Essay: Midsummer Night's Dream

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Midsummer Night's Dream

How Shakespeare Portrays the Nature of Love in Midsummer Night's Dream

Love takes on many shapes in Shakespeare's comedy a Midsummer Night's Dream. At times it feels so strong and passionate that persons are willing to fight for it. At other times it feels so simplistic and misdirected that persons who "fall in love" appear foolish. One thing is certain, however, love requires imagination -- a point that Shakespeare makes over and over again in the play. But because imagination can often run away with it, love also requires some rules, some order, and above all some good will in order for it to flourish. This paper will examine all the different portrayals of the nature of love in Midsummer Night's Dream.

The first example of love comes by way of Theseus and his soon-to-be wife Hippolyta. Theseus is anxious to be married because he wants to enjoy his wife in the marital sense. He has won her in battle and now he looks to win her in his bed. She looks forward to the day just as much as he does but she urges him to be patient by reminding him that the time will "quickly" pass (1.1.8). Here, Shakespeare shows that love requires restraint if it means to stay pure and unsoiled. Theseus respects the tradition of marriage and the virtue of chastity and purity and his love for Hippolyta (and hers for him) carries with it a kind of magic -- such that the "moon" itself will look favorably upon their union (1.1.10-12). Their love is ordered and bodes well.

But then in comes Egeus. He loves his daughter Hermia, but his love is ruled too much by reason and authority and lacks compassion and understanding. He wants his daughter to marry the man he picks for her. But she loves another. Egeus will not listen to what she wants and asks Theseus to force her to marry the man Egeus has picked out to punish her with death. Egeus' love is disordered because it lacks heart. All try to sway him but he is too stubborn and will not be swayed. Theseus, in return, attempts to sway Hermia to give in to her father's demands. But she is in love with Lysander and will be with no other.

Hermia's love for Lysander is filled with the kind of magic that fills Theseus' love for Hippolyta. But whereas Theseus and Hippolyta are mature, experienced, thoughtful, and patient, Hermia and Lysander are young and passionate -- and in no position to get what they want. (Theseus had to battle the Amazons to win his bride. Lysander will have to battle the woods, the Athenian law, and himself in order to win his bride). Here, we see that love requires some struggle in order to prove itself.

Demetrius is making the attempt to prove his love for Hermia, but Hermia does not wish to accept Demetrius' love. Here is another side of love, which all four of the young lovers will experience before the play's conclusion: the rejection of love -- or love unrequited. Demetrius' love is rejected by Hermia because a) she already loves Lysander, and b) Demetrius has already professed love to Helena. Demetrius in the beginning of the play represents the false lover and experiences the fruits of false love: having removed his love from Helena, he now has nowhere to put it.

Helena is the persistent lover. She will not give up Demetrius even though he now runs from her. He has made love to her and she has given herself to him and will follow him even though he is mean to her. She means to persevere. Through Helena, Shakespeare portrays another side of love: love that will not die even when it is scorned and rejected.

All of these different sides of love are present and become mixed up once the young lovers take to the woods. In the words, however, they run into even more problems -- for the spirit world which governs the woods is having its own problems in the love department.

The fairy king Oberon is at war with the fairy queen Titania. They have fallen out because Oberon has requested a page boy from Titania that Titania does not want to give to him. She will not submit to him, so he is planning to play a trick on her that will show her how unreasonable she is being. In this portrayal, Oberon represents the head (authority, reason) and Titania the heart (she does not want to give up the page boy because she has a fond memory of his mother). Through their relationship Shakespeare explores the dynamic of love and how the head must work with the heart so as to maintain a proper, functioning love.

To win his wife back and to get the page boy that he desires for his retinue, Oberon tells Puck (a mischievous fairy that loves to pull pranks on people -- another side of love, the fun-spirited, mischievous side) to squeeze some love juice in Titania's eyes when she sleeps so that she might fall in love with the first creature she sees when she wakes. The love juice comes from one of Cupid's arrows which missed its intended target and landed instead in a bed of flowers, transferring its love potion into them. This image of love coming from Cupid's arrows suggests that a third party is involved in all cases of love: here, that third party is obviously known as Cupid. He and his arrows are what get love rolling, but clearly one must be cooperative or else the love will go nowhere.

Seeing Helenia rejected by Demetrius, Oberon tells Puck to squeeze the juice in Demetrius' eyes too so that he will be once more in love with Helena. When Puck squeezes the juice in Lysander's eyes by mistake, all sorts of problems occur. Lysander sees Helena and falls in love with her. Helena cannot believe Lysander. Hermia is upset because she has lost Lysander. And Demetrius and Lysander get into a fight and are only prevented from killing one another by Puck's intervention.

In this scene, love is portrayed as something that is fickle and easily misled. For instance, Lysander, once he is alone in the woods with Hermia, tries to take advantage of their isolation by inviting Hermia to lie beside him. He is sounding like Theseus, who is anxious to be united in the flesh to his intended. But unlike Theseus he lacks the maturity and self-restraint to uphold the virtues of chastity and purity. Hermia suspects what Lysander is up to and refuses to lie beside him. This sets up the possibility of Lysander's "wandering eye." Seeing him alone, Puck mistakes him for the stubborn Demetrius and when Lysander awakes he has forgotten his love for Hermia and now wants to love the next woman he sees, which is Helena. This portrayal of love suggests that men tend to love with their eyes rather than with their heads or with their hearts.

But the situation is not hopeless. The third party, Puck, at watchful Oberon's request, sets things right among the young lovers. Helena's petitions are heard and her request granted: Demetrius' love for her is restored. Hermia's petitions are likewise heard and granted: Lysander is restored to her. Together they leave the woods and return to society where, because they no show an ordered love, Theseus is willing to see them all married as they like.

Titania, meanwhile, falls in love with an ass -- or more precisely an actor who is literally transformed into a donkey. When she is brought back to her senses and realize how foolish she has been behaving, she forgets her antipathy for Oberon and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Midsummer Night's Dream.  (2013, June 11).  Retrieved June 15, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/midsummer-night-dream/1152963

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"Midsummer Night's Dream."  Essaytown.com.  June 11, 2013.  Accessed June 15, 2019.
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