A Midsummer Night's Dream Act 1, Scene 1: "Athens, A hall in the palace of Theseus"
On the eve of their "nuptial hour," Act 1, Scene 1, line 1 Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, his wife-to-be and recently conquered queen of the Amazons, are interrupted by a frantic plea from one of the royal men of Athens, Egeus. As the two royals romantically discuss their warrior courtship and future life together, Egeus comes before the throne of Theseus, begging for help with his only daughter, Hermia. Hermia is in love with young Lysander. Problems arise because Egeus has given marriage consent to Lysander's friend, Demetrius. Demetrius, Lysander, Hermia, and Egeus bow before Theseus and Hippolyta asking for aid in this love-struck time of turmoil, still delaying the royal Athenian wedding. Egeus claims that Lysander has "with cunning...filched my daughter's heart,/ Turned her obedience, which is due to me,/ To stubborn harshness" Act 1, Scene 1, lines 36-38. Hermia defends her love with Lysander to her father, Theseus, and Hippolyta. Theseus listens to both father and daughter, but ultimately states that Hermia will "either...die the death or to abjure/ Forever the society of men" Act 1, Scene 1, lines 65-66. In accordance with Egeus, Theseus declares his plea Athenian law, and Hermia must either marry Demetrius, die, or become a nun.
Lysander reminds Demetrius of Helena, who is in love with Demetrius and "devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,/ Upon this spotted and inconstant man" Act 1, Scene 1, lines 109-110. This notice brings the supposed fickle nature of Demetrius into question and also introduces Helena, an old friend and soon-to-be nemesis of Hermia. Theseus warns Hermia to think about her decision before he leaves with Hippolyta, Egeus, and Demetrius.
The young lovers, Lysander and Hermia, are left alone as they poetically speak of their troubled lives. Lysander tells her that "the course of true love never did run smooth" Act 1, Scene 1, line 134 and begins a rather indulgent scene of self-pity. Their conversation continues and Lysander tells Hermia of his plot. He has an aunt who lives far from Athens, and the two will steal away into the woods that night and elope near his aunt. Hermia enthusiastically agrees.
Helena enters, interrupting the scheming couple. She is jealous of Hermia's hold over Demetrius, for she loves him deeply. She also yearns to have Hermia's looks, voice, and disposition, for she believes Demetrius would love her if she were more like Hermia. The two women, once friends, talk of how Helena wants Demetrius and Hermia wants nothing to do with him. Hermia cries "The more I hate, the more he follows me," Act 1, Scene 1, lines 198-199 while Helena wails "The more I love, the more he hateth me" Act 1, Scene 1, line 199. Lysander and Hermia tell Helena of their plot to escape to the woods and marry, against her father's wishes and Athenian law. They excite her by saying that Demetrius will dote on her, just as she dotes on him. As the two lovers exit, Helena is left onstage alone with her conniving thoughts. She blames Hermia's beauty for luring her sweet Demetrius away and remembers that "through Athens I am thought as fair as she" Act 1, Scene 1, line 227. Helena plans to tell Demetrius of their flight. She thinks he will follow them into the woods. She will follow him and regain her beloved man.