The opening scene

Act 1 Scene 1 – Key Scene

In this scene, Theseus and Hippolyta are interrupted by Egeus. He is angry with his daughter Hermia because she refuses to marry Demetrius, the person he wants her to marry. Instead, she wants to marry Lysander who has wooed her without Egeus’ permission. Egeus uses an ancient law that states if she doesn’t marry his choice of husband she can be put to death. After hearing from Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander, Theseus announces that Hermia must marry Demetrius or be put to death.

Take a look at an extract from this scene. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look
    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.
    Full of vexation come I, with complaint
    Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
    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.

    Vexation means to be very annoyed about something.

    I’m really angry with my daughter Hermia and that’s why I’m here. If she will not agree, with you as her witness, to marry Demetrius, then please allow me to use the law of Athens that says that as her father I can choose who she marries.

    What makes Egeus so angry he’d consider killing his own child?

    What say you, Hermia? Be advised, fair maid,
    To you your father should be as a god.
    Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.
    So is Lysander.
    In himself he is.
    But in this kind, wanting your father’s voice,
    The other must be held the worthier.

    Even though Lysander and Demetrius are equal, Demetrius must be considered better because he is your father’s choice.

    I would my father looked but with my eyes.
    Rather your eyes must with his judgement look.
    I do entreat your grace to pardon me.
    I know not by what power I am made bold:
    But I beseech your grace that I may know
    The worst that may befall me in this case,
    If I refuse to wed Demetrius.

    Hermia says 'beseech' and 'entreat' which both mean to ask someone for something with urgency.

    Hermia says 'beseech' and 'entreat' which both mean to ask someone for something with urgency.

    Either to die the death or to abjure
    Forever the society of men.

    Abjure means to renounce something.

    Relent, sweet Hermia.— And, Lysander, yield
    Thy craze`d title to my certain right.
    I am, my lord, as well derived as he. 

    Why do think Egeus wants Demetrius to marry Hermia instead of Lysander when they are equal?

    (Text edited by RSC Education)
  • Listen
    Read the speech aloud. Are there any words or lines that really stand out?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for the opening scene feel right to you?