At this point in the play, at the end of act 2, scene 2, Lysander awakes and, having been given the love potion by mistake, declares his love for Helena. Helena thinks he is mocking her cruelly and calls his words "abuse." At the end of the scene, Hermia awakens having dreamed of a "serpent" and with a premonition that something is wrong. In this section of the play, the high comedy of Lysander's lovesickness is contrasted to the discomfort and fearful unease of the two young women.
Lysander speaks in heightened language and rhyming couplets to declare his love for Helena. The rhyme befits both his highborn station and his feelings, as he states:
Not Hermia but Helena I love.
Who will not change a raven for a dove?
The will of man is by his reason swayed,
And reason says you are the worthier maid.
Things growing are not ripe until their season.
So I, being young, till now ripe not to reason.
And touching now the point of human skill,
Reason becomes the marshal to my will.
Lysander uses the conventional language of love sonnets as he employs metaphors to describe his love. He uses metaphors when he compares Hermia to a "raven," a dark bird with a raspy voice, and Helena to a "dove," a gray or white bird with a lovely, cooing voice, asking who would prefer Hermia. This is comic, given his head-over-heels love for Hermia a few hours before, but what makes the passage all the more humorous is his insistence that his change in love object is based on "reason." This is an example of irony
, of a person saying the opposite of what is true: Lysander's change of heart is based on a love potion, not reason. But more profoundly, love is, by definition, based on emotion, not reason, and is more often a form of lunacy (as it is here) than good sense.
We see, too, the irony of a situation in which Helena misinterprets Lysander's sincerely besotted speech as sarcasm, a form of irony, and accuses Lysander of making fun of her. She also shows her noble status and depth of emotion as she responds in rhyming couplets. Adding to the layers of irony, her speech is actually far more rational than Lysander's: it makes more sense that he would be making fun of her than that he is in love with her.
Finally, a deep, almost tragic pathos emerges in Hermia awakening from a dream in fear of losing Lysander. Underlying the comedy is a sense of how fragile and fleeting love really can be. Notable in her speech is the image of the serpent she has dreamed of. The loss of Lysander's love is compared in a metaphor
to a snake eating her heart out, while the word "serpent" is an allusion
to the serpent in the Bible who destroyed Adam and Eve's paradise: "Methought a serpent eat my heart away."