The Role of Love in "A Midsummer Nights Dream"
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare suggests that love is a
potentially divisive and destructive power. From the very beginning
(1.2.21) Shakespeare sets up the rectangular network of love (and
repulsion) between the socially and economically matched Athenian girls
Hermia and Helena and their suitors Lysander and Demetrius, which
represents damaged relationships between former friends and conflicting
interests on all four sides.
This conflict begins when Lysander (the un-favored) and Demetrius (the
favored), equally worthy from a social and economic standpoint,
compete for the right to marry Egeus’s daughter Hermia. Egeus
decides that Hermia should marry Demetrius, but Hermia boldly rejects
her father’s desires and insists on marrying her true love
Before the conflict of Hermia, Helena, and the two suitors comes into
play, we can already see that Egeus has commanded Hermia to bend her
love to suit his wishes. This shows that he is freely willing to
sacrifice what most modern audiences would consider a healthy, loving
relationship with his daughter in exchange for total authority and his
own convenience or desire to one way or another rid himself of Hermia,
by marriage to Demetrius, or by death.
Aside from the initially disruptive relations between Helena, Hermia,
Dimities, Lysander, and Ageus, there are examples in A Midsummer
Night’s Dream of love being overtly used as a distractive power.
In (3.2), Helena’s desire to win back Demitrius’s love
drives her to betray her friend Hermia by telling Lysander of her
secret plan to elope with Lysander.
Oberon’s love juice (3.1), is the most apparent use of love as a
weapon. This love potion causes Lysander to temporarily reject Hermia
(who is left alone and vulnerable when he flees their camp site) and
become obsessed with Helena, who is also being pursued by her
former boyfriend Dimitrius who has become re-enamored with her under
influence of the love juice. The showering of adoration from both men
inadvertently tormenting Helena who bemoans the sudden affection,
recognizing it as obvious trickery of some sort (3.2 122-260). King
Oberon’s use of the love juice to disgrace his wife Titania by
tricking her into sleeping with the transformed Bottom in (4.1) is the
most destructive use of love in the entire play.
However, despite the role of love as a destructive power in A Midsummer
Night’s Dream, Shakespeare also seems to remind the audience of
the positive, unifying side of love. Theseus’s defeat of
Queen Hippolyta, a conquered wartime foe, could have easily ended in
rape, murder, or enslavement, but instead results in a far more
peaceful plans for marriage which Theseus willingly waits to consummate
until the marriage has been completed.
Another example of this is Theseus’s eventual decision to allow
Lysander and Hermia to marry, bringing the potentially fatal conflict
between Hermia and her father Egeus to a peaceful end.
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