Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1067
How happy some o'er other some can be!
Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so;
He will not know what all but he do know.
And as he errs, doting on Hermia's eyes,
So I, admiring of his qualities.
Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath Love's mind of any judgment taste;
Wings and no eyes, figure unheedy haste;
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.
As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjured everywhere;
For ere Demetrius look'd on Hermia's eyne,
He hail'd down oaths that he was only mine;
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolv'd, and showers of oaths did melt.
I will go tell him of fair Hermia's flight;
Then to the wood will he tomorrow night
Pursue her; and for this intelligence
If I have thanks, it is a dear expense.
But herein mean I to enrich my pain,
To have his sight thither and back again.
Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 232-257
Hermia and Lysander are in love, but their marriage does not receive the approval of Hermia’s father, Egeus. Instead, he wants her to marry Demetrius, who would be happy to do so, but Hermia is against this proposal. Egeus appeals to Theseus as ruler: if Hermia will not follow her father’s commands and marry Demetrius, she will be either condemned to a life of perpetual celibacy as a nun, or she shall be put to death.
To complicate matters further, Hermia’s best friend Helena is in love with Demetrius. The two had at one time been together, but Demetrius’s affection faded and has been transferred to Helena. He is thus very much in favor of Egeus’s plan, though he is the only one who is.
To avoid a death sentence or a life of celibacy, Hermia plans to elope with Lysander that evening, going through the forest to Lysander’s aunt where they hope to gain refuge. Hermia tells Helena about the plan. Helena is, of course, unhappy that Demetrius has rejected her and says that she will keep her friend’s secret. Hermia and Lysander wish Helena the best of luck with Demetrius.
Left alone, Helena delivers the above soliloquy on love. She bemoans the fact that some people are happier than others. Although she is considered by all Athens to be Hermia’s equal in beauty, it means nothing to her since Demetrius does not seem to share that view. He will not or cannot see what everyone else sees.
Yet Helena admits she may be focusing too much on Demetrius’s pleasing qualities. Things that normally may be contemptible can be transformed in the eyes of someone who is in love. Helena states that love is a function of the heart and mind, not the eyes. Because of this, she notes, Cupid is portrayed as blindfolded.
Helena continues to muse on Cupid, how inappropriate a symbol for love he is. The fact that "Love" is blind and able to fly swiftly away does not bode well. Also, as a child, Love often shows lack of good judgment. As boys are always playing tricks on each other, so Love is the subject of deception.
Helena remembers how Demetrius had pledged his love to her. Yet once Hermia cast her eyes on Demetrius, he callously turned away from Helena and flew to Hermia. Although she knows that she will receive little thanks, Helena intends to tell Demetrius of Hermia's intention to run away and marry Lysander. Helena feels that it will all be worthwhile just to see Demetrius again.
Helena, though the most unlucky in love, is the one character who is most aware of what love is. Somewhat insecure and unsure of herself as a desirable woman, she alone remains unaffected by the magic potion that causes the others to fall falsely in love with someone else. This characterization thus puts Helena in a unique position: she is an observer of the ridiculous antics of the others under the possession of the love potion.
Placing herself primarily in the role of a “stalker,” Helena pursues Demetrius, despite the fact that he has betrayed her love and now is enamored with Hermia. In addition, she has experienced betrayal by her friend Hermia, who has the admiration of the man that Helena loves and did not seem to do much to prevent Demetrius’s transfer of affections. It is thus some sense of divine justice later when it is Helena who is pursued by both Lysander and Demetrius, and Hermia is left without anyone.
Though eventually Helena regains Demetrius’s love, his initial rejection has a negative effect on her self-worth. Not only does she become depressed from losing Demetrius, she cannot take Lysander seriously when he professes his love for her. Her emotions have been trodden on, and she has become cynical toward any other offers of affection. However, in the case of Lysander, she is wise to doubt him, as his love is not sincere.
Helena’s faithfulness sets her apart from the other characters as the most honorable, at least in the matter of love. Not only has she remained constant to Demetrius, she has stayed true to the concept of love itself. She alone sees love for what it truly is: a complicated mess at times, but ultimately well worth the struggle. As Lysander says, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” And in the case of Helena, it is indeed genuine love that is experienced, not the manufactured variety inflicted on Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius by Puck. As Helena realizes in the passage above, love is blind and thus should not be a product of the senses. The heart/mind alone should be the source of affection.
Perhaps it is this understanding that causes Helena alone to be free of Puck’s potion. She is rewarded in the end by receiving Demetrius's genuine love, one untainted by the fairies’ magic. By staying true to what true love is, Helena remained a bulwark in all the chaos of the midsummer night.
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1279
How now, my love! Why is your cheek so pale?
How chance the roses there do fade so fast?
Belike for want of rain, which I could well
Beteem them from the tempest of my eyes.
Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth;
But, either it was different in blood—
O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low.
Or else misgraffed in respect of years—
O spite! too old to be engag'd to young.
Or else it stood upon the choice of friends—
O hell! to choose love by another's eyes.
Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness, did lay siege to it,
Making it momentany as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
Brief as the lightning in the collied night
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say ‘Behold!’
The jaws of darkness do devour it up;
So quick bright things come to confusion.
If then true lovers have ever cross'd,
It stands as an edict in destiny.
Then let us teach our trial patience,
Because it is a customary cross,
As due to love as thoughts and dreams and sighs,
Wishes and tears, poor fancy's followers.
Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 130-157
Hermia is in love with Lysander, and her feelings are reciprocated. However, Hermia’s father Egeus has commanded Hermia to marry his choice for her husband, Demetrius. If she does not, then he will appeal to the Athenian law that states that she will either be put to death or exiled to a nunnery and live a life of celibacy. Pleading before Theseus, Egeus begs for his official approval. Lysander, speaking in his and Hermia’s defense, points out to the Athenian ruler that Demetrius had previously been attached to Helena. To force him to marry Hermia (though Demetrius is altogether willing) would break the young woman’s heart. Theseus says that he had heard of the attachment and was going to speak to Demetrius about it, but it had slipped his mind with cares of state. Theseus then tells Egeus and Demetrius that he wants a word with them in private. Before leaving, Theseus warns Hermia that she must comply with her father’s wishes, or else the laws of Athens will condemn her to death or celibacy. The others then depart, leaving Lysander and Hermia alone.
Lysander asks Hermia why she is so pale, to which Hermia replies that it might because of lack of rain, though she could remedy that with her own tears. Lysander begins to philosophize, stating the “the course of true love never did run smooth.” He speculates that in some instances, there is a class difference. Hermia sees it as unconscionable to be so high born that she could not be allowed to love a commoner. Then Lysander says that at times there is an age difference. To this likewise Hermia objects that one should be too old to marry a young person. And then, says Lysander, there is the issue of objections from parents. In this Hermia sees a hell in which others make a choice for the lovers. There is even the possibility of politics, war, or sickness intervening in love.
Hermia resigns herself that true lovers have always had to go down a harsh and embattled road. Therefore, they must accept the fact that their love will not be easy, for trouble is born to interfere with love.
With this, Lysander proposes an elopement. He and Hermia will travel through the forest to his aunt’s home. Lysander believes that his aunt will support and protect them in their desire to be married. He makes plans with Hermia to meet her in the forest that night so they can leave together and be married.
Love is a major theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and as Lysander says, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” In the passage above, Lysander and Hermia discuss the impediments to love, impediments which are in some way reflected by the couples in the play.
First of all, Lysander speaks of a love between people who are “different in blood,” or of different classes. A romance between people of different social stations was considered taboo in the Renaissance, acceptable only in the sense of a passing affair. One could have a lower-class person as a mistress or lover but never as a spouse. “True” love, one resulting in marriage, was practically unthinkable if couples came from different classes. Such a case, in a way, is reflected in Titania’s magic-induced obsession with Nick Bottom. Despite the differences in “race,” and the ridiculousness of a fairy queen in love with someone having an ass’s head, Titania is royalty while Bottom is a mere weaver. Bottom’s calm acceptance of the infatuation of Titania as only natural would have been seen to the audience of the time as even more hilarious because of the difference in station. In the class-conscious society of Elizabethan England, equals only marry equals.
Although ages are not specified, Titania is presumably immortal as a fairy, so this fact would also be reflected in Lysander’s reflection of the stumbling block of age differences. During the Renaissance, any great difference of age was held to be more acceptable if the man was older than the woman. In fact, this was quite common, as marriage for the woman was more a matter of security that love. An older woman’s marriage to a younger man would have been looked down upon as being based on sex, which would have reflected negatively on the woman’s character. Although morals and mores were changing during the reign of Elizabeth, women were still held to a different standard of behavior when it came to marriage, and an obvious reflection of the sexual nature of marriage was considered totally improper.
Lysander then speaks of the impediment of a marriage that stands “upon the choice of friends.” This statement could also be read as "the choice of family," because a father was given the sole responsibility of official approval of his daughter’s marriage. While a daughter’s goal might primarily be love in marriage, a father was focused more on his daughter’s security (thus relieving him of financial responsibility) than whether or not she was particularly happy. In the higher ranks, especially among the monarchy, daughters were seen as living treaties, with the marriage between the children of kings functioning as an alliance. Thus daughters became a valuable commodity, but only in the sense of their being marriageable.
Lastly, Lysander speaks of the hindrance of war or illness that could keep couples apart. Theseus and Hippolyta had been military adversaries at one time. With Theseus’s defeat of the Amazon queen, they then agreed to marriage. The presence of true love between the two, however, is questionable.
The idea of marrying for true love was just beginning to come into its own during the time of Elizabeth, and it would take several centuries before it became the norm. Shakespeare, in most of his comedies, utilized this new concept to provide the conflict in the plot. The impediments to marriage is the common theme, driving the action of the play along. The idea of the course of true love running smoothly would provide little interest to theatergoers. It is only the progress toward a sure marriage that held the audience’s attention.
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1039
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call.
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
Act 5, Scene 1, Lines 418-433
The culmination of the play has come, with all being restored to what it was meant to be. Theseus and Hippolyta are married, along with Lysander and Hermia, and Demetrius and Helena. Egeus, who has accompanied Theseus and his bride to the woods, is not too happy at finding his daughter with Lysander. Theseus makes excuses for the couples, stating that they must simply be celebrating May Day early and came to pay honor to the Athenian leader. Awakening the sleeping pairs, Theseus asks why Demetrius and Lysander seem to have put aside their differences long enough to be in each other’s company. Lysander states that he cannot quite remember; all things seem to be hazy. Egeus is still ready to carry out his threats against Hermia, but Theseus intervenes. He commands that the two couples shall be free to make their own choices in love.
With this comes the resolution of the plot. Everyone is happily in love with the person he or she is destined to be matched with. Egeus has come to grips willingly with his daughter’s marriage to Lysander, and all threats of death and exile are removed. In the fairy realm, Oberon and Titania have reunited into marital bliss. Nick Bottom has been returned to his natural state, though he has lost the “affection” of Titania. The play has been presented to the wedding party, with approval.
The fairies are in the midst of their usual festivities, singing and dancing in the forest. Oberon proposes that all the fairies go to Theseus’s home and preside over his marriage bed, the intention being to bestow a blessing on the couple. The blessing consists of a hope that their children will be fortunate in life, that all three couples always reside in love and harmony, that all their children will be perfect and without blemish. Oberon commands the family to depart to the palace and give these blessings of peace. All leave except Puck.
As an epilogue, Puck speaks directly to the audience. He begs forgiveness if the players have offended anyone. If this is so, he begs them to think it was only a dream, a weak and idle dream that signified nothing. He further asks that they do not reprove the actors, but bestow their pardon on them. If they do, the players cannot do anything but improve.
Puck then bids the audience good night and asks for their applause, if they are friends, and Robin (Puck) himself “will make amends.”
Dreams are a major motif, of course, in a play titled A Midsummer Night’s Dream. From the first scene, Hippolyta speaks of the four days that must go by until she and Theseus can be married as going by as rapidly as a dream. It ends with this passage in which Puck suggests that the audience, if it has been offended by the play, should treat it as a dream without consequence. The fine line between dream and reality runs all the way through.
The setting of the play is divided between the world of human beings and the fairy realm. The latter is used to symbolize the dream world, with fantastical creatures, magic, and unexplained and unexplainable happenings. The conflict arises when the two worlds interface, as the couples and the players wander into the forest.
The depths of the dark and shadowy forest house the fairy realm. The motif of shadows is used throughout to denote the dream world, where the sunlight of reality is present, but muted. Puck, when addressing the audience in his epilogue, speaks of the players as but “shadows,” or images of unreality, that have perchance invaded on their waking hours. Whether these “shadows” are good dreams or bad dreams is up to each individual audience member to decide. The shadows exist simply as themselves, without meaning. The dark or the light must come from the person themselves, as they apply the meaning of the dream to their own lives in the real world.
Lysander and Demetrius are both unwilling participants in the dream world. By the application of the love potion, they have been removed from the real world to a dream love toward Helena. Helena and Hermia remain in the real world but have to contend with the men’s dreams. Titania, also, though an inhabitant of the dream world, is forced into a dream-like obsession with Nick Bottom, whose ass’s head is a reality that she sees because of magic and falls in love with. In the “reality” of the fairy realm, such a love would not have been possible, as she realizes when Oberon releases her from the spell.
As the five humans awake, they cannot tell if what they had experienced had been real or a dream. The only thing that has really changed is that Demetrius now loves Helena. As such, Helena, who had been unaffected by the love potion, is the largest beneficiary of this “midsummer night’s dream.” Her dream thus becomes reality with her marriage of true love to Demetrius. In fact, both couples have their “dreams” come true when Theseus unexpectedly reverses his decision that Hermia must marry Demetrius or face death or exile; he instead commands that she marry Lysander, and Helena marry Demetrius. In this way, Theseus parallels in command Oberon, who is the one who grants “love” through the magic potion. However Theseus, living and functioning in the real world, bestows love without the use of magic. Thus the course of true love, which up to now has not run smooth, has reached its point of happy destination.
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