Do You Pay Attention To Hippolyta?

Another day, another Shakespeare discussion between Bardfilm and I. I’d found a Shakespeare lesson that asked, “How is Hippolyta’s reasoning concerning how quickly the next four days will pass different from that of Theseus?” and I was about to rip that lesson plan a new one about asking such stupid questions that focus the student’s attention on the minor details that do nothing but prove they read it, rather than appreciating the play as a whole.

“No, that’s a good question,” Bardfilm argued, “It involves interpretation of Hippolyta’s character and how to understand her relationship with Theseus—and whether it changes over the course of the play.” (I’m sure he won’t mind me quoting him here).

He goes on to discuss how a powerful statement can be made here. You’re starting with a prisoner of war being forced to marry someone unwillingly (he’s seen a production that involved bringing in Hippolyta in a cage!). Then you double Titania/Hippolyta, go on about the play, then return to a “softened” Hippolyta.

Now, I understand the “Every word Shakespeare wrote was important and he put it there for a reason, so find depth in it” school.  So I totally understand that you can find a powerful interpretation of Hippolyta’s transformation in what few lines she has. What I’m wondering is whether the audience, in general, cares? If I started polling audiences coming out of Midsummer, asking what parts they liked most, how many would pick anything about Theseus/Hippolyta at all? If I started asking “What did you think about Oberon? Bottom?  Hippolyta?” how many would say, “Wait, which one was Hippolyta?”

I’m just being realistic. She’s at the beginning of the play for a couple of lines, then at the end where most of her lines, like everybody else’s, involve heckling the mechanicals. Is it a stretch to go making powerful statements in what little material she has? Is it asking too much for the typical audience to get it at that level?

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3 thoughts on “Do You Pay Attention To Hippolyta?

  1. well, i'd say you're both right. hippolyta probably isn't one of the characters that a typical audience member or reader would focus on, but here at Shakespeare Geek, don't we want to encourage people to go beyond the typical?

    (i assume that wasn't the only nor the first question being asked.)

    also, midsummer portrays a lot of different situations of love and marriage, and hippolyta and theseus are an interesting part of that. (so maybe a question along those lines might be better, but it's in that same ballpark.)

  2. Hippolyta's comment is important because she is the High Priestess of the moon goddess Diana. It is her job to correctly observe time and the phases of the moon.

    Time and correct order of the seasons (and other things) is a theme that comes up repeatedly in the play.

    Theseus and Hippolyta are discussing the nature of time and how our perception of it changes based on how we feel.

    In act 5 they playfully revive this discussion during the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe. However they have eached reversed their earlier opinions and have learned to understand each other better – making for a satisfying conclusion to the discussion.

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