One of the most beautiful and complete descriptions of love can be found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
Is what Shakespeare portrays in A Midsummer Night's Dream truly the "love" that a Christians would understand? If yes, how? If not, why not?
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Before applying the quotation from St. Paul to Shakespeare, it is important to look at the entire text from which it is drawn. In this passage, St. Paul is not talking about romantic love, but instead love within the Christian community, of the apostle for his congregation, the congregation members for the community as a whole, God for humanity, and humanity for God. The specific Greek term used is "ἀγάπη", a term translated into Latin as "caritas". In the King James version of the Bible, this is translated into English as "charity", and although more recent translations use the English word "love", this can be misleading, as most English speakers consider "love" as a type of relationship involving deep sexual and emotional attraction (what was termed ἔρως in Greek), rather than something purely spiritual.
The "love" we find in A Midsummer Night's Dream is diametrically opposed to the model of "agape" praised by St. Paul. Theseus conquered Hippolyta's country, abducted her, and has forced her into their marriage. Although Hippolyta seems resigned to her fate, this forced marriage is far from a Christian ideal.
The two pairs of young lovers behave badly. Helena, due to her infatuation with Demetrius, betrays her childhood friend Hermia. Demetrius is, at best, fickle. All of them quarrel and generally behave badly, whether under the influence of their own love or Oberon's potion. The fairy couple demonstrate similarly mischievous behavior.
The point of comedy as a genre, though, is not to portray admirable people as models for emulation, but rather, in traditional theological interpretation, to mock vices. The happy ending of the play is actually caused not by eros, erotic or romantic love, but by Oberon's one act of genuine "agape" or impersonal charity or benevolence, in which he requests Puck to help out the two pairs of young lovers. Despite a few mistakes on Puck's part, leading to much comedy, it is this act of "agape", of generosity to others with no thought of personal benefit, that is closest to the model being described by St. Paul.
Well, speaking as a Christian, I must say that the 'love' depicted in Midsummer Night's Dream, is perfectly understandable. Christians experience all forms of the romantic passion, just as all human beings do. The love spoken of by St Paul has nothing to do with the kind of romantic delirium affecting the characters in this play, nor is that kind of love exclusive to Christians. Shakespeare never, ever sets up one kind of behavior, belief, or action as 'better' or preferable to any other. He, instead, holds a mirror up to life as it is and shows that to us without judgement. This is part of the greatness and eternal universality of his work.
So, yes, a Christian would understand this, as would any person of any religious faith and practice. There is only one relevant reason for this, and that is: because its a shared human experience.
Is what Shakespeare portrays in A Midsummer Night's Dream truly the "love" that a Christians would understand? If yes, how? If not, why not? What do you think 3 main significant reasons are for this ?
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