To what extent does 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' present love as a kind of madness?

Essay by juice_e_lucieHigh School, 10th gradeA+, November 2004

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In Shakespeare's famous comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, love is an important concept. The different characters have different views on love that they express, and throughout the play, Shakespeare portrays a general attitude about it. He did not portray love as a serious theme but rather treated it as a light-hearted matter, and even something to joke about. Shakespeare seemed to have written this comical play about love as to present is as a kind of madness. One idea in the play is that there is a difference between 'doting' and 'love' something like the distinction between lust and love. Shakespeare took this to a great extent even so few of the characters seem to display any kind of full or true love by modern standards. We define the word love as 'a deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person that which steadily desires and works to attain the benefit of another.'

The definition of love becomes very important when we look at the uses and effects of the dew of the pansy on the various characters on whom its charm is worked, and by extension, on those with whom they interact. The dew is employed by Shakespeare as a device to demonstrate how fluid a thing "love" is, and how easily the affections of the so-called lover can be swayed. But the dew's power is not all conquering. It is said to "make man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees", and to induce "hateful fantasies", but it is not irresistible, nor is it ever said to bottle up any feelings of love a person might have had prior to falling under its charm.

Lysander, throughout the play, shows a real concern for only two others: Hermia and Helena. His concern, however, acts more like a switch than anything, because as soon as he starts to care about one, he ceases to care about the other. After falling under the dew's charm, he insults Hermia, his former lover, quite harshly 'What? Should I hurt her, kill her dead? Although I hate her, I'll not harm her so.' In a similar manner, Demetrius has his affections toyed with by the magic, and shows them to be fairly empty as well. By his own admission, his love for Hermia was "melted as the snow" when he awoke in the morning and he says, "I wot not by what power".

Titania's relationships gets quite interesting, she displays what might be love for three of the play's characters: Oberon, Nick Bottom (as an ass), and the changeling child. However, in much the same way as Lysander and Demetrius, she drops all concern for the child when obsessed with Bottom, giving it to Oberon without a struggle. Once the dew is used on her again, she awakens to find her fancy for Bottom has ended as abruptly as it began, and turns her energies back towards Oberon, on whom they were doubtless focused at some earlier point in time as well.

Bottom and Oberon both do a wonderful job of steadily desiring their own personal benefits, but display little (if any) concern for those of others. Bottom is hungry for glory, wanting to act all the parts in Peter Quince's play himself, talking about how splendidly he'd be able to portray them all, and then, when Titania puts her fairies at his disposal, having them perform inane and whimsical tasks. 'Scratch

my head, Peaseblossom.' Oberon's main interest is in Titania's changeling, and he makes as much clearly from the outset. All of his efforts to woo the queen herself, or win her favour are directed towards that end.

Helena's object of affection for most of the play is Demetrius. One might point out that her feelings for him waver when he, under the influence of the pansy's dew, suddenly returns that affection, making her think he is mocking her. However, I believe that a more important aspect of her attitude is partly revealed when she says, "Throughout Athens, I am thought as fair as she." Helena also tipped off to Demetrius to the imminent removal of her competition for his favour, what is strange about Helena's behaviour is that she seems to think her actions will persuade his fancy back to herself. She fails completely to worry about the possibility that he may be in love with Hermia, and that his affections might not be turned so easily. Also, she does not stop to ask herself at any point what would be best for Demetrius.

Lastly there is Hermia, I believe she is the only character which exhibits a true, steady desire for another's benefit and supports that desire with actions. From the very beginning she shows that she is willing to displease her father for Lysander's sake and then she risks her life and honour by agreeing to run away with him. And also her concern throughout the ordeal in the forest is for him.

"Never so weary, never so in woe;

Bedabbled with the dew and torn with briers,

I can no further crawl, no further go;

My legs can keep no pace with my desires.

Here will I rest me till the break of day.

Heavens shield Lysander, if they mean a fray!"

Hermia is the only character to who had any sort of rational words or thoughts for any of the others, she had also endured Lysander's insults and infidelity unlike Helena, who had fallen to pieces when she thought she was being mocked. Though Hermia does try to start a fight with Helena, but her love for Lysander withstands all tests.

At first after reading 'A midsummer Night's Dream' I had believed that it was a play about love, but after examining it closely I arrive to the conclusion that hardly any of its players exhibited any love at all, and Shakespeare's point was to prove that love is unreal; a fabrication of human imagination even, 'a kind of madness'. Shakespeare presented this to such an extent that it is not only seen on the surface as a joke, with Titania falling in love with an ass, or with the objects of the 'lovers' affection constantly shifting, but rather it leaps out to you as you try to read between the lines as if he had entwined it through each and every word in the play. However, in the midst of the scene he had set up to show his point, Shakespeare left a single stronghold for true, honest and 'untampered' love and that is an example of what humanity and love could be if you were to forget some of the smaller matters which often becomes unwillingly entangled.