“The course of love never did run smooth” (Act 1, Sc. 1, 134). This statement by Lysander analyzes the complexity and difficulty of love. Lysander says these words to Hermia as an acknowledgement of the obstacles true love has to face. For the longest time, love has been, and will continue to be a cause of disagreement between men and women. In his play, Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare delves deep into the subject of love, and the blindness and foolishness that characterize it. For the most part, the play centers on the causes and effects of the conflict in love.
Most love relationships in the play are unstable. This asymmetry is best illustrated by the four young characters, Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius. This group is entangled in the web of unrequited love, each person loving someone that does not love them back. Hermia is in love with Lysander, Lysander and Demetrius are in love with Hermia, and Helena loves Demetrius; a case of one woman with too many pursues, and another with too few (Ray 89). Throughout the play, the events that unfold seek to rectify this imbalance in order for the group to pair itself symmetrically.
In the same stride, the relationship between Titania and Oberon is hampered by Orebon’s desire for the Indian boy. In turn, Titania falls in love with the ass-headed Bottom, an action that causes more imbalances in the story. Titania is attractive and refined; while in contrast, Bottom is clumsy. Titania has been used to show the complexity of love. The fairies demean love by applying a love potion on her eyes, causing her to fall in love with Bottom, an unattractive character with an ass for a face (Bloom 96). This part of the story serves as proof to the blindness of love. The message brought out here is that love can be manipulated, using magic potions, to make one fall out of love with someone and desire another.
However, Puck, a Cupid, uses his antidote on Titania and Bottom, snapping them back to reality. The night they had shared in the forest then seems to be a distant dream. Once they come back to the real world, the relationship between Titania and Oberon is restored to what it once was. Helena brings out the foolishness of love. She vows to be Demetrius’ spaniel, no matter how unfairly he treats her, and despite the fact that he loves Hermia and not her. Her actions show the extent to which one can be desperate, all in the name of love (Ray 107). She desperately holds on to Demetrius, to whom she is betrothed.
The love Lysander feels for Hermia is a romantic kind of love. He courts her in every way possible from serenading her, to giving her tokens of love (Ray 75). Through the quarrels and jealousy that characterize their relationship, their love is portrayed as real, and not of a fantasy world. On the other hand, the love between Orebon and Titania is different. Being fairies, their love is irresponsible, and cannot be compared to the love between humans. “It is a love that depends on whims and fancies and can be easily upset by wrangling of possessive spirits over a little boy,” (Ray 76).
There also exists love among royalty. Theseus and Hippolyta share a mature kind of love. Theseus is aware that he is undeserving of Hippolyta, and is therefore determined to join with her in holy matrimony, as prescribed by religion. The two create an ideal picture of what love in the human race should be. Theirs is a responsible love devoid of fantasies. The story ends with a restoration of balance between couples. Hermia and Lysander get married; Demetrius falls in love with Helena; Orebon and Titania return to each other, and the royal wedding between Theseus and Hippolyta takes place.
Curtains draw with Hermia and Lysander watching a play about two lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe. They laugh at the comedy, oblivious to the fact that it so closely relates to what they have just gone through. Like theirs, it is a story of love, but ends in tragedy. Unlike Pyramus and Thisbe’s story, their story did not culminate into death. In this way, they are blinded to the dark side of their romance, indifferent to the possible tragedy that would have occurred in the forest. Because their love ended in happiness, they fail to look at the reality that they were endangered in the forest. This is a mockery of some sort (Ray 142). Humans fail to realize that the bad that befalls someone could very well happen to them.
The theme of love in Shakespeare’s tale can be compared to the in The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin who demonstrates how ‘love is a b**ch’. Love or the lack of it, causes otherwise sane people to act in an irrational manner. Chopin story revolves around Mrs. Mallard, a woman who has spent all her life living for her husband. Her time, devotion and energy were channeled towards fulfilling her husband’s needs, a role the society expected of women. It is because of this that she loses her individuality, and in addition, she loses her ability to feel. The story portrays her as an ice queen devoid of any emotion (Kahle 46). However, the years spent with her husband have numbed her to all feelings. Mrs. Mallard’s needs take second place as her husband’s take center stage.
She starts to question the purpose for her existence, realizing that there was so much she wanted to do but could not. Her husband seemed to have subdued her to obey his will at the expense of her own interests. Upon learning of her husband’s supposed death, Mrs. Mallard shuts herself in her bedroom and begins to ponder the implications of this. She suddenly gains a new lease of life as she envisions the spring season. She opens her arms wide to welcome her newly found freedom. She was now free to do whatever she wished (Kahle 12). However, this joy is short-lived, lasting only for an hour. She is then informed that her husband survived the tragedy.
The natural reaction would be to rejoice over her husband’s well-being. However, she exhibits an opposite reaction. She was so overjoyed over her husband’s supposed death that the news of him being still alive overwhelmed her. She comes to the realization that her freedom was never meant to be, and that the rest of her life will be spent under the repressive rule of her husband. The shock is so severe as to give her a heartache, which eventually kills her. She died of an extreme joy, a joy that kills (Kahle 12). The irony of the situation goes to show the dark side of love. Mrs. Mallard’s unreciprocated love caused her to desire death for her husband in order for her to find happiness.
These two stories can be compared as they bring out the contrasting effects of love. On one hand, Shakespeare’s tale presents a group of people pulled to each other by this strong force. Bottom’s experience of love with the beautiful Titania is so strong that he cannot express it in words (Bloom 104). In what is seen as a parody of Paul’s first epistle to the people of Corinth, Bottom says, “…the eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste…” (Ray 110). This quote is about the experience he had with Titania. Lysander is love with Hermia. He acknowledges the difficulty of love, but is willing to fight for Hermia. One of the obstacles he sees is age, terming it as “misgrafted in terms of years” (Ray 161). Lysander fights to overcome this and other obstacles to their love.
In Shakespeare’s play, marriage is seen as a happy conclusion to love. With the same breath, it is love that oppresses Mrs. Mallard. For her, marriage is not a happy conclusion that it is meant to be. It is a cage that traps her, robbing her of her individuality. The only way she can free herself from it is by the death of her husband. Her husband’s supposed death brought her joy. For one hour, she experiences unfathomable freedom, ready to take on new challenges. However, the shock that came with the realization that he was not dead was so intense as to kill her. Her death can be seen as a getaway to the freedom she has so longed for.
Bloom, Harold. William Shakespeare’s a Midsummer Night’s Dream. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2010. Print.
Kahle, Antje. First Wave of Feminism in Politics and Literature. Munich: GRIN Verlag, 2010. Print.
Ray, Ratri. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Daryaganj, N. Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Dist., 2008. Print.