Theseus Quotes

More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold:
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination
That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy.
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear?

– William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1. Theseus’ speech on the imagination, made at his wedding feast, is one of the most widely quoted speeches from the play. The lovers have told their strange story of what happened in the woods the previous night to the Duke and Hippolyta. But Theseus believes that it is entirely a fantasy, and not rooted in reality. He equates lovers to madmen and poets, saying that each is ruled by a fantastical imagination. The madman sees devils everywhere. The lover can see the beauty of Helen of Troy in somebody unattractive. The poet conjures up connections between heavenly and earthly things and makes the unreal appear real. It is very easy to confuse a bush with a bear at night, Theseus points out.
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