September 6, 2012
Interpretations of Love in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
In Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, characters such as Lysander, Helena and Oberon must grapple with their own interpretations of love. Using form and function harmoniously Shakespeare gives the reader great insight into each character. This is accomplished through an elaborate love square between Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena. Fairies and Cupid are used to change the dynamic of this love square. Additionally, and perhaps most significantly, Shakespeare makes love out to be something other than an emotion in the eyes of Lysander, Helena and Oberon. It becomes a barrier for Lysander, a person for Hermia and a force for Oberon. Also, for or all of these characters love becomes a binary “either or” or “neither nor” statement that quantifies an emotion they are trying to make sense of. In Act One, Shakespeare shows Lysander’s dilemma and he asserts that love is an obstacle. He feels this way because Egeus, Hermia’s father, claims control over his daughter. He tells Lysander, “She is mine, and all my right of her” (I.I.97). In this Greek society women are subordinate to men and Hermia cannot marry Lysander without her fathers permission. To this, Lysander pronounces, “The course of true love never did run smooth,/ But either it was different in blood” (I.I, 134-5). Lysander believes that love is not easy and it will always have obstacles and in this case it is Lysander and Hermia’s different social standings. This is especially powerful because Shakespeare calls love a course, pointing out that it is dynamic. Lysander is putting love into a proverbial box and thereby giving it a strict definition that is sensible for him. It is also important to note what Lysander is not saying. In response to Egeus one would think he would be irate but he is calm. This shows that Lysander truly does believe love is an obstacle and his speech reflects this. Shakespeare is satirizing this because the point of an emotion is not to be understood, it is to be felt, and that fact that Lysander is doing the former is humorous. Helena expands upon the notion of what love means even further in Act One and likens it to a person. Even though Lysander and Demetrius do not love Helena she still understands what it means to be in love because she loves Demetrius. She pronounces that, “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind./And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind./Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgment taste—/Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste” (1.1, 234-7). The repetitive use of “but” and “not” in this quote shows a dichotomy and also proves to the audience that she is not happy with her current situation. The lines seem choppy and rushed which is an example of form following function because Helena undoubtedly feels uneasy about the situation. To justify it to herself, Helena sees love as a blind, hasty person. This personification of love also makes it seem like it is somewhat random. It picks two people without caring about the consequences. However inaccurate this may be it makes sense to Helena, thus making her feel better about her situation.
The last character that contemplates love sees it as more poignant and abstract than Lysander or Helena. Oberon, king of the fairies, plays with the lovers by giving some of them a mystical flower potion that makes them fall in love with the first person that they see. In the middle of these capers Oberon makes the point that, “Some true love…