Theseus & Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream: Relationship & Wedding

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  • 0:04 Weddings Solve Everything
  • 0:53 Woo'd With the Sword
  • 2:12 Infidelity
  • 2:52 The Play
  • 3:39 The Wedding
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

The events of William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' surround the wedding festivities of Theseus and Hippolyta. But, we hardly see these characters in the action of the play. Let's explore what we know about their relationship and the importance of their wedding.

Weddings Solve Everything

William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream describes the events surrounding the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Weddings in Shakespearean comedies have an important role. After a play that's usually full of humorous conflict or disorder, weddings are usually where everything comes together in the end. It marks a resolution to the discord in the play and indicates that everyone will live happily ever after. This is very much needed for the four lovers in the play: Demetrius, Helena, Lysander, and Hermia. Their marriages indicate the end of their romantic conflicts.

But what about Theseus and Hippolyta themselves? After all, it's their wedding. What kind of resolution do they need? We barely see them during the play, so what conflict could there be? A closer look at their relationship raises some concerning questions.

Woo'd with the Sword

We learn about Theseus and Hippolyta's relationship immediately in Act 1. Theseus says, ''Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword / And won thy love, doing thee injuries'' (1.1.17-18). Even if you're not an expert at Shakespearean English, these are concerning statements. Wooing someone with a sword and injuring them hardly sounds like the foundation for a healthy marriage.

Theseus is the hero of many tales from Greek mythology.
Image of Theseus fighting a Minotaur

To give more context to this statement, we need to take a look at the myths behind their characters. Greek mythology was like the Disney of Shakespeare's time; just as we would probably understand a reference to a Disney movie, Shakespeare's audience would have understood references to Greek mythology. Theseus is a hero in several Greek myths and is recognized as a well-liked king of Athens. Hippolyta was the fabled queen of the Amazons, a nation of warrior women. There are different renditions of how Theseus and Hippolyta came to be together. Some say Theseus was the victor in an attack on the Amazons and chose Hippolyta as his prize. Others describe Hippolyta refusing a peaceful wedding proposal and Theseus kidnapping her anyway.

When Theseus says in A Midsummer Night's Dream that he woo'd Hippolyta ''with his sword,'' Shakespeare's audience would have understood that as a reference to capturing or conquering Hippolyta. But doesn't that make her a prisoner of war? Doesn't that put a bit of a damper on their marriage?

Infidelity

The Greek myths also have some concerning things to say about their commitment to their relationship. Neither Hippolyta nor Theseus are depicted as particularly chaste people. Theseus is romantically connected to several women, and some versions of the myths suggest that he discards Hippolyta to marry another.

King Oberon and Queen Titania
King Oberon and Queen Titania

This is also brought up in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In Act 2, Scene 1, King Oberon and Queen Titania argue and accuse each other of infidelity. Titania refers to Hippolyta as a ''bouncing Amazon'' and Oberon's mistress. Oberon in turn accuses her of infidelity with Theseus, and that she was the ''other woman'' in many of Theseus's relationships. Things aren't looking good for Theseus and Hippolyta in the play.

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