Based on plot development of A Midsummer Night's Dream, how does Shakespeare characterize love?A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, love makes people do foolish and silly things. Love makes people angry, but love allows people to forgive. Adults act like children when they are in love, and still others can find it hard to give love or accept love.

In terms of the silly and foolish, Oberon (the King of the Fairies) fights with Titania (the Queen of the Fairies). They love each other, but Oberon decides to punish and embarrass his mate; he sends Puck to where Titania sleeps to put a spell on her—so when she wakes, she will fall in love with the first thing she sees: a human with a donkey's head (more of Puck's magic). Oberon is greatly pleased:

I know a bank...

There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,

Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight;

And there the snake throws her enamell'd skin,

Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in;

And with the juice of this I'll streak her eyes,

And make her full of hateful fantasies. (II.i.254, 258-263)

With potion on her eyes, Titania falls in love with Bottom the weaver, who's natural shape has been changed. Titania sees him only as lovely.


I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again.

Mine ear is much enamored of thy note;

So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape;

And thy fair virtue's force perforce doth move me,

On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee. (III.i.129-133)

Titania is a strong woman, and one might expect her to be angry with Oberon's behavior, but she gently questions her husband how these things came to be, and peace is restored.

Puck mistakenly turns two men who loved Hermia into two men who love only Helena. Helena  believes they are making fun of her—and she chides them both—unable to believe that either one of them could love her:


O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent

To set against me for your merriment.

If you were civil and knew courtesy,

You would not do me thus much injury.

Can you not hate me, as I know you do,

But you must join in souls to mock me too? (III.ii.147-152)

At the same time, losing Lysander's love and watching both young men chase Helena hurts Hermia, while Lysander is uncaring.


Why are you grown so rude? What change is this,

Sweet love?


Thy love! Out, tawny Tartar, out!

Out, loathed medicine! O hated potion, hence! (268-271)

Hippolyta, engaged to marry Theseus (being won by him in war), struggles with love. However, even she becomes a "victim" of love. In speaking about the amazing transformation that has come over the young lovers, she is certainly also speaking about herself.


But all the story of the night told over,

And all their minds transfigured so together,

More witnesseth than fancy's images,

And grows to something of great constancy,

But howsoever strange and admirable. (V.i.24-28)

Love, Shakespeare seems to say, is not something that comes easily or as we expect it. As Lysander notes:

The course of true love never did run smooth... (I.i.134)

Through Helena's eyes, we learn that love changes how people see things:

Things base and vile, holding no quantity,

Love can transpose to form and dignity.

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;

And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind. (237-240)

Shakespeare cautions the audience that love is anything but predictable, but good things can come from love in its craziest forms. Shakespeare is able to write comedy about love; I believe we can infer that he finds it surprising, entertaining and worthwhile.

Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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