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A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare
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Early in A Midsummer Night's Dream, analyze Shakespeare's characterization of love—not only in the play's action but also in the words of the love-obsessed characters. Is Shakespearean love merely a kind of madness, or does it contain hints of guiding wisdom beyond the awareness of lovers themselves?

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In the play, William Shakespeare carefully distinguishes between genuine love and infatuation. Real love will triumph in the end, while the indulgent, obsessive qualities of infatuation make it fade away. While the playwright provides many examples of enchantment as the cause of infatuation, he also shows how human actions both...

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In the play, William Shakespeare carefully distinguishes between genuine love and infatuation. Real love will triumph in the end, while the indulgent, obsessive qualities of infatuation make it fade away. While the playwright provides many examples of enchantment as the cause of infatuation, he also shows how human actions both create and resolve amatory dilemmas. The time all the lovers spend in the woods under moonlight is set up as a dreamlike interlude apart from normal daily life. Throughout, he deploys Puck as a catalyst for the sometimes magical tricks lovers play on each other.

Shakespeare establishes a number of parallels between different kinds of characters to emphasize the points that he is making. The two young, mortal couples get their emotional attachments switched, in part out of rebellion against a father, but in the end, the right pairs—Helena and Demetrius, Hermia and Lysander—end up together.

A second pair of couples are older and, one might suppose, more mature. Shakespeare uses them to contrast a healthy, respectful, mature love—that between Theseus and Hippolyta—and the tempestuous, jealousy-riddled partnership of the fairy monarchs, Oberon and Titania. It is Oberon’s extreme behavior that initiates the chain reaction of trickery and enchantment. While such antics as Bottom’s behavior once he is turned into an ass provide much of the play’s humor, Shakespeare allows some dark moments to creep in, as he shows how jealousy can prompt a king to petty behavior.

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