How does Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream portray love?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream deals a lot with people falling in and out of love with each other. Some are manipulated by love potion, but others make a conscious choice about whom to love. For example, Helena learns a lot about love when she is duped by Demetrius. He chooses to fall in love with Helena by showering her with gifts and vows of love, but when he sees an opportunity to marry Hermia, he quickly drops her. Is love so easily tossed aside? Helena proclaims the following about love as follows:

"And therefore is Love said to be a child,

Because in choice he is so oft beguil'd.

As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,

So the boy Love is perjur'd everywhere" (I.i.242-245).

From this passage, it's as though love is a child who makes his choice to love someone based on lies. Men, therefore, are boys who play with love like it is a game, but in the process, they become liars. Through Helena, then, Shakespeare suggests that love is a choice, fickle, and easily manipulated to pursue one's own purposes.

Another example of love being manipulated in order for someone to get gain is when Oberon and Puck make Titania fall in love with a donkey. Actually, they turn Nick Bottom's head into that of a donkey's and drug Titania with a love potion to distract her so Oberon can take the Indian boy. It's interesting what Bottom says after Titania professes her love for him in the following passage: 

"And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays" (III.i.124-125).

Through Bottom's line, there seems to be wisdom in acknowledging that people who are in love do not seem to use reason when making choices about love. Again, back to Helena, she would rather be treated like a dog by Demetrius rather than be ignored. Her reasoning is muddy because she sacrifices too much for her love only to receive nothing in return. To help Helena, Oberon decides to place the love potion on Demetrius's eyes to change his mind from loving Hermia back to loving Helena. It is possible, therefore, that Shakespeare is saying that love is a choice that can be easily manipulated with just a little persuasion. And if love is easily manipulated, then it is also fickle and fragile.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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