A Midsummer Night’s Dream could have easily been a light-hearted, whimsical comedy. Complete with a magic forest and a kingdom of fairies, it is an iconic setting for amorous escapades and scenes of lovers. But Shakespeare’s writing is never so shallow; through this romantic comedy, Shakespeare postulates an extremely cynical view of love. A Midsummer Night’s Dream becomes a commentary on the mystery of love, and lovers in general emerge shamed. Especially in the episodes among the four young Athenians, the lover is painted as a fickle creature, always changing his or her mind, and love as a passing phenomenon. Love is not an unfathomable, kind emotion, but it is ironically cruel, and by the end of the play, the concept of true love is tinged with doubt.
The lover is unreliable in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is first seen in Demetrius’s treatment of Helena. As the play opens, Demetrius is already in love with Hermia, but Helena tells us that she has once been his love:
For ere Demetrius look’d on Hermia’s eyne,
He hail’d down oaths that he was only mine;
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolv’d, and show’rs of oaths did melt (1.1.242-
Demetrius’s oaths lose their meaning, and Helena is left with a demeaning love. However, Demetrius is not alone in his mutability; Lysander, too, quickly replaces one love with another. Though Lysander is somewhat redeemed through the use of the love potion, the fact remains that his love changes. Early in the play he says to Hermia, “[M]y heart to yours is knit, / so that but one heart we can make of it” (2.2.47-48), but later he reviles his supp...
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...e deeper and more resounding than the conflicts that are resolved. Is it possible for Demetrius and Helena to live happily ever after though the love binding them is synthetic? Can Lysander and Hermia ever have a trusting relationship, knowing the fickleness of love? A Midsummer Night’s Dream has potential to be a cheerful play, but it has too many sharp edges and hard scenes to be so. The concept of love is quite convincingly questioned. Here, love is not faithful, kind, or true; it can be lost and manufactured, and is alarmingly harsh. The play ends happily, with the young people in their respective couples, but the bitter undercurrents are too strong to ignore.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night's Dream. Norton Introduction to
Literature. Ed. Jerome Beaty et. al. 8th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,
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