Here is the first comedy of Shakespeare in which the playwright is in absolute control. The plot, which is Shakespeare's invention, brings together four stories, each of which skillfully intertwines with and reflects the others. The characters, who come from all levels of life, are sharply drawn: laughable, but sympathetic. The language is vivid, and through his poetry the playwright creates a world in which magic and marriage harmonize eloquently.
All these elements combine to dramatize several themes that pervade the comedies. We see the power of imagination in romance as well as parody of romantic convention. We see the pain suffered by women to whom men are foolish, insensitive, and even brutal. We see the self-deception to which people in love are vulnerable. We see the potential tragedy underlying comic complications about love. And we see the glory of marriage as a celebration of the cycle of fertility and affirmation of life.
Theseus and Hippolyta, characters taken from Chaucer "The Knight's Tale," bring out several of these themes in their opening tableau. They are the embodiment of an elegant couple in love; yet beneath their formal exchange lurks a tension in their relationship. From the start Theseus is impatient:
Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace. Four happy days bring in
Another moon; but O, methinks, how slow
This old moon [wanes]! She lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame, or a dowager,
Long withering out a young man's revenue.
(I, i, 1-6)
His emphasis on the moon, with its traditional connotations of "lunacy," suggests the disorder to follow as well as the potential madness that in this play characterizes love itself. In addition, the image of the changing phases of the moon intimates the changeableness of the lovers. Finally, the restlessness of his lines reflects his own frustrated energy.