analysis

Instructor: Karen Wolak

Karen has taught 4-8th grade English/Language Arts and has worked closely with adult learners for several years. M.Ed. in Adult Education.

Even though Egeus only has a few lines in William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' his actions lead to the events of the rest of the play. Let's take a look at this important character and possible motivations for his actions.

Egeus: Minor but Important

If you were to ask people what comes to mind whey then think of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, they would probably recall things like the fairies, or that one guy with a donkey's head. You probably wouldn't hear much about Egeus, Hermia's father. However, Egeus's actions introduce the conflict in the story. He is also perhaps the most puzzling character in the play. It's easy to overlook Egeus, but let's give him another look.

Egeus in A Midsummer Night's Dream

In Act 1, Demetrius wants to marry Egeus's daughter, Hermia. Egeus likes Demetrius and supports their marriage. However, Hermia is very clear that she does not want to marry Demetrius. She loves someone else - a man named Lysander. Egeus is upset that his daughter will not comply with his wishes, so he takes her before Theseus, Duke of Athens. He reminds Theseus that the law grants him the power to make this decision for his own daughter. Theseus agrees and tells 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.' (1.1.47-52)

Ancient Athens is depicted as a patriarchal society
Ancient Athens

In other words, because Egeus created Hermia, he gets to decide who she loves and marries. The characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream live in a patriarchal society, or a society where men are given authority over women. Theseus confirms that the laws of Athens grant Egeus that power. Theseus further tells Hermia that her choices are to marry Demetrius, join a convent, or die. This predicament leads to the events of the rest of the story.

Demetrius vs. Lysander

We learn a lot about Egeus in Act 1. He is apparently knowledgeable of the law but is also harsh and stubborn enough to put his daughter to the death if she doesn't listen to him. However, we never really understand his motive. Why Demetrius? What's wrong with Lysander?

Let's be honest - Demetrius doesn't seem like a great candidate for a son-in-law. He was previously engaged to Hermia's lifelong friend Helena and was said to have intimate relations with her. Then he abruptly dumped Helena for Hermia. Lysander brings this up in Act 1, calling Demetrius an 'inconstant man' (1.1.112). This seems to be common knowledge - Theseus acknowledges that he is aware of this. Despite Demetrius's history of leaving women after sleeping with them, Egeus defends his choice. He says 'Demetrius hath my love; / And what is mine my love shall render him' (1.1.97-98).

As for Lysander, Egeus seems to really hate the guy. Look at some of the words Egeus associates with him. He believes Lysander has 'bewitched' (1.1.28) his daughter, 'stol'n the impression of her fantasy' (1.1.33), and 'with cunning' has 'filched' Hermia's heart (1.1.37). In other words, Lysander is supposedly a horrible person for making Hermia fall in love with him. That's the only complaint Egeus voices against Lysander. And yet, he calls for the man's death later in the play.

Hermia and Lysander
Hermia and Lysander

What's the deal? Why does Egeus turn a blind eye to Demetrius's flaws? Why does he hate Lysander so much that he threatens his own daughter with death? While we cannot know for sure, there are a few possibilities to consider.

Theme: Gender Roles

Many of the themes of A Midsummer Night's Dream surround gender roles - particularly the power of males. Perhaps Shakespeare is using Egeus's insistence upon controlling his daughter to support this theme. Men do what they want in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but they often don't look good in the process. Egeus's unexplained insistence upon his daughter marrying Demetrius makes him seem unreasonable. Maybe that's the point. Maybe he's just meant to be an ugly example of the oppression of women in a patriarchal society to support the theme.

Friends? More than Friends?

It could just be that Egeus and Demetrius are friends, and Egeus is just bringing him into the family. Maybe they're business partners and stand to profit from the marriage.

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