Gordon Leighton, English 224
In Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we see love that can change in the blink of an eye, infatuation with one person turning to obsession with another at a moment’s notice. This type of love is driven by pride and selfishness, and consequently changes quickly and easily. Another type of love can be observed in many of Shakespeare’s sonnets; he writes that his love will endure despite time and aging, after the object of his love is no longer physically beautiful and long after they are dead, as long as his writing remains. This is an example of a truer, less selfish love than the kind we see in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
At the beginning of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we observe a conflict between two young men, Lysander and Demetrius, who are in love with the same woman, Hermia. Hermia only loves Lysander. Her other suitor, Demetrius, is her father’s preferred choice; he is so adamant that his daughter marry Demetrius that he takes her before the Theseus, the duke of Athens, hoping to have him enforce the law; either Hermia will marry whomever her father chooses, enter a convent, or be executed. Demetrius hopes that Hermia will submit to his and her father’s wishes, and we can see that his love for Hermia is more about satisfying his own desires and pride than true regard for her .
Helena also falls prey to this sort of self-seeking love, although to a lesser degree. She is so intent on getting what she wants--Demetrius’ love--that she persistently forces herself on him, to the point that she does more harm than good towards her goal. Demetrius gets so frustrated with her that he abandons her in the forest, rather than be around her at all.
The whole situation is made even more complex when Puck begins artificially tampering with the Demetrius and Lysander’s affections. With both young men in love with Helena, the friendship between the two women breaks apart, and Lysander becomes so absorbed in pursuing Helena that he loses all gentlemanly courtesy towards Hermia, telling her that he hates her, and abandons her.
While the four main characters fall in and out of love with each other, we see the same type of selfish love displayed between the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania. Oberon is so intent on getting his way that he drugs Titania into falling in love with Bottom and making a fool of herself, to satisfy his own ends. Only after he gets what he wants--Titania’s changeling child for his pageboy--does he end her absurd relationship with Bottom.
Although everything gets sorted out in the end concerning the fickle lovers and ridiculous romances, if one looks beyond the comedy, one wonders whether Shakespeare meant to satirize the kind of love that leads people to push the concerns of others, even those of the person they love, to the side in order to meet