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A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare
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In A Midsummer Night's Dream, what is Shakespeare suggesting about the nature and effects of love by the end of the play?

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This is a huge question, one that underlies how we interpret this play. In the end, everything comes out all right, the correct lovers are reunited, and we enjoy a festive wedding celebration. If "the course of true love never did run smooth," love, in its many varieties, seems to triumph all the way around. 

Yet the body of the play presents more complexity, for it exposes love's cruelties: Hermia and Helena, though old friends, end up fighting bitterly when both Demetrius and Lysander begin to pursue Helena under the influence of the love potion, and Lysander and Demetrius almost come to blows that could have been fatal did not the magical forces of the forest set everything to right. Helena feels cruelly ridiculed, thinking both men are making fun of her. Titania falls in love with an ass. Hermia runs away from Athens because she faces an arranged marriage she doesn't want. The path of love, Shakespeare implies, is fraught with threats and perils. 

In the end, Puck gives a speech in which he says that if the play doesn't please you, assume it was all just a dream. This points to the idea that love itself, in all its permutations, is just an illusion, a dream we wake up from into reality. That may well be Shakespeare's final point. 


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