Shakespeare’s comedies, like those of most Renaissance playwrights, involve love and its obstacles. Much of the comedy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream derives from the attempt of Lysander and Hermia to remain together while overcoming the “blocking figure” (the adult authority figure who attempts to hinder the love of a young couple). The overcoming of an obstacle (in this case, Egeus) functions as a common motif in Renaissance comedy. The audience must wonder, however, whether Lysander and Hermia, as well as Demetrius and Helena, actually love each other. While it is the love potion that alters the objects of the men’s affections, one may interpret the juice as a metaphor for lovers’ inconstancy. The juice only contains magic because the male lovers do not possess a fervent and true love. It is significant that Lysander and Demetrius change their minds about whom they love, but Hermia and Helena never waver; perhaps Shakespeare correlates faithfulness with gender.
Audience members generally support the relationship between Lysander and Hermia—partly because her father does not. They are struck by his indifference to his daughter’s happiness: He prefers that she die rather than be happy with a man of whom he does not approve. Egeus, furthermore, provides no reason to Theseus as to why he does not support Lysander; it is as if he disapproves for arbitrary reasons—merely to exert his will. His abuse of paternal authority renders him...
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