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"Unkinde" Theseus: A Study in Renaissance Mythography

D'ORSAY W. PEARSON
English Literary Renaissance
Vol. 4, No. 2 (Spring 1974), pp. 276-298
Published by: Wiley
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43446802
Page Count: 23
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"Unkinde" Theseus: A Study in Renaissance Mythography
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Abstract

One of the most significant "myths" confronting the serious student of A Midsummer Night's Dream is that of the metamorphosed Theseus, whose medieval and Renaissance image as an unnatural, perfidious, and unfaithful lover and father overshadowed his military or political reputation. The classical, medieval, and Renaissance sources available to Shakespeare stress Theseus' extreme sensuality as well as his lack of paternal devotion. Shakespeare seems to have anticipated audience awareness of Theseus' reputation as a part of the response he expected for MND, beginning with Theseus' opening speech, which uses images of ingratitude to portray his eagerness for marriage, moves to his lack of compassion for the plight of Hermia and Lysander, and on to his neglect of state affairs. Even his abrupt and unmotivated shift to compassion at the end of the play takes on a strong ironic dimension because of his previous actions and his legendary reputation as perfidious lover and cruel father.

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