“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s many masterpieces. All of Shakespeare’s plays have similar themes such as love, discord and harmony, age and youth, mythology, magic and the natural world. An introduction to the major themes of the play can be recognised in the opening scene and it is these themes that make the play interesting for both the actor and the audience.
Most of Shakespeare’s plays are, in one way or another, concerned with love and the problems associated with it. There are many different aspects of love: Unrequited, romantic, destructive and possessive are examples of these. Love is certainly an emotion, but the play suggests that the emotion should be balanced by reason or it could lead to lack of self-respect and loathing, therefore destructive love.
Theseus and Hippolyta have a sense of mature love, although passionate it is a bond between sensible, mature adults. Theseus sees himself as somewhat of a romantic and a passionate man, which is illustrated by his impatience for his wedding with Hippolyta. The list of his previous lovers also clearly shows this side of his character. His passionate side can be seen when he says: “She lingers my desires.”
This is demonstrating his lust for Hippolyta. There is also a sense of conquest and possession over Hippolyta illustrated by when Theseus declares: ‘I wooed thee with my sword, / And won thy love doing thee injuries’
Compared to Theseus, Hippolyta represents a more mature form of love than the impulsive, youthful romanticism of the four lovers, however she is more reconciled to waiting for the wedding day then Theseus is.
Another type of love is possessive love and the character that portrays this the most is Egeus, father of Hermia. Egeus is very narrow-minded and has an authoritarian view of his position as a father, and he expects, like many fathers of the time, complete obedience from his daughter. Egeus neither respects nor admires Lysander and he wishes for Hermia to marry Demetrius. There are two quotes in the opening scene that clearly shows this: ‘I beg the ancient privilege of Athens, / As she is mine, I may dispose of her.’ And ‘… she is mine, and all my right of her.’
The four lovers represent a more romantic, volatile and passionate side of love to that we see in Theseus and Hippolyta. Certain characteristics are shared between the four; the girls being both romantic and the men are both the victims of an illusion of love and they both speak in a similarly romantic way. Love is powerful according to Helena, and she thinks it can transpose the grotesque into the beautiful: ‘Things base and vile, holding no quantity, / Love can transpose to form and dignity.’
The power that love has can also be seen from Helena in her rhyming couplet, where Helena is blinded by love because love has an imaginative quality where the eyes are the cold clear reason: ‘Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, / And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.’
In the opening scene there are many references to Cupid, meaning desire in Latin. Cupid in Roman mythology was the son of Venus, goddess of love. His counterpart in Greek mythology was Eros, god of love. The relationship between the first scene and Cupid is that it is telling the audience that love is to be expected during the course of the play.
Unrequited love is another form of love that plays a part in the first scene. Helena experiences this the most with her responses from Demetrius; she realises that the love she feels for him cannot be returned and this is illustrated in the stichomythia between Hermia and Helena: ‘The more I love the more he hateth me’
This type of love can lead to low self-esteem and self-respect.
Another theme connected to the opening scene of the play is law and order. Theseus is a symbol of both age and order, however his status as the upholder of law puts him into a difficult position. While he is prepared to spare Hermia from death he is not prepared to set aside her fathers rights. In the play Theseus is presented as a good example of a good sixteenth century ruler because he is strong, heroic and aware of his responsibility for maintaining good order and upholding the law; he is also thoughtful when making decisions. He needed to be authoritative when explaining the consequences of not marrying Demetrius to Hermia and we can see this through the following quotations:
‘Either to die the death or to abjure.’
‘Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would,
Or on Diana’s alter to protest
For aye austerity and single life.’
Theseus also uses the law as a threat towards Hermia, again showing his authority. ‘Or else the law of Athens yields you up.’
Hermia and Lysander arrange to meet in the woods. In the opening chapter the woods are seen as a place of escape, away from the Athenian laws that prevent the couple from being together. This can be illustrated by the quotation: ‘…And to that place the sharp Athenian law / Cannot pursue us’
The woods theme is developed further in later chapters becoming more important as the play progresses.
All the themes in “A Midsummer Night’s dream” develop, becoming more complicated, more obvious or more meaningful. The major theme of the play is love and the emotions that you get from love. Love is very powerful due to that you cannot help whom you love, but when it is unrequited it can lead to destructive love and loathing. The first chapter introduces us to some of the main themes of the play and it is these themes that make the play interesting for both the actor and the audience.