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Perhaps the most popular from all of Shakespeare’s comedies, humorously celebrates the vagaries of love. The approaching wedding festivities of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and his bride-to-be, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, are delightfully crisscrossed with in-again, off-again romances of two young pairs of Athenian lovers; a fateful rivalry between the King and Queen of the Fairies; and the theatrical aspirations of a bumbling troupe of Athenian laborers. It all ends happily in wedding-night revelry complete with a play-within-a-play presented by the laborers to the ecstatic amusement of all.
68 pages, with a reading time of ~2.25 hours (17,035 words), and first published in 1595. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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Athens. The palace of THESEUS.
[Enter THESEUS, HIPPOLYTA, PHILOSTRATE, and Attendants]
Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour Draws on apace; four happy days bring in Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires, Like to a step-dame or a dowager Long withering out a young man revenue.
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.
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.
Hippolyta, I woo'd 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 revelling.
[Enter EGEUS, HERMIA, LYSANDER, and DEMETRIUS]
Happy be Theseus, our renowned duke!
Thanks, good Egeus: what's the news with thee?
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 bewitch'd 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 stolen the impression of her fantasy With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits, Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth: With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's heart, Turn'd 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.
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.
So is Lysander.
In himself he is; But in this kind, wanting your father's voice, The other must be held the worthier.
I would my father look'd but with my eyes.
Rather your eyes must with his judgment look.
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.
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.
So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord, Ere I will my virgin patent up Unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke My soul consents not to give sovereignty.
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.
Relent, sweet Hermia: and, Lysander, yield Thy crazed title to my certain right.
You have her father's love, Demetrius; Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him.