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. . . .
Lysander speaks these lines to soothe Hermia when she despairs about the difficulties facing their love, specifically, that Egeus, her father, has forbidden them to marry and that Theseus has threatened her with death if she disobeys her father (I.i.132–134). Lysander tells Hermia that as long as there has been true love, there have been seemingly insurmountable difficulties to challenge it. He goes on to list a number of these difficulties, many of which later appear in the play: differences in birth or age (“misgrafted in respect of years”) and difficulties caused by friends or “war, death, or sickness,” which make love seem “swift as a shadow, short as any dream” (I.i.137, I.i.142–144). But, as Hermia comments, lovers must persevere, treating their difficulties as a price that must be paid for romantic bliss. As such, the above lines inaugurate the play’s exploration of the theme of love’s difficulties and presage what lies ahead for Lysander and Hermia: they will face great difficulties but will persevere and ultimately arrive at a happy ending.
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