31. Theseus’s Ravishings, Marriages, and the Mysterious God Who Secretly Helped Him in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Plutarch’s Lives begins with a chapter on “The Life of Theseus,” the fabled King of Athens, describing the various legends associated with him, including his vicious habit of raping and then wedding women. Theseus also famously escaped the minotaur’s labyrinth when the Princess of Crete, Ariadne, had fallen in love with him watching him wrestle and brought him a long thread in the maze that helped him escape. Theseus’s various escapes, especially those involving women, seemed so touched by good fortune that Plutarch argued that some unknown god must have secretly favored him: “Surely methinks the philosophers did not ill-define love when they said she was a servitor of the gods…. For the love of Ariadne was in mine opinion the work of some god and a mean purposely prepared for Theseus’s safety” (41).  In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, North provides a winking response to Plutarch’s supposition, identifying Titania, Queen of the Fairies, as this god who secretly loved and helped him.

North’s PlutarchShakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  This Sinnis had a goodly fair daughter called Perigouna, which fled away… But Theseus finding her, called her, and swear by his faith he would use her gently, and do her no hurt, nor displeasure at all…(6) And the other…was ravished and carried away by Theseus  (11)  For this Historiographer calleth the Amazon which Theseus married, Hippolyta, and not Antiopa… (15) …for that he so lightly forsook his wife, Ariadne, for the love of Aegles…(16) Oberon: How canst thou thus for shame, Titania,
Glance at my credit with Hippolyta,
Knowing I know thy love to Theseus?
Didst thou not lead him through the glimmering night
From Perigouna, whom he ravished?
And make him with fair Aegle break his faith
With Ariadne and Antiopa?  (2.1.74-80)  
Theseus, Perigouna, ravished,
Hyppolyta, his faith,
Aegle, Ariadne, love

Theseus, Perigouna, ravished,
Hyppolyta, his faith,
Aegle, Ariadne, love

Notice not only Oberon’s allusions to Perigouna, Hyppolyta, Aegle and Ariadne, but his accusation that Titania was the God who loved him and came to his aid: “I know thy love to Theseus?/ Didst thou not lead him through the glimmering night?”

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