On the surface, Shakespeare’s play, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, appears to be a light hearted comedy suffused with the world of poetry and imagination. Nonetheless, there is a more serious issue at the heart of the play, Shakespeare’s viewpoints on the many guises of love. In the play, we encounter passionate love, unrequited love, blind and ‘doting’ love and an indication of what true love may be. In this assignment I will be looking at the aspects of love interact with each other. It is not coincidental that the play has four sets of lovers.
Two of the couples are mature while two of the couples are young and setting out on their way to find loving and lasting relationships. It is no coincidence therefore that the play begins with Theseus and Hippolyta. They are about to become man and wife. During the course of the play, theirs is the only relationship, which remains intact. As the play progresses we come to understand the quality of their love for each other. In them Shakespeare is trying to demonstrate two people who actually understand love. This is shown by the fact that they purposefully wait for the ‘new moon’ to get married, instead of rushing into things.
The ‘new moon is seen as a new phase. They are saying that they do not wish to rush their nuptial pleasure. Theseus demonstrates his reason and wisdom in the way he deals with Egeus’s passionate outpourings. When Egeus is complaining to Theseus about Hermia’s love for Lysander, Theseus says to Hermia, ‘Take time to pause’. At this point he is giving Hermia the opportunity to use reason to come to a conclusion about her predicament. The words are also directed at the other men, who simply full of passion, and ‘blind’ to common sense. He can see that Egeus is not using reason, and is simply being tempestuous.
He is governed by his passion, and therefore cannot rationalise the situation. This can also be said of Lysander and Demetrius. Indeed, he takes Demetrius and Egeus out with him, and says ‘I have some private schooling for you both’. Here Theseus is suggesting the Egeus and Demetrius are in the wrong because he uses the word ‘schooling’, which means he’s going to teach them something. Also, he leaves Lysander with Hermia, which implies he wants them to be with each other. Theseus is the model of reason. He recognises that he won Hippolyta in battle, but he still wishes to win her affection properly.
I wooed thee with my sword, And thy love doing injuries thee injuries, But I will wed thee in another key’. Here, Theseus is saying that although he realises that he did not win Hippolyta’s heart, in the conventional sense of the word, he will marry her in the name of love and affection. In stark contrast to the rulers of Shakespeare’s mortal world, we see the relationship of Oberon and Titania. Some regard their ‘dissension’ as the fulcrum of the play. In particular, Oberon’s actions throughout the play help us to understand more acutely, the varied forms of love experienced by the young lovers.
Unlike Theseus and Hippolyta, who wish to further their love by getting married, Oberon and Titania seem to be on the brink of splitting up. The argument is over a changeling boy, who has come into Titania possession, and Oberon wants it. Oberon has no real claim to the boy, so he has no reason to ask for it. In Oberon and Titania’s argument, act two scene one, they seem to have very different mentalities. On one hand, Oberon is being very unforgiving and obstinate, while Titania is doing her best to be reasonable. She reminds him of the ways in which the mortal world suffers for there schism.
The folds stand empty in the drowned field, And the crows are fattened with the murrion flock’ Here Titania is trying to point out that their quarrelling, is having an adverse effect on the mortal world. Here Hippolyta is saying that the grazing pastures have flooded, and the crows are feeding on the dead sheep. In fact she later goes on to say that the seasons in the mortal world have all changed around. ‘and the mazed world, By their increase, now knows not which is which’. Here Titania is saying that now the seasons do not which is which. The world has turned topsy-turvy. Disorder reigns and harmony seems distant.
She realises that it is their ‘dissension’, as she later puts it, which is tearing apart the human world. To this, Oberon says, ‘Do you amend it then, it lies in you’. Oberon is acting like a petulant child here. He is blaming all of this on Titania just because she will not give him a child, which actually she has more of a right to. This is very similar to Egeus’ actions and motives, because he is forcing Hermia to marry Demetrius, just because it was his whim. He is shocked when she refuses, and threatens to send her to a nunnery, but actually she has every right to choose who she wants to marry.
Titania refuses to give Oberon the boy, and leaves in order to avoid a worst argument. We feel sympathy for Titania, because she obviously has more right to the child. However, she is partly to blame, because she is not willing to at least compromise with Oberon. When Titania exits, Oberon says, ‘Thou shalt not from this grove. Till I torment thee for this injury’ Here Oberon is full of revenge and anger towards Titania. He is ‘blind’ his true feelings towards Titania, and follows the path of revenge to get what he wants. He then allies himself with Puck, and brings out the darker side in him.
Shakespeare is suggesting that forgiveness is the better route to take, and revenge will only bring out the darker side on you. There is parallel between the way Oberon acts, and the way Demetrius behaves towards Helena. Demetrius is blind to whom he really loves, Helena. Helena’s soliloquy at the end of act one scene one, sums this up. ‘And as he errs, doting on Hermia’s eyes’. Helena is saying that Demetrius’s eyes have fallen I love with Hermia and not his heart. This theme of ‘doting’ is a regular part of the play. She says he ‘errs’, which means that he has made a mistake.
Demetrius is angry with Helena for pursuing him, because he is of the opinion that he has no feelings for Helena, and that he really loves Hermia. However, it is just ‘dotage’ that he feels for Hermia. Helena, like Titania, is reasonable to begin with in trying to win Demetrius’s affection’s. However, we later see how love can humiliate or embarrass somebody when they become over indulgent. Helena debases herself when she is pleading with Demetrius to take her back. She is so desperate for Demetrius’s love, that she says she will be her dog. ‘Use me but as spaniel, spurn me, strike me, Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave’
Here, Helena is so in love with Demetrius, that she is willing to let him do anything to her, just so she be with him. This shows how love will drive people to extreme measures, just so they can be with the person they love. To Helena’s desperate plea, Demetrius says to her, ‘Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit’. This shows how much Demetrius badly he treats Helena, because he is actually considering her harm. He also later says that he will hurt her physically if she persists in following him, which shows his contempt for Helena at this point in the play
However, through all of this, Helena maintains her love for Demetrius, because she knows that they are meant for each other, and it is just his eyes that are fooling him into thinking he is love with Hermia. Unlike the men in the play who ‘break’ their promises, she is willing to keep hers. This fickleness in loving affairs becomes patently obvious as the play continues. It is not purely for the sake of humour that Lysander’s vision becomes tainted ‘with the love juice’. Essentially, when he wakes up and falls for Helena, we sit it as the mirror image of what Demetrius has done. As he leaves the sleeping Hermia he promises, all my powers your love and might, To honour Helen and be her knight’. In an instant he has switched sides. He now wishes to champion Helena. His passion for her becomes so deep that when challenged by Hermia later in the play about their love, he proclaims, ‘Thy love? Our tawny Tartar, out! Out, loathed medicine! O hated poison, hence! These outpourings of hatred, directed towards Hermia, has echoes of the way Demetrius has treated Helena. Shakespeare has used this love potion as device to demonstrate the way in which men can fall in out of love like the changing of the seasons.
However, both Helena and Hermia stay true to their men throughout the play, which suggests that Shakespeare believes that men are more unfaithful when it comes to love than women. Hermia hints at this earlier in the play, when she says’ ‘By all the vows that men have ever broke, In number more than ever women spoke’ Hermia is saying here that men have broken more promises than women have ever made, which reinforces Shakespeare’s implication that men more capricious when it comes to love. Oberon’s dealings with the lovers, allows him to start using reason, instead of being completely passionate.
He is gradually getting his sight back, when before he was blind. He sees the chaos that the lovers are in, and works against time to. He says to Puck, ‘About the wood go swifter than the wind’, this shows his urgency of rectifying the situation, because he is telling Puck to go ‘swifter than the wind’. By solving the lover’s problems, he comes to realize that his own situation, with Titania must be rehabilitated. When he sees Titania with Bottom, he says to Puck, ‘Her dotage now I do begin to pity’. This is a sort of self-realization on Oberon’s behalf, even though he is too proud to admit it.
He also chooses to ‘ask’ Titania for the changeling instead of ‘demanding’ it. This shows Oberon’s rehabilitation. In a clever piece of staging, Shakespeare produces an incongruous vision for Oberon, his love, Titania, fondling the ears of an ass. Titania says to bottom, ‘How I love thee, how I dote on thee’. This is very ironic because she is actually doting on him, because she has the love juice in her eyes. This sight is so inappropriate, that Oberon now becomes more forgiving. This is similar to the two testaments of the bible.
The Old Testament tells of ‘an eye for an eye’, while the New Testament was focused on ‘turning the other cheek’. When Titania has the love potion taken off her, she says of Bottom, ‘O, how my eyes do loathe his visage’. This reinforces the idea of dotage, because only a moment earlier, she was calling Bottom ‘her sweet love’. The Queen and King of the Fairies are united, and the world is restored to order. As Oberon regains his sight, we once again see the parallel with Demetrius. When Theseus and Hippolyta find the lovers in the forest, and Egeus demands Lysander to be dealt with, Demetrius steps in and says, my love for Hermia Melted as the snow, seems to me now the remembrance of an idle gaud, Which in my childhood I did dote upon’ By saying ‘an idle gaud’ from his ‘childhood’, he recognises that his love for Hermia was immature and useless.
Also, he uses the word ‘dote’, which shows that he now knows that his love for Hermia was purely with his eyes. Demetrius later says, ‘To her my lord, Was I betrothed ere I saw Hermia; But, like a sickness, did I loathe this food; But as in health, come to my natural taste’ Demetrius realises that when he was doting on Hermia, he ‘blind’ to his natural’ taste, and so he hated her. Shakespeare is trying to say that when we fall in love with our eyes, we are blind to who we really love. The final scene may appear to be just a humorous and fitting way to round off the play, but there is actually more to it than what is on the surface. In the last scene, all four tiers of society are present for the wedding. King and Queen, the courtiers, the artisans, and the fairies. This shows harmony, which is the basis of al love. The play within a play allows the lovers to laugh at themselves, because they were very similar to this at the beginning of the play.
The outcome of the play shows what happens when love is blind, because Pyramus and Thisby both end up dieing for there love when if they had only used reason, they could of both survived. In conclusion, I believe Shakespeare is saying that love needs a balance of things to work properly. Theseus and Hippolyta are the only ones who have this, and their love is continuous throughout the play. The lovers and the fairy king and queen have this at the end of the play, but they do not at the beginning, their love suffers for it.