Usurpation in Richard II, As You Like It, Midsummer Night's Dream, and Romeo and Juliet

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Usurpation in Richard II, As You Like It, Midsummer Night's Dream, and Romeo and Juliet

In both As You Like It and Richard II, the concept of usurpation is illustrated in a political sense by a character substituting himself as ruler. However, Shakespeare employs usurpation in other contexts with characters of all different social positions. These two plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Romeo and Juliet feature several kinds of usurpation, which are significant to characterization and plot development.

The first instance of usurpation in A Midsummer Night's Dream is Demetrius saying "Yield/Thy crazed title to my certain right" (I.i.91-2). Essentially he is telling Lysander to give up his pursuit of Hermia, although Demetrius is not in a position to command Lysander. This sets the two characters against each other, and adds to the play's central conflict of whom Hermia will marry. Another kind of usurpation is shown by Egeus choosing Hermia's husband: he denies her the right to choose her husband based on love. Furthermore, Egeus endangers Hermia’s life, as Theseus declares she must marry Demetrius or die. This combination starts the plot action, causing Lysander and Hermia to flee Athens.

Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena occupying the forest exemplifies a third type, which places them in dream-like circumstances. Here, Lysander and Demetrius are forced out of character under the influence of Oberon's pansy juice. Both men fall in love with Helena, but only Lysander is given the antidote to Oberon's pansy juice: Demetrius remains in love with Helena and ultimately marries her. Thus going into the forest drastically affects Demetrius' character, as he no longer seeks to marry Hermia.

A fourth kind of usurpation involves using or agreeing upon things. Oberon employing Puck, a puccha, is an example of this. Although Oberon intends only to trick Titania, Puck's mischief dictates both the personality and the actions of several characters, most notably Titania, who falls temporarily in love with Bottom, and Demetrius, who falls and remains in love with Helena.

The kind of usurpation most present in Romeo and Juliet is the encroachment or impeding of another's rights. The first example is Capulet promising Juliet to Paris. As in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the father’s wishes contrast with the daughter’s, causing the daughter character to attempt to flee her family in hopes of escaping her arranged marriage and living with her lover. Although breaking tradition and even law by defying their fathers, these characters define themselves by choosing their husbands: they are not simply property to be sold off (with respect to the tradition of dowry).
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