A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Hermia and Lysander were lovers; but Hermia’s father wished her to marry another man, named Demetrius.
Now, in Athens, where they lived, there was a wicked law, by which any girl who refused to marry according to her father’s wishes, might be put to death. Hermia’s father was so angry with her for refusing to do as he wished, that he actually brought her before the Duke of Athens to ask that she might be killed, if she still refused to obey him. The Duke gave her four days to think about it, and, at the end of that time, if she still refused to marry Demetrius, she would have to die.
Lysander of course was nearly mad with grief, and the best thing to do seemed to him for Hermia to run away to his aunt’s house at a place beyond the reach of that cruel law; and there he would come to her and marry her. But before she started, she told her friend, Helena, what she was going to do.
Helena had been Demetrius’ sweetheart long before his marriage with Hermia had been thought of, and being very silly, like all jealous people, she could not see that it was not poor Hermia’s fault that Demetrius wished to marry her instead of his own lady, Helena. She knew that if she told Demetrius that Hermia was going, as she was, to the wood outside Athens, he would follow her, “and I can follow him, and at least I shall see him,” she said to herself. So she went to him, and betrayed her friend’s secret.
Now this wood where Lysander was to meet Hermia, and where the other two had decided to follow them, was full of fairies, as most woods are, if one only had the eyes to see them, and in this wood on this night were the King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania. Now fairies are very wise people, but now and then they can be quite as foolish as mortal folk. Oberon and Titania, who might have been as happy as the days were long, had thrown away all their joy in a foolish quarrel. They never met without saying disagreeable things to each other, and scolded each other so dreadfully that all their little fairy followers, for fear, would creep into acorn cups and hide them there.
So, instead of keeping one happy Court and dancing all night through in the moonlight as is fairies’ use, the King with his attendants wandered through one part of the wood, while the Queen with hers kept state in another. And the cause of all this trouble was a little Indian boy whom Titania had taken to be one of her followers. Oberon wanted the child to follow him and be one of his fairy knights; but the Queen would not give him up.
On this night, in a mossy moonlit glade, the King and Queen of the fairies met.
“Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania,” said the King.
“What! jealous, Oberon?” answered the Queen. “You spoil everything with your quarreling. Come, fairies, let us leave him. I am not friends with him now.”
“It rests with you to make up the quarrel,” said the King.
“Give me that little Indian boy, and I will again be your humble servant and suitor.”
“Set your mind at rest,” said the Queen. “Your whole fairy kingdom buys not that boy from me. Come, fairies.”
And she and her train rode off down the moonbeams.
“Well, go your ways,” said Oberon. “But I’ll be even with you before you leave this wood.”
Then Oberon called his favorite fairy, Puck. Puck was the spirit of mischief. He used to slip into the dairies and take the cream away, and get into the churn so that the butter would not come, and turn the beer sour, and lead people out of their way on dark nights and then laugh at them, and tumble people’s stools from under them when they were going to sit down, and upset their hot ale over their chins when they were going to drink.
“Now,” said Oberon to this little sprite, “fetch me the flower called Love-in-idleness. The juice of that little purple flower laid on the eyes of those who sleep will make them, when they wake, to love the first thing they see. I will put some of the juice of that flower on my Titania’s eyes, and when she wakes she will love the first thing she sees, were it lion, bear, or wolf, or bull, or meddling monkey, or a busy ape.”
While Puck was gone, Demetrius passed through the glade followed by poor Helena, and still she told him how she loved him and reminded him of all his promises, and still he told her that he did not and could not love her, and that his promises were nothing. Oberon was sorry for poor Helena, and when Puck returned with the flower, he bade him follow Demetrius and put some of the juice on his eyes, so that he might love Helena when he woke and looked on her, as much as she loved him. So Puck set off, and wandering through the wood found, not Demetrius, but Lysander, on whose eyes he put the juice; but when Lysander woke, he saw not his own Hermia, but Helena, who was walking through the wood looking for the cruel Demetrius; and directly he saw her he loved her and left his own lady, under the spell of the purple flower.
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