In A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare, Theseus asserts that "The lunatics, the lover, and the poet /Are of imagination all compact" (V.i.7-8). Based on this quote, how does...

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare, Theseus asserts that "The lunatics, the lover, and the poet /Are of imagination all compact" (V.i.7-8). Based on this quote, how does Shakespeare's describe people who fall in love?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Upon reading Shakespeare's very funny comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, the audience learns that Theseus' comment about lovers and poets having the same kinds of imagination as lunatics, is pretty close to how Shakespeare must have sometimes seen love.

In the last act of the play, Theseus and Hippolyta are speaking of the young lovers.

Note the context from which the initial quote is taken:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,

Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend

More than cool reason ever comprehends.

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,

Are of imagination all compact. (V.i.5-9)

In the first two lines, Shakespeare "pairs" lovers and madmen. Fantasy runs away with their minds—which never see "reason." One lover turns away from his sweetheart (Lysander and Hermia) to fall in love with Helena. Demetrius, who has previously spurned Helena, is now in love with her. It is not madness, per se, which has pushed them to act in such a crazy manner, but the magic of the fairies. However, to Theseus, it must seem like insanity.

Theseus met the lovers at the beginning (except for Helena) and knows that Hermia and Lysander love one another; he also understands that Hermia's father wants his daughter to marry Demetrius. Hermia is threatened with a death sentence if she does not agree to her father's demands...or she can join a convent for the remainder of her life.

However, by the play's end, Theseus has discovered that—happily—Demetrius now loves Helena (also with the help of Oberon), and the earlier problems between the lovers have ended. Certainly Theseus would be at least surprised—it is no wonder that he draws such a thin line between lovers and madmen. Throughout the play, we hear how Shakespeare feels about love. At the start of the play, one quote may be considered foreshadowing with regard to how closely madness and love "travel" together.

In Act One, scene one, Lysander notes how quickly happy things are driven to confusion. We might infer this to mean that love can be pushed into confusion—or madness, craziness.

So quick bright things come to confusion. (151)

Later in the same act and scene, Shakespeare seems to speak through Helena—noting that love keeps little "company" with intellect, but wraps itself around what it thinks...not necessarily what is real.

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

And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind. (237-238)

The eNotes commentary on "themes" makes the following observation regarding this quote:

By the "mind" Helena plainly does not mean reason, but instead, something akin to imaginative fantasy.

Puck, watching the nonsense that abounds between the young lovers and would-be lovers, makes note of just how "crazy" they are—but promises that he will enjoy their "silliness:"

Lord, what fools these mortals be! (III.ii.116)

...And those things do best please me

That befall preposterously. (121-122)

Shakespeare recognizes that love makes people do crazy things. But not all the lovers end up where they had planned, so Shakespeare must have believed that something magical in the universe could make things work out for the best. (In this case, the magic comes from the "fairy realm," specifically from Oberon.)

Skakespeare appears to understand the nature of "love," and he "bows" to its strength—that which is irresistible and perhaps fueled by the imagination—to make people lose their "reason" from time-to-time, but eventually to come back to their senses.

Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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