Love is a silly and unpredictable mess, or at least that is what William Shakespeare believes, as can clearly be seen in his classic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This most famous comedy by Shakespeare holds the theme that love is silly and unpredictable, which can be seen through the love potion and its use on Lysander and Demetrius, the potion’s use on Titania, and in the play at the end of the story.
The first moment we see this theme play out is in the double love triangle between Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius. At the beginning of the comedy, we see a mockery of the classic romantic story as Hermia and Lysander are in love, but Egeus, Hermia’s father, and Theseus, the Duke of Athens, demand that Hermia must marry Demetrius, who is also in love with Hermia, and they say that Hermia will either marry Demetrius, die, or become a nun.
Already we see the setup that would take place in a tragic love story, however the whole situation is played so over the top that it plays more like a comedy. The play even mocks the idea of love as it states “This man hath bewitched the bosom of my child. Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes… With feigning voice, verses of feigning love, And stol’n the impression of her fantasy…” (Shakespeare 2). The statement mocks the idea of love and says that anyone who falls for someone because of an emotional connection, such as a love letter, is only a fool who has been tricked into thinking that they are in love.
The mockery of love continues as Hermia and Lysander run away so that they may be together, and Helena tells Demetrius where Lysander and Hermia are going so that Demetrius will love her, however this doesn’t make Demetrius love her and only makes him chase after Lysander to kill him so that Hermia will have to love him as is stated “Where is Lysander and fair Hermia? The one I’ll slay, the other slayeth me. Thou told’st me they were stol’n unto this wood; And here am I, and wood within this wood, Because I cannot meet my Hermia” (Shakespeare 22). This of course mocks love and suggests that love will lead you to do stupid things that will only hurt you.
In this case Helena, by telling Demetrius, has only sent him away to go and kill Lysander instead of making him love her as she foolishly and stupidly thought. The fairy king, Oberon, overhears this issue and so he decides to help Helena out, so he sent Puck to make the Athenian fall in love with the woman by using a love potion. As hijinks ensue Puck ends up accidentally making both Lysander and Demetrius fall in love with Helena.
This instance mocks love in that it suggests that love is unpredictable and that people can go from loving one woman, Hermia, to loving another, Helena, in the blink of an eye. This idea is most easily expressed when Lysander states “Stay, gentle Helena; hear my excuse: My love, my life, my soul, fair Helena!” (Shakespeare 51). Shortly after this Lysander and Demetrius run off to duel over who get Helena, which once again shows how love makes one do stupid and silly things like duel over someone you only started to love that day. Eventually, Puck fixes the situation by making Lysander fall in love with Hermia and so all is well with this silly situation.
The second moment where we see the theme play out is when the fairy queen falls for an ‘ass.’ When Oberon gives Titania, the queen of the fairies, the love potion she wakes to see a man named Bottom who is a narcissistic fool who earlier in the book had his head turned into that of an ass, which is a pun on both Bottom’s name and his narcissistic personality. When she sees Bottom she falls in ‘love’ with him and takes him as her lover. Oberon then uses this in order to manipulate Titania into giving him a child that they had fought over earlier in the book.
Oberon states to Puck, “When I had at my pleasure taunted her, And she in mild terms begged my patience, I then did ask her for the changeling child; And straight she gave me…” (Shakespeare 64). Eventually, the love potion is reverted and Titania realizes that a fool had been made out of her. She even states “Methought I was enamored of an ass.” (Shakespeare 65). This suggests that love will only lead to embarrassment and will be used to humiliate and manipulate you into doing things that you didn’t want to do.
The final way in which we see this theme is in the play at the very end of the book. At the end of the play we watch a play, which serves as both another way to enforce the theme and as a comedic fourth wall break. This play, about Thisby and Pyramus, is mocked for how bad it is. Theseus comments wondering if the lion will speak and Demetrius states “No wonder, my lord. One lion may, when many asses do.” (Shakespeare 79). This statement is only one of many moments where the characters mock the terrible play and its over the top and bad actors.
The play itself is similar to that of Romeo And Juliet another of Shakespeare’s works. Both plays are tragedies about two lovers who are forced apart and end up committing suicide because of a misunderstanding and ‘true love.’ While Romeo And Juliet treats the whole thing as a tragedy, the play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream treats the situation as an absurd comedy that should be laughed at. This is perhaps the biggest way in which the story make clear its theme on love and its wacky habits.
In summary, we see that the theme in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is that love is a silly and unpredictable mess. Love will change randomly as it shifts from Hermia to Helena. Love will make you fall for an ass and lead you to making a fool of yourself. And that tragic love stories are just comedies that should be laughed at for their ridiculous and over the top nature.
- Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Accessed December 2, 2018.