In Shakespeare’s England, parents got a kick out of choosing their children’s mate. Sometimes, parents even filed lawsuits to try to force a recalcitrant child into an arranged marriage.
Let us therefore depart to Athens and the palace of wise Theseus and his bride Hippolyta see how Shakespeare handles the questions of parents, friends, fate and state versus true love…
Brought before Theseus by her complaining father Egeus, Hermia professes a love for Lysander and not Demetrieus, her father’s choice (Let Egeus and Demetrius marry, says Lysander for they love each other more). Theseus, who is to be married in four days to his true love Hippolyta, gives Hermia these same four days to decide between a nunnery and death or Demetrius.
Exeunt all but Lysander and Hermia.
Lysander and Hermia having battled friends, family, fate and the state to consummate their marriage, engage in a verbal duel much like two swordsmen fencing for an advantage.
Here, their sparring gains no advantage, hence no touché.
Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth;
But, either it was different in blood,–
O cross! too high to be enthrall’d to low.
Or else misgraffed in respect of years,–
O spite! too old to be engaged to young.
Or else it stood upon the choice of friends,–
O hell! to choose love by another’s eyes.
Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it,
Making it momentany as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say ‘Behold!’
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.
If then true lovers have been ever cross’d,
It stands as an edict in destiny:
Then let us teach our trial patience,
Because it is a customary cross,
As due to love as thoughts and dreams and sighs,
Wishes and tears, poor fancy’s followers.
Surely, Shakespeare said it, though he didn’t write it, “It is always darkest before the dawn.” And in the light of day we see again the path that leads to love; not straight, not smooth, but true.