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What does Hippolyta mean in this speech from Act V Scene I of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

But all the story of the night told over,
And all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy’s images
And grows to something of great constancy,
But, howsoever, strange and admirable.

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This is Hippolyta commenting on the activity in the play itself.

Because this site prefers citations and not freelance interpretations, here is one such interpreration (or condensation) from No Fear Shakespeare:

Hippolyta: But the story that these lovers are telling, and the fact that they all saw and heard exactly the same things, make me think there’s more going on here than imaginary fantasies. Their story is bizarre and astounding, but it’s solid and consistent.

Personally, I think there is more to the notion of "fancy's images" than that they are merely "imaginary fantasies." The whole play is brilliantly predicated on the dichotomy (somewhat blurred) between what is real and what is imagination, and it ultimately seems to suggest that if a bizarre figment of the imagination appears to be real, what's the difference? The imagination is the true magic.

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Act V, scene 1 begins when Theseus and Hyppolita have heard the story of Demetrius, Helena, Lysander and Hermia. Hyppolita's words are a response to Theseus, who doesn't believe the story and compares the stories told by the lovers to the imaginings of madmen and poets ("The lunatic, the lover and the poet / Are of imagination all compact", i.e. they all have the same imagination).

Hyppolita's words can be paraphrased as follows:

But when the story of last night is told in full,
and [we see that] the minds/imaginings of the four of them are all "transformed" in the same way,
this testifies to more than just the creation of the imagination,
and [what they say] grows to something more true or permanent,
albeit something strange and to be wondered at.

A few additional notes:

  • "something [of great constancy]" contrasts with "airy nothing" in Theseus' words. (Chaudhuri)
  • "constancy" does not only suggest "something permanent and therefore true" but also "that the lovers' relationships have progressed beyond 'fancy' or casual attraction to firm love". (Chaudhuri)
  • "[T]he word 'constancy' also means 'fidelity' and refers to the newfound steadfastness of loved confirmed in marriage." (R. A. Foakes)

Sources:

  • Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri. The Arden Shakespeare, Third Series. Bloomsbury, 2017.
  • Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Edited by R. A. Foakes. The Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge University Press, 1984.
  • Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Edited by Stanley Wells. The New Penguin Shakespeare. Penguin, 1995.

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