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Shakespeare’s comedies are known for creating an atmosphere of play, which goes in alignment with his saying that the world is a theatre and all people are actors. A Midsummer Night’s Dream deals with the theme of love, which is revealed through the characters’ actions and transformations. The author conveys an idea that love has irrational nature, which makes it close to insanity or a dream. Presence of magical creatures reveals the message that love cannot be explained logically and that the state of being in love can be compared to being under a spell. At the same time, love exposes its individual aspect in each of the play’s love stories.
The play starts with defining several couples and triangles. Duke Theseus conquered Amazon Queen Hippolyta, and cannot wait for long days until they get married:
Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires (Shakespeare1.1.1).
The story of Theseus and Hippolyta is a framing one; they seem to be not the main couple, yet it reveals several fundamental aspects of love’s nature. First of all, it exposes archetypes of masculinity and femininity. The idea of conquering of a woman by a man is conveyed by the author, so in this case he presents love as a struggle between a man and a woman, where a man has to prove his dominating role. It is remarkable that Hippolyta is an Amazon, thus she is a warrior woman, so this makes her transfer to femininity particularly striking.
The main line of the play deals with the complicated love stories of Demetrius, Lysander, Hermia and Helena. The basis of the conflict is Hermia’s love for Lysander, which is impossible because her father Theseus wants her to marry Demetrius. In fact, Shakespeare focuses on the aspect of love as forbidden fruit, which makes it especially desirable. Therefore, when Hermia and Lysander elope, it is not surprising that Shakespeare chooses a wood as the setting for the following events. Entering the forest is, in fact, crossing the borderline between rationality and irrationality, between sanity and insanity. Thus, this enchanted forest is a metaphor of love, and in the same way a state of a dream is another metaphor.
The fairy world plays an important role in the play, which is not only about telling a fairytale, but also is an author’s way to express his vision of how love appears. The play demonstrates that making people fall in love is a game that spirits and fairies play. Which is remarkable, there is no logical reason at all how they choose a partner for a person, in fact, this is just a whim. By doing so, Shakespeare demonstrates, that love works beyond the laws of reason and that there is no need to even try to explain why a person chooses a particular object for love. On the other hand, this approach shifts responsibility from a person; this means that one cannot control what he or she feels. Because of this, Shakespeare’s play to a certain extent justifies being unfaithful in love. Love is like a delusion or hallucination, so it cannot be predictable.
This is why there are unexpected turns of fate about falling in and out of love. At first, both Lysander and Demetrius are in love with Hermia, but the situation changes in a radical way when Oberon decides to sprinkle them with “love juice”. As a result, both of the men fall for Elena, who turns from the chasing into a chased one. As Harold Bloom points out, “It quickly turns out that self-defeating passion dominates the relationship of not just one but both couples, involving them in a fourway merry-go-round that never seems to allow any amorous reciprocity even though partners are continually exchanged” (Bloom 16). Shakespeare reveals an idea that love is similar to a hunt in many ways, though roles can change in the process of life. Therefore, people should not get desperate about this but rather try to take it as an adventure. In contrast to his tragedies, Shakespeare’s comedy pictures love not as tragic or fatal but as a kind of quest, where interest, passion and ardor are present. There is inevitable disenchantment in the course of this game, but it is passing as a midsummer night’s dream.
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An essential aspect about love’s nature as seen by Shakespeare is obstacles that lovers have to face and overcome. Unless there are issues, love loses its special taste, so even hardships are taken as adventure. Characters’ speech confirms this point of view:
Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth ( Shakespeare1.1.4).
Indeed, if Lysander and Hermia had no obstacles ahead of them, they would have no chance to mature in the course of hardships and temptations. The author might want the reader to realize that love should be tested, and maybe not once, only then lovers can see how true it is. Theseus’ will, Lysander’s sudden passion for Elena, spells of the fairies and getting lost in the forest are all part of trial that should help characters answer the question: Is this love real? Is it worth efforts and sacrifice? So, in the end, when the couple is reunited, they become more mature in the field of love and can make their decisions more consciously.
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An interesting line of the plot is Titania’s love for Bottom under the spell of Puck, which is a part of comic element of the play. However, this situation is included for more than just an entertainment. It demonstrates another aspect of love: the fact that the opposites are often attracted beyond any logic. “When Titania “falls in love” with the ass-headed Bottom, the visual absurdity of their relationship as well as the exaggerated difference in their responses to each other illuminate the extremity of behavior between the other couples” (Nostbakken 13).
Besides, it refers to a common idea of love at first sight, which most clearly ignores the real traits of passion’s object:
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees (Shakespeare 2.1.8).
So, in fact, Shakespeare implies that love is often choosing “the next live creature” that a person sees, hence the idea of conscious choice is often an illusion.
Thus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream focuses on the theme of love as a central one. When discussing love’s nature, Shakespeare refers to several aspects of love, demonstrating that it has several dimensions. First of all, he believes that love is illogical and unpredictable, so one can always become a victim of fate’s whim when falling in love with a person who is not a reasonable match. Secondly, he demonstrates that true love should include obstacles for lovers to be tested and to get mature as a result of these trials. Finally, he takes love as game, an adventure which includes an element of hunt, where people can changes roles of the chasing one and the one who is chased.
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