A Midsummer Night's Dream

Exciting and new, or even tedious and worn-out, love in all its variations is presented in A Midsummer Night's Dream. But what is love? What causes us to fall in love? How does love relate to the world of law and reason? These questions are broached in all their complexity in Shakespeare's midsummer dream. Love is the primary concern of the play, which begins as Theseus and Hippolyta prepare for their upcoming wedding, but the picture painted of love is not necessarily romantic. Instead, the play shows the arbitrariness of desire, along with its depth, the sighs and tears that often make lovers miserable.

As Lysander tells Hermia, the course of true love never did run smooth. Often swift, short, and brief, love is besieged by class differences, by age differences, by war, by death, and by sickness. Helena's love is plagued by a different demon: indifference. The more ardently she loves Demetrius, the more thoroughly he hates her. And there seems to be no reason for his disdain: She is as beautiful as Hermia, as wealthy, as similar to Hermia as "double cherries" on a single stem. Helena's meditations present love in its guise as the childish, blindfolded Cupid, a constantly repeated image in this dream, who playfully transforms the vile into something pure and dignified. The image of blind Cupid is repeated when Titania falls in love with Bottom, the ass. Oberon's love-potion works much as Cupid's arrows are reputed to do: by impairing vision. The juice charms Titania's sight, so she is unable to see her lover for what he really is.

Love's arbitrary, irrational nature is the subject of one of Theseus' speeches. In Act V, he famously creates a connection between the imaginations of lovers, lunatics, and poets: All three see beyond the limitation of "cool reason," and all are beset by fantasies. While the lunatic's imagination makes heaven into a hell, the lover shapes beauty in the ugliest face. The poet, meanwhile, creates entire worlds from the "airy nothing"...