Theseus and Hippolyta

Who are Theseus and Hippolyta in 'Midsummer Night's Dream'?

A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Phillip Dvorak/Getty Images

Theseus and Hippolyta appear in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, but who are they? Find out in our character analysis.

Theseus, Duke of Athens

Theseus is presented as a fair and well-liked leader. He is in love with Hippolyta and is excited to marry her. However, he does agree to enforce the law where Hermia is concerned and agrees with Egeus her father that she should obey his wishes or face death. “To you your father should be a god” (Act 1 Scene 1, Line 47).

This reinforces the idea that the men are in control and make the decisions, however, he does give her a chance to consider her options:

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 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.
(Act 1 Scene 1)

In giving Hermia time, Theseus allows fate and unknowingly the fairies to intervene in order that Hermia gets her way and can marry Lysander. At the end of the play, he urges Egeus to listen to the lover's story before acting and demonstrates his even hand in this.

Theseus shows he is fair and patient again at his nuptials when Egeus warns him of the mechanical’s play

No, my noble lord;
It is not for you: I have heard it over,
And it is nothing, nothing in the world;
Unless you can find sport in their intents,
Extremely stretch'd and conn'd with cruel pain,
To do you service.
(Act 5 Scene 1, Line 77)

Theseus demonstrates his sense of humor and graciousness when he welcomes Bottom and his friends to show their play. He urges the nobles to take the play for what it is and see the humor in its awfulness:

The kinder we, to give them thanks for nothing.
Our sport shall be to take what they mistake:
And what poor duty cannot do, noble respect
Takes it in might, not merit.
Where I have come, great clerks have purposed
To greet me with premeditated welcomes;
Where I have seen them shiver and look pale,
Make periods in the midst of sentences,
Throttle their practised accent in their fears
And in conclusion dumbly have broke off,
Not paying me a welcome. Trust me, sweet,
Out of this silence yet I pick'd a welcome;
And in the modesty of fearful duty
I read as much as from the rattling tongue
Of saucy and audacious eloquence.
Love, therefore, and tongue-tied simplicity
In least speak most, to my capacity.
(Act 5 Scene 1, Line 89-90).

Theseus goes on to make funny comments throughout the play and revels in its ineptitude demonstrating his fairness and sense of humor.

Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons

Betrothed to Theseus, Hippolyta is very much in love with her husband to be and is very much looking forward to their imminent wedding. “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” (Act 1 Scene 1, Line 7-11).

She, like her husband, is fair and allows Bottom’s play to go ahead despite being warned of its inappropriate nature. She warms to the mechanicals and is entertained by them, joking along with Theseus about the play and its characters “Methinks she should not use a long one for such a Pyramus. I hope she will be brief”. (Act 5 Scene 1, Line 311-312).

This demonstrates Hippolyta’s good qualities as a leader and shows her to be a good match for Theseus.

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Your Citation
Jamieson, Lee. "Theseus and Hippolyta." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Jamieson, Lee. (2023, April 5). Theseus and Hippolyta. Retrieved from Jamieson, Lee. "Theseus and Hippolyta." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).