EXPLORE SHAKESPEARS PRESENTATION OF LOVE IN “A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM” The following essay will explore Shakespeare’s interpretation of love informing on language, characters and symbols Shakespeare uses to display the various themes linked to love. Discussing themes of control, jealousy, insanity, fickleness and the platonic love found within the characters of ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’. The theme of love is used throughout the play and portrayed in the reality of Athens by day and the dreamlike imagery of the woods by night.
Shakespeare presents the woods as an alternative place to the real world, the insanity of the woods questions what love is for the characters involved. The woods become the magical playground for Puck, the mischievous fairy, invisible to the human eye, to manipulate the famous quote of Lysander “the course of true love never did run smooth” (i,i,134). The play is set in Athens a place of rules and rigid parents, during the renaissance of the Elizabethan era, when society was patriarchal.
Women had to marry to gain status and marriages became based on appearance and social hierarchy rather then love. Women were dominated by men and seldom had opinions. Elizabethans believed it was dangerous to let reason be dominated by passion. Control is a common way people abuse the concept of love, Shakespeare gets this message across through various characters in a midsummer nights dream.
Control is first seen at the beginning of the play when the duke of Athens; Thesus demands that Hermia, the daughter of Egeus is to marry Demitrius not her true love Lysander. Egeus states “stand forth Demetrius! – My noble lord, “This man hath my consent to marry her. ”(i,i,24-25). The display of control and male dominancy shows the hierarchy of the men in the Elizabethan era. Women were forced and obligated to do as men say, and there roles were determined by the powers that be as Theseus states to young Hermia “To you your father should be as god. (i,i,47). The result of this control leads Hermia and Lysander to give into there passion and for love elope to the woods come nightfall. Shakespeare demonstrates Hermia’s true love for Lysander in act 1 using the symbol of a dove to describe her feelings for Lysander, speaking in rhyming couplets she states “By the simplicity of Venus’ doves, By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves”. (i,i,171-172). However the rules do not change and regardless of her strong protest to the marriage she will have to make a choice.
The result of this disobedience could be devastating for Hermia risking her life at the hands of her father to be with the man she loves, a view shared by critic Gale Edwards where she states “Little girl are completely at the disposal of their fathers and can be killed if they don’t agree with their father’s intentions for their marriage” (Edwards, 2004). This clearly shows the true irrationality that love creates as Hermia is prepared to die for the love of Lysander.
Control is also portrayed in the enchanted world of the woods through the personality of Oberon the king of fairies a jealous dictator, when his fairy queen Titania remarkably disobeys his orders to handover the child she is caring for. Titania’s actions prompt Oberon to obtain, with the help of his sidekick Puck a ‘love in idleness’ flower he states “Fetch me this herb, and be thou here again” (ii,i,173), the juice is magic enough that once applied to the eyes whilst sleeping, it proceeds to alter the love of the beholder for the first thing It sees.
Oberon uses this in his bid to gain back control of his wife and make a mockery of her. The love juice becomes a vital influence for Oberon to discredit his wife and he constructs a plan with Puck to make her fall in love with an ass. Shakespeare uses the character of Oberon when he controls the love of Demetrius and unwittingly Lysander. Speaking now in blank verse to establish authority Oberon tells of the vile plan stating “Having once this juice I’ll watch Titania when she is asleep, And drop the liquor of it in her eyes:” (ii,i,176-178).
Shakespeare displays jealousy again at the beginning of the play with the love triangle of Helena, Demetrius and Hermia. When Demitrius’ declaration of love for Hermia leaves Helena feeling invaluable and insecure about herself, Shakespeare emphasizes Helena’s feeling of jealousy through the use of rhyming couplets an example of this can be found in act 1 where Helena states “Call you me fair? That ‘fair’ again unsay”. Demetrius loves your fair: O happy fair! Your eyes are lodestars, and your tongues sweet air (i,i,181-183).
This jealousy forces Helena to tell Demetrius of the two lovers plan to elope at moonlight to the enchanted woods, Demetrius follows the lovers to the woods with a desperate Helena in a pathetic pursuit behind. Shakespeare highlights the desperation Helena has for the love of Demetrius in act 3 when she says to Hermia “I told him of your stealth unto this wood. He followed you; for love I followed him. ”(iii,ii,310-311). Once in the woods everything changes for the four lovers emotions are mixed up and the identities of the lovers change.
Helena’s degrading chase for Demetrius to the woods is stressed in act 2 when in a desperate attempt to win Demetrius she lowers herself to an animal, using a metaphor Helena begs “I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius, The more you beat me I will fawn on you. ” (ii,i,203-204). Shakespeare again puts across the irrational actions that love can reduce people to do. Before long Helena is deserted by Demetrius and left open to the element of the mystical woods.
Its here that Shakespeare uses a soliloquy for Helena when she awakes, speaking in rhyming couplets Helena reveals all her insecurities, illustrated by a simile and talk of beasts in act 2 she exclaims “ No, no, I am as ugly as a bear, For beasts that meet me run away for fear. ” (ii,ii,100-101). Another form of love that Shakespeare touches on is the Platonic love this is demonstrated in four of the characters the first pair being Oberon and Puck evidence of their love is within the language, they speak in rhyming couplets when speaking to each other, a form of language used to signify love and affection between the characters.
The relationship between the two is more apparent then the love for his wife. Shakespeare creates a close bond almost brotherly with the couple The second pair of characters to share a platonic relationship is the female lovers Helena and Hermia again through language Shakespeare intensifies their closeness using metaphors this is seen in act 3 of the play when Helena and Hermia have a quarrel leading Helena to describes there life long friendship as “Two lovely berries moulded on one stem” (iii,ii,211). Shakespeare changes the language using blank prose to display anger towards the explosive relationship of female lovers.
It is this point in the play that Shakespeare shows the chaos created by the love juice with Oberon and Titanias dispute happening along side the lovers quarrel, the woods becomes a symbol of dreamy fantasy; support for this is agreed by critic Ruth Padel who describes the woods like so; “It is a dark, confusing place, a fairy tale tangle of magic, danger and often sexuality” (Padel, N/A). Shakespeare reveals the fickle nature of young love when the course of true love is again interrupted in act 3. The insanity of the woods destroys the friendship of the four lovers making them uestion everything and everyone. Support for this is seen when Puck under the orders of Oberon, drugs Lysander who at hermia’s request is sleeping a distance away for her is mistaken for Demetrius. Once awake, Lysander lays eyes on Helena, falling instantly in love he leaves Hermia and goes in pursuit of his new love. To correct the mistake the mischievous Puck uses the love juice on Demetrius’ eyes. This also leads Demetrius to wake and love Helena not Hermia. Speaking in rhyming couplets to show his affections Demetrius declares “O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!
To what, my love, shall I compare thine eyne? ” (iii,ii,137-138). This declaration from Demetrius shows that the men are unsure of their love proposals causing confusion in the woods for the female lovers. Helena believes she is been made a mockery off and her masculine traits surface when she stands up for herself were she exclaims “O spite! O Hell! I see you all are bent To set against me for you merriment. ” (iii,ii,145-146). A victim of Lysander and his fickle love, the young Hermia awakes alone in the woods with a lingering fear of a serpent from her dream.
This scene is the darkest element of the play with the serpent representing a sexual dream. Freud would suggest this dream was suppressed sexual manifestations revealing themselves through the imagery of the serpent, relating this back to childhood during the Oedipus complex when the Super-ego develops a socially acceptable sexual role. Freud traced forms of behavior such as competitive rivalry back to this stage. (Wright, 1989). On sunrise the insanity of the woods by night is gone and the young lovers wake on hearing the wind horns of Theseus and Hippolyta.
The course of true love has been restored but alarmingly they seem to have no recollection of how they got there. Lysander quotes “Half sleep, half waking; but as yet, I swear, I cannot truly say how I came here. ” (iv,i,144-145). It seems that the lovers are unsure of reality and feel like they are trapped in a dream. However the lovers convince Theseus of their choices in marriage and are blessed. The lovers are invited to share the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta in Athens. Shakespeare uses the complications of love to entertain throughout the play.
The insanity of love led the lovers to do things that otherwise they might not have done such as Hermia’s choice to die for love. This is mirrored in, the play ‘within’ the play titled ‘Thisbe and Pyramus’ performed to the newly weds on there special day. Shakespeare created conflict and rivalry between the characters in a bid to divulge the behaviours associated with love. Control from Theseus led the young lovers to the mystical playground of the woods enabling Puck and the controlling Oberon, to subject them to chaos.