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What does A Midsummer Night's Dream seem to be saying about true love?

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msmatagi | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 12, 2008 at 6:58 PM via web

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What does A Midsummer Night's Dream seem to be saying about true love?

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted November 13, 2008 at 11:11 AM (Answer #2)

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"The course of true love never did run smooth" is one of the play's most famous quotes, though, when you look at the action of the play itself, it's clear that "true love" is a rather problematic context.

Thanks to Puck and Oberon's interference, the "true love" between Hermia and Lysander is split apart, and Lysander falls in love with Hermia - though they are, of course, reunited at the end. "True love" eventually finds its way to marriage, and to the sex which marriage permitted in Elizabethan times.

More problematic is the marriage between Helena and Demetrius: Demetrius, throughout the play, shows no sign of loving her at all, and (keen eyes will note) has to remain under the influence of the flower even after he has emerged from the woods. Is this "true" love - when it has been caused by a flower (and remember, the flower's name is "love-in-idleness").

If it is, then so is the love (arguably the most passionate, and perhaps the only consummated, love affair in the play) between Titania and Bottom (translated, of course, into half-donkey). It too is caused by the juice of the flower, and it too is real "in the moment". But Titania eventually returns to Oberon.

What to make of all this? Well, I'd argue one of the few things the play does say about love (and sexual love, one of its key focusses) is that it is changable: it depends on the moment - and, like "dreams" as a whole, its pleasure doesn't last forever.

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purplepenguin | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 13, 2008 at 11:11 AM (Answer #3)

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The famous quote from this play, "The course of true love never did run smooth," has lasted for centuries because it is a universal truth. Love experiences many highs and lows as it grows and matures. Love is connected to life, and life is unpredictable; therefore, so is love.

This play was written as a fantasy and for entertainment of the court Elizabeth I). Love is a fantasy in the beginning of a relationship and as it runs its course, the fantasy wears off and the reality begins. Shakespeare shows that dreams about love are not what is real, but our perceptions or fantasies about love should remain to soften our relationships.

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted November 13, 2008 at 11:11 AM (Answer #4)

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purplepenguin:

A few questions about your post:

What is your evidence for saying the play was written as "a fantasy"?

If you think quotes from Shakespeare survive because they are "universal truths", perhaps you could explain the following:

  • Why "To be or not to be" is always the question?
  • Why it is always a dagger that we see before us?
  • Why we would always exchange our kingdom for a horse?

What is your evidence for so firmly saying the play was written for the court of Elizabeth I, and not the Globe? Clearly you have some evidence that the academic community has yet to see.

Shakespeare shows that dreams about love are not what is real, but our perceptions or fantasies about love should remain to soften our relationships.

Could you please provide some quotes and textual evidence from the play to justify the above assertion?

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 13, 2008 at 1:25 PM (Answer #5)

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Midsummer is a fantasy/comedy play...all the talk of fairies and "dreams"  and Puck's playfulness as well as his final speech to the audience all point to fantasy and imaginative fun.

However, there is enough there to point to the instability of love affairs.

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted November 13, 2008 at 1:38 PM (Answer #6)

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Puck's final speech to the audience actually is an apology for any offense that the "shadows" (note that this - far darker word - is usual in the play instead of fairies: Oberon is "King of Shadows") might have caused. And why would he apologise if the play was all "imaginative fun"?

The Dream has extremely dark, sexual undertones - and contains as the centrepiece of its plot four passionate, (practically) drugged young people running around in the deep of a forest in the middle of the night, exploited and tormented by spirits.

The Victorians set off the trend of interpreting the play as a chintzy, children's play full of gauzy, flittery wings and green and brown outfits (an entirely Victorian conception of a fairy - Shakespeare knew nothing of it) and this trend clearly continues right into the present day.

I agree that the play contains elements of fantasy, but I think those fantasies are mostly sexual. Remember that the central act of the play is Titania, the beautiful fairy queen, copulating violently with a man half transformed into a donkey (an animal renowned in Athenian - the play's setting - mythology for having the longest and the hardest phallus). If you don't believe me, make what you will of the innuendo in the following lines:

Titania to Bottom: Mine ear is much enamored of thy note;
So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape

and later... the final lines of the scene

Come, wait upon him; lead him to my bower.
The moon, methinks, looks with a watery eye;
And when she weeps, weeps every little flower;
Lamenting some enforced chastity.

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kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted November 21, 2008 at 12:26 AM (Answer #7)

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purplepenguin:

A few questions about your post:

What is your evidence for saying the play was written as "a fantasy"?

If you think quotes from Shakespeare survive because they are "universal truths", perhaps you could explain the following:

  • Why "To be or not to be" is always the question?
  • Why it is always a dagger that we see before us?
  • Why we would always exchange our kingdom for a horse?

What is your evidence for so firmly saying the play was written for the court of Elizabeth I, and not the Globe? Clearly you have some evidence that the academic community has yet to see.

Shakespeare shows that dreams about love are not what is real, but our perceptions or fantasies about love should remain to soften our relationships.

Could you please provide some quotes and textual evidence from the play to justify the above assertion?

In defense of the post-er you are referring to, I think he/she probably meant that the plays were performed for  royalty as a form of entertainment at their weddings, banquets, etc.  I do not believe the person meant that this was why they were written.

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kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted November 21, 2008 at 12:32 AM (Answer #8)

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I also believe Shakespeare was pointing out that love is inconstant and maddening and that people do very nutty things for love!

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