The streets of Athens were busier than usual. Preparations were well underway for the Duke’s approaching marriage to Hippolyta, the defeated Amazon queen. Spirits were high with the prospect of celebration. However, this joy was not felt inside the Duke’s court four days before the happy day. Egeus, a portly man with greying hair, had demanded an audience with Duke Theseus.
“Good afternoon, my Lord. I’m afraid I come to you in a state of rage. This is my daughter, Hermia.” At this, he gestured to a young lady, petite in stature with a smattering of freckles across her skin. She held herself like an educated lady and her face was attractive, though her eyes were currently red and puffy.
“Her disobedience is the cause of my anger. I wish for her to marry this fine young gentleman, Demetrius.” With this, Egeus drew attention to the two young men who accompanied him. One had broad shoulders and a face made of sharp angles but not an unfriendly appearance. He held himself with confidence and bowed when addressed. The other gentleman had an air of almost charming arrogance and a face that was comfortable wearing a smug grin. When Demetrius straightened, it was clear he had several inches over the other man.
“This man is a respectable bachelor and has my blessing to marry fair Hermia. However, Lysander here,” the shorter man gave a slight bow of the head and wide smile in acknowledgment, “This knave has stolen her heart with lies and false gifts. This loon has deceived my daughter and turned her against me. This barnacle has given her poems, sung her songs, and given more gifts than one could count! This haggard has- “
“Egeus! That is quite enough.” Theseus raises a hand, giving the father a stern look. “What do you want from me?”
“Forgive me, my lord. I wish to call on the right of Athens and have Hermia executed if she does not agree to marry Demetrius.” Hermia gave a half-sob, half-yell in indignation. She looked close to tears but stayed strong, thanks to a comforting grip from Hippolyta. The older woman gave Hermia a knowing look of sympathy.
Fury crossed Lysander’s face but he managed to withhold from acting out. Demetrius also appeared upset by this request and chose to speak up. “Sir, do you not think that this is an extreme reaction? I love Hermia with all my heart and hope dearly that she will choose me and I can not bear the thought of losing her. Surely there is a kinder alternative?”
Egeus looks to disagree but Theseus interrupts before he can, “I agree. Perhaps a life as a nun is more appropriate in this situation? So, what do you say, Hermia? Will you yield to your father’s wishes?”
“I beg your forgiveness, my lord, but I cannot agree. Lysander is as worthy a gentleman, if not greater. Does it mean nothing that he has my heart?”
“I’m afraid that your father’s blessing has a far greater value. Demetrius is more than eligible. Don’t forget, it is your duty as a daughter to follow your father’s wishes. He created you, gave you life, and has provided for you ever since. It is only fair that he has a say on which man cares for you next.” Egeus seemed placated by this argument, confident that the duke was on his side.
“A say, yes, but that is all. I have heard what he has to say and I disagree.” Desperation filled Hermia’s voice. She had the tired look of someone who’s repeated themself too many times to no avail. “Lysander is the man for me. I could never love Demetrius as much as he does me. Would it not be cruel and unfair to marry him?”
“Hermia, my love, please reconsider? Truly, would you choose life as a nun, separated from all male company over me? What more could I do to prove my love?” Demetrius made to approach Hermia but Lysander quickly placed himself between them. “Lysander, give up this fruitless endeavour! You will never have Hermia! End this fool’s errand.” Spat Demetrius.
Hermia moved out from behind Lysander, giving him a confused glare while addressing Demetrius. “You have proven your love plenty, just as I have proven my lack of love for you. It changes nothing.”
“Anyway, this is no fool’s errand. Can’t you see that I am winning this battle? I have won Hermia’s heart, you’ve merely won over her father!” The smug grin on Lysander’s face only added to Demetrius’ rage. Theseus decided the time for discussion was quickly ending.
“Masters, settle down. I have other matters to attend to and this is getting us nowhere. Hermia has until… let us make it the day of my marriage to make her choice. After those four days, she shall choose either to marry Demetrius or to live out her days in the convent. Now, Lysander, Hermia, I must ask that you leave us, we have other issues to attend to.” And with that, Theseus turned away and made his way towards a table with many scrolls and parchments scattered across it. Egeus quickly followed, as did Demetrius with a sharp glare at Lysander. Hippolyta trailed behind but not before meeting Hermia’s gaze once more.