A Midsummer Night’s Dream Essay: The Young Lovers

The Young Lovers of A Midsummer Night’s Dream  

 

For the proper view of the plight of the young lovers of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we should look to other characters in the play. We are invited to sympathize with their situation, but to see as rather ridiculous the posturing to which it leads. This is evident in their language which is often highly formal in use of rhetorical devices, and in Lysander’s and Hermia’s generalizing of “the course of true love” (the “reasons” they give why love does not “run smooth” clearly do not refer to their own particular problems: they are not “different in blood”, nor mismatched “in respect of years”). Pyramus and Thisbe is not only Shakespeare’s parody of the work of other playwrights but also a mock-tragic illustration of Lysander’s famous remark. This is evident in a number of similarities to the scenes in the Dream in which the young lovers are present.

 

Before the play begins, and at its end, as Demetrius loves Helena, we see two happy couples; but Demetrius’ loss of love for Helena (arising from, or leading to, his infatuation with Hermia) disturbs the equilibrium. That Demetrius really does re-discover his love for Helena in the wood (as opposed to continuing merely in a dotage induced by the juice of love-in-idleness) is clear from his speech on waking. Unlike his “goddess, nymph, divine” outburst, this defence of his love and repentance for his infatuation with Hermia (likened to a sickness) is measured and persuasive. The critic who objects to the absence of any stage direction for the giving to Demetrius of Dian’s bud, the antidote to Cupid’s flower, can be answered thus: in a performance, the audience is not likely to detect the omission; we may supp…

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…mbered but, in its many confusions (changes of desire, seeming betrayals, quarrels, voices from nowhere) thought of as a dream. This view is anticipated by the pair of six-line stanzas spoken by Helena and Hermia at the end of Act 3. Each is a moving expression of despair and resignation (though Helena’s “O weary night, O long and tedious night” has a hint of Pyramus’s “O grim-looked night, O night with hue so black!” about it. If Puck hints at how we are to see the lovers in the wood, Theseus is able, in the final act, to articulate our happiness at the comic resolution: “Joy, gentle friends, joy and fresh days of love/Accompany your hearts”, while we inwardly endorse the fairies’ blessing and Oberon’s promise that the lovers’ “issue” shall “ever…be fortunate”, the couples “ever true in loving”. We rejoice to see Lysander’s pessimistic utterance contradicted.

 

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