Illusion of Love in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The play A Midsummer Night’s Dream is centered around themes that are seemingly apparent and clear: those of true love, false love, love’s blindness and the inconstancy of love. However, this pattern of the themes of love dissipate to reveal that these themes are only apparent to the reader who wants them to exist. We want Lysander and Hermia to be in love; we want Demetrius to love Helena as she loves him, but the question arises as to whether these lovers are actually in love. Is Shakespeare providing us with a wholesome tale of true love or is he conveying something more raw, more provocative than that? When taking a closer look at this play, one sees a recurring pattern and another common theme – that of lust and sexuality. The love theme in this play is but an illusion, the reality is that this play is centered around sex and desire.
A common focus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is that of eyes and sight. The words “eye,” “sight,” and “see” occur a total of one hundred seventeen times throughout the play (Berry). One may suggest that this eye imagery conveys the theme of love more strongly as “love is blind” or that love enters through the eyes (Vaughn, 73). However, the eyes are based on the physical world; love is not based on sight alone. The physicality of Shakespeare’s use of sight is a direct consequence of lust. One does not love with their eyes, one loves with one’s heart and mind; one desires with one’s eyes.
Similarly, the physicality of the play is also maintained through the constant profession of physical beauty. Helena laments that she wishes she looked like Hermia:
O, teach me how you look, and with what art,
You sway the motion of Demetr…
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…xual undertones and reminds us that often lust and sexual attraction are interpreted as true love and, as humans, we often comply with this illusion of true love and happiness rather than face the realization of the inconstancy sexual attraction.
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Berry, Ralph. Shakespeare’s Comedies. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972.
Fredal, James. “Herm Choppers, the Adonia, and Rhetorical Action in Ancient Greece.” Online posting. National Council of Teachers of English. 28 Feb. 2003 http://www.ncte.org/pdfs/subscribers-only/ce/0645-may02/CE0645Herm.pdf
Greenblatt et al., ed. “A Midsumer Night’s Dream.”The Norton Shakespeare: Comedies. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1997.
Vaughn, Jack A. Shakespeare’s Comedies. New York: Frederick Uncar Publishing Co., 1980.