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Intro

The course of true love

I'm Lysander. I'm a hopeless romantic, and I'm in love with Hermia. There's just one problem: her dad hates the thought of us being together. But don't worry, that's not going to stop me. And you know what I think?

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,--

HERMIA
O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low.

LYSANDER
Or else misgraffed in respect of years,--

HERMIA
O spite! too old to be engaged to young.

LYSANDER
Or else it stood upon the choice of friends,--

HERMIA
O hell! to choose love by another's eyes. (1.1.32-40)

Who Said It and Where

Lysander is Hermia's boyfriend and he really wants to get hitched. But Hermia's dad, Egeus, is having none of it. He doesn't just refuse to let his daughter date Lysander. He lodges a formal complaint to the Duke against his disobedient daughter.

According to Egeus, Hermia's been "bewitch'd" by Lysander and refuses to marry Demetrius, the guy Egeus chose for her. (Hmm. Is it just us, or did Desdemona's dad use the same "this guy put a spell on my daughter" argument in Othello?)

Egeus then cites the wrongs Lysander has committed: Lysander has presented Hermia with various love-tokens, serenaded her by moonlight, and even given her a lock of his hair. Who does this guy think he is?

It might seem strict to us now, but Egeus points out that Hermia is his daughter and therefore his property. And we hate to admit it, but back in Shakespeare's day, that was true. Sometimes, parents even filed lawsuits to try to force their kids into arranged marriages.

In fact, in the play, the law dictates that Hermia has to marry the guy of his choice… or be put to death. Yikes.

Duke Theseus puts on his Dr. Phil hat and tries to reason with Hermia, but our girl flat out refuses to marry Demetrius. Hermia asks the Duke what the worst-case scenario would be if she doesn't marry Demetrius.

Theseus gives her two alternative options: (1) accept the death penalty as punishment for disobedience, or (2) become a nun and remain a virgin forever. Hermia has four days to decide her fate. Harsh, right?

Hermia is really upset by the whole death-or-nun ultimatum. Wouldn't you be? But good ol' Lysander tries to take everything in stride and famously declares "the course of true love never did run smooth." Hermia declares that they should be patient because they're destined to be together. So at least they're staying optimistic.

Lysander then pipes up that he has a rich, widowed aunt that lives outside of Athens and loves him like a son. They can run away to his auntie's house and get hitched because she lives outside the reach of Athenian law. (How convenient.)

Hermia agrees to meet Lysander in the woods tomorrow night. From there, they can run off and pull a Romeo and Juliet (we're talking about the eloping, not the committing double suicide).

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