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A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream Translation Act 1, Scene 1

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THESEUS and HIPPOLYTA enter along with PHILOSTRATE and others.

THESEUS

Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour Draws on apace. Four happy days bring in Another moon. But oh, methinks how slow This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires, Like to a stepdame or a dowager Long withering out a young man’s revenue.

THESEUS

Now, beautiful Hippolyta, the hour of our wedding is speeding closer. In four joyful days there will be a new crescent moon, and we will marry. But oh! The old moon seems to me to shrink away so slowly! It delays me from getting what I desire, just like an old rich widow will force her stepson to wait forever to receive his inheritance.

HIPPOLYTA

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.

HIPPOLYTA

Four days will quickly pass and turn to night. And each night, we will dream away the time. And soon the moon—like a silver bow newly bent into a curve in the sky—will look down on the night of our wedding celebration.

THESEUS

Go, Philostrate, Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments. Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth. Turn melancholy forth to funerals. The pale companion is not for our pomp.

THESEUS

Go, Philostrate, get the young people of Athens in the mood to celebrate. Wake up the lively and swift spirit of fun. Send sadness out to funerals—that pale emotion has no place at our festivities.

PHILOSTRATE exits.

Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword And won thy love doing thee injuries. But I will wed thee in another key, With pomp, with triumph, and with reveling.

Hippolyta, I wooed with you by fighting against you, and won your love by injuring you. But I’ll marry you in a different way—with splendid ceremonies, public festivities, and celebration.

EGEUS

Happy be Theseus, our renownèd duke.

EGEUS

Joy to you, Theseus—our famous and distinguished duke!

EGEUS enters with his daughter HERMIA, along with LYSANDER and DEMETRIUS.

THESEUS

Thanks, good Egeus. What’s the news with thee?

THESEUS

Thank you, dear Egeus. What’s going on with you?

EGEUS

Full of vexation come I with complaint Against my child, my daughter Hermia. Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord, This man hath my consent to marry her. Stand forth, Lysander. And my gracious duke, This man hath bewitched the bosom of my child. Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes, And interchanged love tokens with my child. Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung With feigning voice verses of feigning love, And stol'n the impression of her fantasy With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gauds, conceits, Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats—messengers Of strong prevailment in unhardened youth. With cunning hast thou filched my daughter’s heart, Turned her obedience (which is due to me) To stubborn harshness. And, my gracious duke, 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.

EGEUS

I’ve come to you full of anger, to protest against the actions of my daughter, Hermia. Step forward, Demetrius. My noble lord Theseus, this man, Demetrius, has my blessing to marry her. Step forward, Lysander. Yet, my gracious duke, this man, Lysander, has put a spell on my daughter’s heart. You, you, Lysander, you have given her poems, and exchanged tokens of love with my daughter. You’ve come beneath her window in the moonlight and pretended to love her with your fake love songs. And you’ve stolen her fancy by giving her locks of your hair, rings, toys, trinkets, knickknacks, little presents, flowers, and candies—all of which will powerfully influence an innocent child. You’ve sneaked and schemed to steal my daughter’s heart, transforming the obedience which she owes me into harsh stubbornness. My gracious duke, if Hermia, standing here in front of you, won’t agree to marry Demetrius, then I demand my traditional rights as a father in Athens. Since she belongs to me, I can do what I want with her, as the law expressly states for just such a case as this: either she marries Demetrius, or she dies.

THESEUS

What say you, 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. Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.

THESEUS

And what do you say, Hermia? Take this advice, pretty girl: you should see your father as a god, since he’s the one who created your beauty. To him, you’re like a figure that he sculpted out of wax, giving him the power to leave it as it is or to destroy it. Demetrius is a good man.

HERMIA

So is Lysander.

HERMIA

So is Lysander.

THESEUS

In himself he is.But in this kind, wanting your father’s voice,The other must be held the worthier.

THESEUS

Yes he is. But in this situation, because he lacks your father's support, you must consider Demetrius to be better.

HERMIA

I would my father looked but with my eyes.

HERMIA

I wish my father could look at them through my eyes.

THESEUS

Rather your eyes must with his judgment look.

THESEUS

Instead, your view of them must be influenced by your father's wishes.

HERMIA

I do entreat your grace to pardon me. I know not by what power I am made bold Nor how it may concern my modesty In such a presence here to plead my thoughts, 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

I beg your Grace to forgive me. I don’t know what is making me bold enough to do this, or even how speaking my thoughts to such an important person as you might harm my reputation for modesty. But I beg you to explain to me the worst thing that could happen to me in this situation if I refuse to marry Demetrius.

THESEUS

Either to die the death or to abjure Forever 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 mewed, To live a barren sister all your life, Chanting faint hymns to the cold, fruitless moon. Thrice-blessèd they that master so their blood To undergo such maiden pilgrimage. But earthlier happy is the rose distilled Than that which, withering on the virgin thorn, Grows, lives, and dies in single blessedness.

THESEUS

You’ll either be sentenced to death or to never again interact with another man. Therefore, beautiful Hermia, really think about what you want. Think about how young you are, and explore your feelings—if you do not give in to your father's wishes, will you be able to tolerate life wearing the robes of a nun, shut up in a dark convent, living your whole life without husband or children, chanting quietly to Diana. Those who can control their passions and remain virgins their whole lives are three times as blessed. But a married woman lives happier in this world than a virgin, who achieves the blessing of chastity but grows, lives, and withers to death as a flower on the stem.

HERMIA

So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord, Ere I will yield my virgin patent up Unto his lordship, whose unwishèd yoke My soul consents not to give sovereignty.

HERMIA

That is how I will grow, live, and die, my lord. I will not give up the ownership of my virginity to my lord father. My soul refuses to let him command me into the yoke of a marriage I do not want. 

THESEUS

Take time to pause, and by the next new moon— The sealing day betwixt my love and me For everlasting bond of fellowship— Upon that day either prepare to die For disobedience to your father’s will, Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would, Or on Diana’s altar to protest For aye austerity and single life.

THESEUS

Take some time to consider. By the next new moon—the day when my beloved and I will be joined in marriage—be ready either to die for disobeying your father's desires, to marry Demetrius, as your father wishes.  Or else, you can go to the temple of Diana and vow to spend the rest of your life as a virgin priestess.

DEMETRIUS

Relent, sweet Hermia And, Lysander, yieldThy crazèd title to my certain right.

DEMETRIUS

Give in, sweet Hermia. And, Lysander, give up your crazy claim to possession of what is mine.

LYSANDER

You have her father’s love, Demetrius.Let me have Hermia’s. Do you marry him.

LYSANDER

Her father loves you, Demetrius. Let me have Hermia, and you can marry him.

EGEUS

Scornful Lysander, true, he hath my love, And what is mine my love shall render him. And she is mine, and all my right of her I do estate unto Demetrius.

EGEUS

Rude Lysander, it's true, I do love him. And because I love him, I will give to him what is mine. Hermia is  mine, and I’m giving my rights to her to Demetrius.

LYSANDER

[To THESEUS] I am, my lord, as well derived as he, As well possessed. My love is more than his. My fortunes every way as fairly ranked, (If not with vantage) as Demetrius'. And—which is more than all these boasts can be— I am beloved of beauteous Hermia. Why should not I then prosecute my right? Demetrius, I’ll avouch it to his head, Made love to Nedar’s daughter, Helena, And won her soul. And she, sweet lady, dotes, Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry Upon this spotted and inconstant man.

LYSANDER

[To THESEUS] My lord, I’m as noble as Demetrius, and as rich. I love Hermia more than he does. My prospects are in every way as good as Demetrius', if not better. And, more importantly than all of those things I just boasted about, beautiful Hermia loves me. Why shouldn’t I be able to pursue my rights marry her? Demetrius—and I’ll declare this to his face—wooed Nedar’s daughter, Helena, and won her love. Now Helena, that sweet lady, obsesses, deeply obsesses, obsesses over this stained and unfaithful man, idolizing him as if he were a god.

THESEUS

I must confess that I have heard so much And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof, But being overfull of self-affairs, My mind did lose it. But, Demetrius, come. And come, Egeus. You shall go with me. I have some private schooling for you both. For you, fair Hermia, look you arm yourself To fit your fancies to your father’s will, Or else the law of Athens yields you up (Which by no means we may extenuate) To death, or to a vow of single life. Come, my Hippolyta. What cheer, my love? Demetrius and Egeus, go along. I must employ you in some business Against our nuptial and confer with you Of something nearly that concerns yourselves.

THESEUS

I must admit I’ve heard that too, and meant to speak about it with Demetrius. But because I was too busy with my own concerns, I forget about it. But now, Demetrius and Egeus, come with me. I have some advice for you both that I want to give in private. As for you, beautiful Hermia, prepare yourself to shape your desires to match what your father wants, or else the law of Athens—which I can’t modify or lessen in any way—demands that you either die or take a vow of chastity and never marry. Come along, Hippolyta. How are you, my love? Demetrius and Egeus, come with us. I have some work I need you to do regarding our wedding, and there's something that concerns the two of you that I want to discuss.

EGEUS

With duty and desire we follow you.

EGEUS

We follow you because it is our duty, and because we want to.

They exit, except LYSANDER and HERMIA.

LYSANDER

How now, my love? Why is your cheek so pale?How chance the roses there do fade so fast?

LYSANDER

How are you, my love? Why are your cheeks so pale? How is it that the roses in them have faded so quickly?

HERMIA

Belike for want of rain, which I could wellBeteem them from the tempest of my eyes.

HERMIA

Probably because they lacked rain, which I could easily give them from the tears in my eyes.

LYSANDER

Ay me! For aught that I could ever read, Could ever hear by tale or history, The course of true love never did run smooth. But either it was different in blood—

LYSANDER

Oh dear! In every book that I have ever read, whether  a story or a history, the path of true love is never smooth or easy. Perhaps the lovers are of different social classes—

HERMIA

O cross! Too high to be enthralled to low.

HERMIA

Oh, what an obstacle! Being a person of high rank in love with someone of low stature.

LYSANDER

Or else misgraffèd in respect of years—

LYSANDER

Or else they were very different ages—

HERMIA

O spite! Too old to be engaged to young.

HERMIA

Oh, vicious fate! Being too old to marry someone young.

LYSANDER

Or else it stood upon the choice of friends—

LYSANDER

Or else their ability to choose depended on the wishes of their relatives—

HERMIA

O hell, to choose love by another’s eyes!

HERMIA

Oh, what a hell, to have someone else's wishes determine who you can love!

LYSANDER

Or, if there were a sympathy in choice, War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it, Making it momentary as a sound, Swift as a shadow, short as any dream, Brief as the lightning in the collied night; That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and Earth, And ere a man hath power to say “Behold!” The jaws of darkness do devour it up. So quick bright things come to confusion.

LYSANDER

Or—even if two people loved each other and could choose to marry—war, death, or sickness might intervene, so that their love lasts no longer than a sound, is as fleeting as a shadow, short as a dream. Or it's as brief as a bolt of lightning that—like a flash of passion—lights up heaven and Earth but then disappears into darkness before you can even say "Look!" That’s how bright things that are full of life are destroyed.

HERMIA

If then true lovers have been ever crossed, It stands as an edict in destiny. Then let us teach our trial patience, Because it is a customary cross, As due to love as thoughts and dreams and sighs, Wishes and tears, poor fancy’s followers.

HERMIA

If true lovers are always thwarted, then it proves that destiny is saying that our thwarted love must be true. So let’s make sure to approach our problem with patience. Since all true love must be thwarted, then being thwarted is as much a part of love as dreams, sighs, wishes, and tears are.

LYSANDER

A good persuasion. Therefore, hear me, Hermia. I have a widow aunt, a dowager Of great revenue, and she hath no child. From Athens is her house remote seven leagues, And she respects me as her only son. There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee. And to that place the sharp Athenian law Cannot pursue us. If thou lovest me then, Steal forth thy father’s house tomorrow night. And in the wood, a league without the town— Where I did meet thee once with Helena To do observance to a morn of May— There will I stay for thee.

LYSANDER

That's the right way to think about it. So, listen, Hermia. I have an aunt who is a widow, who has property and great wealth, and doesn’t have any children. Her house is about twenty miles from Athens, and she thinks of me as a son.  Dear Hermia, I could marry you there, where the harsh laws of Athens can’t follow us. So if you love me, sneak out of your father’s house tomorrow night. I will wait for you in the woods, three miles out of town, at the spot where I once met you with Helena to celebrate May Day.

HERMIA

My good Lysander! I swear to thee by Cupid’s strongest bow, By his best arrow with the golden head, By the simplicity of Venus' doves, By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves, And by that fire which burned the Carthage queen When the false Troyan under sail was seen, By all the vows that ever men have broke (In number more than ever women spoke), In that same place thou hast appointed me, Tomorrow truly will I meet with thee.

HERMIA

My noble Lysander! I swear to you—by Cupid's strongest bow, by his best gold-tipped arrow; by the innocent doves that drive Venus' chariot; by everything that binds souls together and makes love grow; by the bonfire upon which Queen Dido of Carthage burned herself to death when she saw that her lover Aeneas had secretly sailed away from her; and by all the promises that men have ever broken (which outnumber all the promises women have ever made). I will meet you tomorrow at the spot you have asked me to go to.

LYSANDER

Keep promise, love. Look, here comes Helena.

LYSANDER

Keep your promise, my love. Look, here comes Helena.

HERMIA

Godspeed, fair Helena! Whither away?

HERMIA

Welcome, beautiful Helena! Where are you going?

HELENA enters.

HELENA

Call you me “fair?” That “fair” again unsay. Demetrius loves your fair. O happy fair! Your eyes are lodestars, and your tongue’s sweet air More tunable than lark to shepherd’s ear When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear. Sickness is catching. Oh, were favor so, Yours would I catch, fair Hermia, ere I go. My ear should catch your voice. My eye, your eye. My tongue should catch your tongue’s sweet melody. Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated, The rest I’d give to be to you translated. O, teach me how you look and with what art You sway the motion of Demetrius' heart.

HELENA

Did you call me “beautiful?” Take it back. Your beauty is what Demetrius loves. Oh, lucky beauty! Your eyes are like stars, and your sweet voice is more melodic than a lark’s song is to a shepherd in the springtime, when the wheat is green and hawthorn buds appear. Sickness is contagious. Oh, I wish beauty was also. I would catch yours, beautiful Hermia, before I left. My ear would be infected by your voice, my eye by your eye, and my tongue would catch your tongue's musical voice. If I owned the world, I’d give it all up—with the exception of Demetrius—to be transformed into you. Oh, teach me how you look at Demetrius, and the tricks you use to make him fall in love with you.

HERMIA

I frown upon him, yet he loves me still.

HERMIA

I frown at him, but he still loves me.

HELENA

Oh, that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill!

HELENA

Oh, if only your frowns could teach my smiles to have that same ability!

HERMIA

I give him curses, yet he gives me love.

HERMIA

I curse him, but he responds with love.

HELENA

Oh, that my prayers could such affection move!

HELENA

Oh, if only my prayers could arouse that kind of affection!

HERMIA

The more I hate, the more he follows me.

HERMIA

The more I hate him, the more he follows me.

HELENA

The more I love, the more he hateth me.

HELENA

The more I love him, the more he hates me.

HERMIA

His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.

HERMIA

Helena, his foolishness is not my fault.

HELENA

None, but your beauty. Would that fault were mine!

HELENA

It’s only your beauty’s fault. I wish I had that fault!

HERMIA

Take comfort. He no more shall see my face. Lysander and myself will fly this place. Before the time I did Lysander see Seemed Athens as a paradise to me. Oh, then, what graces in my love do dwell, That he hath turned a heaven unto a hell!

HERMIA

Don’t worry. He'll never see my face again. Lysander and I are running away from here. Before the first time I saw Lysander, Athens seemed like paradise to me. But Lysander is so beautiful and graceful that, by comparison, he’s turned what I thought was heaven into hell!

LYSANDER

Helen, to you our minds we will unfold. Tomorrow night when Phoebe doth behold Her silver visage in the watery glass, Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass (A time that lovers' flights doth still conceal), Through Athens' gates have we devised to steal.

LYSANDER

Helena, we’ll let you in on our plan. Tomorrow night—when Phoebe is reflected on the water and decorates the grass with beads of pearly light (the time of night that always hides lovers on the run—we plan to sneak out through the gates of Athens.

HERMIA

[To HELENA] And in the wood where often you and I Upon faint primrose beds were wont to lie, Emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet, There my Lysander and myself shall meet. And thence from Athens turn away our eyes To seek new friends and stranger companies. Farewell, sweet playfellow. Pray thou for us. And good luck grant thee thy Demetrius! Keep word, Lysander. We must starve our sight From lovers' food till morrow deep midnight.

HERMIA

[To HELENA]  In the woods where you and I used to laze around on the pale primroses, sharing all of the sweet secrets of our hearts—that’s where Lysander and I will meet. Then we’ll turn away from Athens and  look for new friends and the company of strangers. Goodbye, sweet friend of my youth. Pray for us, and may fate give you Demetrius! Keep your promise, Lysander. We must refrain from the pleasure of seeing each other until tomorrow at midnight.

LYSANDER

I will, my Hermia.

LYSANDER

I will, my Hermia.

HERMIA exits.

Helena, adieu.
As you on him, Demetrius dote on you!
Goodbye, Helena. May Demetrius love you just as you love him!

LYSANDER exits.

HELENA

How happy some o'er other some can be! Through Athens I am thought as fair as she. But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so. He will not know what all but he do know. And as he errs, doting on Hermia's eyes, So I, admiring of his qualities. Things base and vile, holding no quantity, Love can transpose to form and dignity. Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind. And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind. Nor hath Love's mind of any judgment taste— Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste. And therefore is Love said to be a child, Because in choice he is so oft beguiled. As waggish boys in game themselves forswear, So the boy Love is perjured everywhere. For ere Demetrius looked on Hermia's eyne, He hailed down oaths that he was only mine. And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt, So he dissolved, and showers of oaths did melt. I will go tell him of fair Hermia's flight. Then to the wood will he tomorrow night Pursue her. And for this intelligence If I have thanks, it is a dear expense. But herein mean I to enrich my pain, To have his sight thither and back again.

HELENA

How happy some people can be compared to others!  Throughout Athens, people think I'm as beautiful as Hermia. But what does that matter? Demetrius doesn't think so. The only opinion he has is his own. And as he wanders, idolizing Hermia's eyes, likewise I admire his beauty. Love can transform crude and horrible things of no worth into beautiful and dignified things. Love doesn't look with eyes, but with the mind. That's why they paint winged Cupid blind. And Love doesn't have good judgment or taste—wings and blindness make for undue speed in falling in love.  Thus, Love is thought of as a child, because he often makes the wrong choice. Just like mischievous boys who go back on their word as they play games, so too does the boy Love perjure himself everywhere. Because before Demetrius saw Helena's eyes, he swore that he belonged to only me. And when he felt attracted to Hermia, he dissolved. His promises melted down like hail in the heat. I will go and tell him that beautiful Hermia is running away. Then he'll got to the forest tomorrow night to pursue her. And if he thanks me for this piece of information, it will all be worth it. But in this way I plan to make my pain worse, by seeing him go there and back again.

HELENA exits.

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Ben florman
About the Translator: Ben Florman

Ben is a co-founder of LitCharts. He holds a BA in English Literature from Harvard University, where as an undergraduate he won the Winthrop Sargent prize for best undergraduate paper on a topic related to Shakespeare.