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A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy of situations and confusions, which are further complicated by a group of fairies interfering and interacting with human beings. In short, the play resembles a pleasant dream where no one can be sad or disappointed for long. The interest lies not in the evolution of characters but in the development of the actions and the events that contribute to them. Hence, the characterization is rather shallow with most of the characters not changing from beginning to end.
Theseus is the Duke of Athens, whom Shakespeare depicts as a warrior, a good administrator, and a man of action and emotion. He is the first character seen in the play, as he talks to his fiancée, Hippolyta. Although he has met her on the battlefield as Queen of the Amazons, he has fallen deeply in love with her. They are to be married in four days, and Theseus is eager for the time to pass quickly. When Egeus interrupts the scene between the lovers, Theseus proves he is capable of immediately changing his role to that of an important and respected leader of the people. Although Egeus is consulting him about a personal problem related to his daughter Hermia, Theseus listens carefully and agrees to enforce an ancient Athenian law at his request. Although he thinks that Egeus is being harsh on his daughter, he knows he must be a fair ruler who enforces the laws that exist.
Theseus is not seen again until much later in the play, when he comes into the woods to begin the wedding festivities with a hunting expedition. An expert hunter who is proud of his hounds, Theseus is eager to successfully use his skill; however, he brings the hunting party to an abrupt stop when he notices the two pairs of lovers. When Lysander and Demetrius tell him about their problems, Theseus is not afraid to ignore the protests of Egeus and orders that the weddings of Hermia and Lysander and Helena and Demetrius take place along with his own wedding. This action proves that he is a kind, understanding man who is able to share his own limelight.
After the marriages take place, Theseus is seen again. He is in a festive mood and obviously enjoys the marriage celebration, ordering it to continues for a whole week. When Philostane tells Theseus about the entertainment that is available, he chooses to see the play prepared by the craftsmen. He can hardly wait to see a "tragical mirth," even though the master of ceremonies warns him that it is worthless. During the interlude, Theseus is patient with unprofessional actions and gives his full attention to the play, even though he cannot pass up the opportunity to make several witty comments, which shows his good sense of humor.
When Hippolyta speaks about the mediocrity of the play, Theseus takes a charitable view.
In summary, Shakespeare has created Theseus as a very likable noble. He is a wise and fair leader of the people, an understanding and kind man, a gentle lover, and an outstanding hunter and warrior. Additionally, he cares about the citizens that he leads, is not too proud to share his limelight, and has a good sense of humor.
Hippolyta is the Queen of the Amazons, a group of woman warriors who had earlier laid siege of Athens, challenging Theseus. By the beginning of the play, she has surrendered to Theseus and fallen in love with him; her only role is to be his loving fiancée. She speaks little and acts less. In the opening scene, Hippolyta speaks only once, in reply to the love-lorn Theseus; she assures him that the next four days and nights before their wedding will pass quickly.
When Hippolyta is seen again in the woods with Theseus, she is portrayed as more of a warrior, speaking about her past experiences with famous heroes, like Hercules and Cadmus. During the wedding festivities, she speaks more than in other parts of the play and has a more assertive tone. When Theseus lightly brushes aside the lovers' version of the previous night as a figment of their imagination, Hippolyta says that however strange the stories may be, they have been corroborated by everyone and must have some truth in them. She also is not as generous as her husband about the quality of the interlude. She finds little pleasure in the play, calling it the "silliest stuff" she has ever heard; she also criticizes the actors, saying they have no imagination.
In truth, Hippolyta plays a very insignificant role in this play. Except for marrying Theseus, she has no part to play.
Of the four young lovers portrayed in the play, Hermia is the liveliest. Bold and intelligent, she has clear-cut views on life, love, and marriage. She is brave enough to oppose her father's choice of her husband and refuses to marry Demetrius, even though Egeus threatens to have her punished if she does not obey. Hermia knows what she wants in marriage and has chosen to make Lysander her husband. In the court of Theseus, she boldly argues with the Duke and defends her love for Lysander, stating that he is a most worthy man. When she finds that her pleas are falling on deaf ears, she wants to know "the worst that may befall me in this case / If I refuse to wed Demetrius." When the Duke pronounces that Athenian law calls for the death sentence, Hermia bravely decides to die rather than yield to man whom she does not love. When Lysander suggests that the two of them run away and get married, she does not hesitate to accept his offer.
After the mischief of Puck, when both Lysander and Demetrius fall in love with her good friend Helena, Hermia is very upset. Unable to understand the change in her lover, she at first thinks he is teasing her. When she realizes that Lysander's professions of love for Helena are earnest, she turns her anger on her friend, accusing her of stealing away her true love. The two women quarrel, but the self-pity and hysteria, which mark Helena's speech, is conspicuously absent in the words of Hermia. Although upset, she is much more in control of her emotions.
When Lysander's spell is broken and he again shows his love for Hermia, she seems to forgive her lover and accept what has happened as a strange dream. Once her marriage to Lysander has been approved by Theseus and Egeus, Hermia has little more to say. She does not speak again until the end of the play.
Hermia is in many ways a typical heroine of one of Shakespeare's comedies. Although she is intelligent, lively, and well liked by the audience, she is not a full-fledged heroine, like Viola of Twelfth Night or Portia of Merchant of Venice. She is limited in the play, because she can only act in one of the three worlds represented by Shakespeare; unable to step out of her world of the Athenian gentry, she must share the limelight throughout with other characters. When Puck plays a trick on her, she does not have the power to outwit him, as Portia could do with Shylock. But in her own limited way, Hermia is the heroine of the play.