Love: The Great Equalizer in Midsummer Night’s Dream Essay

William Shakespeare has a habit of creating complicated plots, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream is no exception. Three distinct worlds are presented within the play, and the story’s theme is most prevalent when they collide or mirror one another. Shakespeare’s allusions very intentionally cast light on these themes as he uses them to develop characters, settings, and comedy. The point of that development is the effective delivery of the theme that love renders us equals.

The first scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream introduces a tangled web of lovers. Hermia presents herself for judgement as she refuses to marry Lysander, the man of whom her father approves, as she is infatuated instead with Demetrius. Meanwhile her friend Helena is besotted by Demetrius, but he loves Hermia. The scene plays out like a soap opera with dramatic relationships galore, but Shakespeare establishes greater depth with the help of allusions. The most significant references in this scene appear when Hermia and Lysander speak privately for the first time. In their brief conversation, Hermia alludes to Cupid, Venus, and Dido. The first two are gods of love, and Dido is a queen who burned herself on a pyre after being abandoned by her lover. Shakespeare uses each of these mentions of mythology to make the point that the affair between Hermia and Lysander is no passing fancy. However, when Helena enters and converses with the star-crossed lovers she makes no mention of mythology as she discusses her unrequited love for Demetrius and resulting jealousy of Hermia. The absence of allusions in Helena’s speech accentuates the divide between herself and her friend. Barbara A. Mowat speaks eloquently on this concept in the Folger Library edition introduction. As Ms. M…

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… as they present pure fantasy, and the lovers have one foot in each world; they experience desperation in the face of harsh realities, but meanwhile they learn and change as a result of their fantastical dreams. The allusions used in each world illustrate the differences between them and bring them together simultaneously. All of the myths and legends referenced have similar themes and origins, but each is interpreted differently by the speaker; the lovers speak of mythological figures much like themselves, the mechanicals attempt to do the same with little success, and the fairies reference gods and goddess who toy with the fates of mortal lovers. Such striking similarities echo the ever-present theme that in love, we are all the same. Whether we fancy a donkey, a meddling fairy, or a friendly Athenian, in love there is beauty, hilarity, and irrationality in excess.

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