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Love Theme In A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Alison Borghi

15 October 2007

Love Stinks

"The course of true love never did run smooth" perfectly describes one of A Midsummer Night's Dream's major themes - the difficulty of love (Shakespeare I.i.134). Though the play is filled with romantic conflict, the tone remains so lighthearted that the audience never questions the certainty of a happy ending. A Midsummer Night's Dream discusses the issues of unbalanced love, unsentimental marriage, and love vs. reason.

Almost everyone has told someone or been told by someone "he/she isn't good enough for you," and that unbalanced love is a major issue in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The most obvious miss-matched love is when Titania, queen of all the fairies, falls in love with ass-headed Bottom. This peculiar relationship represents an imbalance of appearance and nature. Titania is beautiful; Bottom has an ass head. Titania is queen of all the fairies; Bottom lives up to his name as a lowly rude mechanical. It is against their nature to be together, and ironically, this isn't the only way in which Titania is going against nature - Titania and Oberon's quarrelling had been disturbing the seasons, altering the weather, and destroying crops.

Not even the Duke, Theseus, has it easy - he fell in love with Hippolyta from the opposite side of the battlefield, and wooed her 'with his sword'. It is still unclear whether she was also in love with Theseus, or if she was taken as a trophy - as one of the spoils of war. In European wars it was common practice to take a member of conquered royalty as a wife, so their union may very well have been forced. Hippolyta, being Amazonian, worshiped the goddess Diana and had most likely intended to lead a life of chastity. It is also noteworthy that the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta was to be held on the night of the new moon. Interestingly, Theseus later gave Hermia the choice between marrying Demetrius or living a life of chastity in servitude to Diana - ironic since that was the exact option he took away from Hippolyta. This unbalanced love is mirrored in the play within the play "The most lamentable comedy" of Pyramis and Thisbe, in which the characters are mismatched lovers, kept apart by disapproving families (Shakespeare V.i.9).

Despite their being in the same "league," things are still complicated for the four young lovers in the play. Demetrius and Lysander both love Hermia, Hermia only loves Lysander, and Helena desperately pursues Demetrius though he swears he hates her: it's a vicious love-quadrangle. Their situation is unbalanced in the way that Hermia is loved by two men and Helena by none. However, the play's cheerful tone makes it evident that a happy ending is to come. The plot seems to center itself on a search for internal balance, so that when the lovers' mess resolves itself into symmetrical pairings, the traditional happy ending will have been achieved.

Though today it is considered horribly shallow to marry for money, in Shakespeare's time it was expected and encouraged. Marriage was unsentimental, and love was more of a luxury than a necessity. Couples married to increase wealth or status, and to gain property and secure its inheritance. Therefore, it was not unwarranted for Hermia's father to insist that she marry a man she did not love. It was considered the duty of the child to obey, and girls, particularly, were not in a place to refuse a well-suited union. Demetrius and Lysander were of similar economic backgrounds, and either would have been considered a suitable husband for Hermia. Hermia's chief complaint with Demetrius was simply that he was not Lysander.

Perhaps Sigmond Freud said it best when he stated "you are always insane when you are in love". This

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