In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, it is suggested that the pursuit of romantic love is foolish and unrealistic. Discuss how we see this.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck (the "elfin sprite" who serves Oberon, king of the fairies) presents the idea that romantic love is foolish and unrealistic.

As Oberon tries to make all things right between the Athenian lovers—Helena and Demetrius—by using magic, Puck messes up so that Lysander, who was in love with the right woman, ends up in love with Helena, the wrong woman. As he tries to remedy the mistake, Puck places the love potion upon Demetrius' eyes (as he was meant to do in the first place) and he falls in love—also with Helena. So whereas neither man loved Helena, now both are deeply devoted to her.

In this situation, some of the play's best humor is revealed in the interaction during these scenes where Helena believes the men are using her to entertain themselves by pretending to love her, and Hermia believes that Helena, once a dear childhood friend, has somehow stolen her love (Lysander) away from her. It is truly a comedy of errors.

Oberon, who values the state of love, is disgusted with Puck and his mistake, but finds the misadventures of the lovers to be amusing to a point—the foolishness in their contrived (spell-induced) ardor for Helena is almost more than even he can believe. 


Captain of our fairy band,

Helena is here at hand,

And the youth, mistook by me,

Pleading for a lover's fee.

Shall we their fond pageant see?

Oberon is perhaps curious to watch the antics of these young lovers, to the echo of Puck's assessment of their romantic—and human—behavior.

Lord, what fools these mortals be! (115)

It especially piques Oberon's interest in that when Demetrius wakes up, he and Lysander will love Helena, as Puck points out:


Stand aside: the noise they make

Will cause Demetrius to awake.


Then will two at once woo one;

That must needs be sport alone;

And those things do best please me

That befal preposterously. (116-121)

The lovers do act "preposterously," but after the comedy wanes, Hermia is truly devastated that Lysander no longer loves her; she cannot understand it. While Puck has little time for these foolish humans with their unrealistic ideas of love, Oberon is distressed for the lovers' sakes and calls Puck to task, blaming him for this confusion. Knowing his cohort as well as he does, Oberon wonders if Puck didn't do it on purpose for sport.

Puck defends himself, noting it was an honest mistake, made because of Oberon's general description of the Athenian youth and his clothes. Puck had no way to tell the two men apart. He does note, however, that things turned out well—the chaos has been highly entertaining for him. (Another indication that romantic love has no place in his world.)

Oberon desires that things be made right, so he sends Puck to lead the lovers about by the cover of night so they don't run into each other. He then places a spell on them to make them sleep, and uses the potion on the correct person—Lysander—to cure him of his misplaced love for Helena. In this way, everything is sorted out before dawn. While Puck is certainly not a romantic, Oberon (in love most of the time with Titania, his queen) believes in love. He makes arrangements that they will all end up where they belong, each with the person he/she loves.

Oberon makes sure that the Athenian lovers find each other, even while Puck questions the value of such love.

Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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