Even more Theseus and Hippolyta
As the play opens with speeches of Theseus and Hippolyta, it is convenient to treat first of these two characters. …
Of the Amazon queen North says:—
- “Touching the voyage he [Theseus] made by the sea Maior, Philochorus, and some other hold opinion, that he went thither with Hercules against the Amazons, and that to honour his valiantness, Hercules gave him Antiopa the Amazon. But the more part of the other Historiographers … do write, that Theseus went thither alone, after Hercules’ voyage, and that he took this Amazon prisoner, which is likeliest to be true.”
At this point we should interpolate the reason why Hercules went against the Amazons. The ninth (as usually enumerated) of the twelve labours of Hercules was to fetch away the girdle of the queen of the Amazons, a gift from her father Ares, the god of fighting. Admete, the daughter of Eurystheus (at whose bidding the twelve labours were performed) desired this girdle, and Hercules was sent by her father to carry it off by force. The queen of the Amazons was Hippolyta, and she had a sister named Antiopa. One story says that Hercules slew Hippolyta; another that Hippolyta was enticed on board his ship by Theseus; a third, as we have seen, that Theseus married Antiopa. It is not easy to choose incidents from these conflicting accounts so as to make a reasonable sequence; but, as North says, “we are not to marvel, if the history of things so ancient, be found so diversely written.” Shakespeare simply states that Theseus “woo’d” Hippolyta “with his sword.” Later in the play we learn that the fairy King and Queen not only are acquainted with court-scandal, but are each involved with the past histories of Theseus and Hippolyta (II. i. 70-80).
Apart from these incidents in Theseus’ life, Chaucer supplies the dramatist with all he requires in the opening of The Knightes Tale, which we shall discuss in full shortly.
Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,
Once, as old histories tell us,
Ther was a duc that highte Theseus;
There was a duke who was called Theseus;
Of Atthenes he was lord and governour,
He was lord and governor of Athens,
And in his tyme swich a conquerour
And in his time such a conqueror
That gretter was ther noon under the sonne.
That there was no one greater under the sun.
Ful many a riche contree hadde he wonne;
Very many a powerful country had he won;
What with his wysdom and his chivalrie,
What with his wisdom and his chivalry,
He conquered al the regne of Femenye,
He conquered all the land of the Amazons,
That whilom was ycleped Scithia,
That once was called Scithia,
And weddede the queene Ypolita,
And wedded the queen Ypolita,
And broghte hire hoom with hym in his contree
And brought her home with him into his country
With muchel glorie and greet solempnytee,
With much glory and great ceremony,
And eek hir yonge suster Emelye.
And also her young sister Emelye.
And thus with victorie and with melodye
And thus with victory and with festivity
Lete I this noble duc to Atthenes ryde,
I leave this noble duke riding to Athens,
And al his hoost in armes hym bisyde.
And all his host in arms beside him.
And certes, if it nere to long to heere,
And certainly, if it were not too long to hear,
I wolde have toold yow fully the manere
I would have told you fully the manner
How wonnen was the regne of Femenye
How the reign of Femenye was won
By Theseus and by his chivalrye;
By Theseus and by his chivalry;
And of the grete bataille for the nones
And of the great battle at that time
Bitwixen Atthenes and Amazones;
Between Athenians and Amazons;
And how asseged was Ypolita,
And how Ypolita was besieged,
The faire, hardy queene of Scithia;
The fair, bold queen of Scithia;
And of the feste that was at hir weddynge,
And of the festivity that was at their wedding,
And of the tempest at hir hoom-comynge;
And of the storm at her home-coming;
But al that thyng I moot as now forbere.
But all that matter I must now forgo.