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For the past hundreds and thousands of years, love has made its way from stone tablets to history books. It has helped many people, but it has also crushed many dreams. So, has the course of love always run smooth? A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written by Shakespeare demonstrates a very negative and pessimistic view of love by treating it as changeable, and subject to external manipulation. So is love portrayed negatively? Or is there a deeper meaning Shakespeare is trying to imply?
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is important to try and recognize not what play means, but rather how Shakespeare depicts the theme of love. Shakespeare illustrates and initiates the romantic disorder in the balance of love through the love knot that exists between the four young Athenians. Hermia, an Athenian woman is involved in a love knot with Demetrius and Lysander, who both ultimately desire her marriage. Demetrius who has gained the approval of Hermia’s father wishes to marry her; however Lysander has Hermia’s true approval and lacks the approval of her father. While both these men long to be with Hermia, Helena, Hermia’s childhood friend is angry because her beloved Demetrius has fallen in love with another woman. The theme of true love is then disturbed when Theseus, the Duke of Athens states “For you, fair Hermia, look you arm yourself â€¦ To death, or to vow of single life” (I.I.117-121). This scene describes how the Athenian law enforces the traditions of arranged marriages from their parents. It is important to realize that these arranged marriages do in fact cause conflicts ranging from ‘parent and child’, ‘friend and friend’ and ‘young couples’. Pessimistic views of love depicted by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are very obvious with these young Athenians couples. Lysander, who speaks, “The course of true love never did run smoothâ€¦ choose love by another’s eyes” (I.I.134-140) knows very well how the Athenian law can affect the love between him and Hermia. Shakespeare describes all the reasons where love can go wrong, whether it would be the ranks in society, the difference in ages, the choice of friends etc. When looking further into the play, Helena is very troubled that Demetrius is in love with Hermia even though Helena is considered as fair as she is in Athens. Helena argues that Demetrius is able to see the beauty in Hermia, but not herself. A very important quote she says is, “Things, base and vile, holding no quantity, love can transpose to form and dignity”(I.I.232-233). Helena articulates these lines when she mentions the irrational nature of love. These lines are in fact very important because throughout the whole play, the staging of love can be described as unpredictable, incomprehensible, and surprisingly influential. Distraught, Helena continues her speech about love. “Love looks not with eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind”(I.I.234-235). When analyzing these lines, Helena believes that love is very powerful and that even ugliness and appalling manners can seem attractive to someone in love.
The interpretation of pessimistic love doesn’t only appear within the four young Athenians. Moving up the chain of being, above mankind is the supernatural. In the supernatural state, fairies are anything but fiction. Titania and Oberon are the king and queen in the supernatural world. The fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream further demonstrate love being out of balance. In the beginning of Act 2, it talks about Oberon being jealous of Titania because she has a lovely boy, as one of her friend’s legacy. Oberon decides to try and ask her for the kid, but then they break out into an argument. Oberon accuses Titania for loving Theseus and Titania accuses Oberon for loving Hippolyta. Angered, Titania says, “These are the forgeries of jealousy” (II.I.81). Jealousy is very common and it tends to hinder every relationship. In this case, Oberon was jealous that Titania had a child. Jealousy can appear in relationships if the other partner is spending a lot of time with another person, sharing experiences with another person, or even keeping secrets with another person. Once again, in the chain of being, if one level of the chain collapses, the others are also affected. The higher up the link which is affected, the more severe the consequences will be for the full chain. Since Oberon and Titania are falling apart, as the highest chain in the chain of being, the human world is thrown into chaos as well. Although the supernatural and magical world have caused the human world a lot of trouble, the eventual solution to the love quarrel between the young Athenian lovers occurs only by means of magic. Oberon’s use of the love potion to interrupt the affairs of humans greatly disturbs the love equilibrium. The use of this catalyst further explains the fact that each of the four Athenian lovers will not deduce their own problems, but depend on an outside force to resolve the love tangle. When comparing to the modern world, situations like this are very widespread. In this case, the fiddling of the love potion by Oberon is like a friend who participates inside another’s love circle. When there are relationship problems with couples of all ages, they depend on their friends, marriage therapists, or even their parents. Sometimes asking for assistance can greatly improve the situation, or even worsen it. This is relative to Oberon’s love potion. Oberon’s love potion may have resulted in a stable equilibrium, but it has caused many problems for the human world. The imbalance in love described in this play is still visible in the world today. Not everyone possesses the heart of the one they love. Even though some are fortunate to find love and to receive the love back, there are still plenty of people who don’t receive the same feelings of love as they feel towards a certain person.
Last but not least, the theme of love in A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be described as pessimistic during the quarrel in the forest. Shakespeare uses contrast often throughout his play. The three main groups of characters (fairy, man, actor) are all vastly different in style, behavior, arrangement, and their respective plotlines. It is by incorporating all these characters in a single scene in act 3 that the display of contrast becomes most evident. As the plot progresses, love is thrown out of balance and is in its most turbulent state. By recalling the events: Egeus’ rejection of marriage, Demetrius and Lysander’s love chase, Helena’s sorrow and anger, Oberon and Tatiana’s quarrel, it is very apparent that these events are more discouraging than encouraging. As the four young Athenians enter the forest, Puck’s enchantment causes both Demetrius and Lysander to fall in deep infatuation with Helena. Unaware of the situation, both Helena and Hermia almost start fighting due to their physical insecurities. Helena, thinking that Lysander and Demetrius are mocking her, remains angry and hurt. Hermia, thinking Helena stole her love’s heart through her tall stature becomes very angry. Both men agree each other’s love for Helena are legitimate, however Helena refuses to believe either one of them. Angry at each other, Demetrius and Lysander duel in the forest. With both men stimulated to change their love from Hermia to Helena, the egotism and timidity of both women become far more prominent. Helena’s low sense of worth prevents her from believing that either man does truly love her. On the other hand, Helena, who is used to both men flattering her, is traumatized to see them suddenly turn cold and uninterested in her. This is proven when she says “With her personage, her tall personageâ€¦she hath prevail’d with him” (III.II.292-293). With love, come many problems. Shakespeare indicates these possible side effects of love through these stories. In this case, insecurity, vanity, egotism, aggression, sadness etc. can be affected through the course of love.
After reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is very clear that Shakespeare’s portrayal of true love is quite pessimistic, but his objective is not to note on the nature of true love, but to lightly mock the overdramatic hardships and confusions that love induces.
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