Nature of Love in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Love is a universal theme for many art forms. More often than not, it is love that is spoken of, whether in songs or films. This fact holds most true for literature. Countless poems, short stories, novels and plays revolve around the concept of love. One notable piece of literature that thoroughly deals with love and its nature is A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. The story features four types of love through its characters: forced love, parental love, romantic love, and love between friends. This essay aims to analyze all the aforementioned types of love in the play and how they are portrayed.
Love has multiple dimensions; it comes in many forms. The play is a testament to that, as Shakespeare explores the various types of love within the story. The play begins with the first type of love, which is forced love between Theseus and Hippolyta. The story starts with both characters speaking of their upcoming marriage and how soon it will come (Shakespeare). However, the duke and his bride will marry not because they fell in love with each other. The union existed because Hippolyta was betrothed to Theseus. In the play, Theseus said: “I woo’d thee with my sword,/ And won thy love, doing thee injuries;/ But I will wed thee in another key” (Shakespeare).
Love formed through betrothal is considered forced because it was prompted by circumstance to exist. One does not love another upon such imposition. Rather, one learns to love the other. Love is spontaneous; if love is to be learned, it means that one has to force himself/herself in loving the other. In the play, Theseus and Hippolyta did not seem to have any problems with such arrangement. Both were minor characters, so the details of their relation were not exactly revealed in the play. In the past, betrothals are common and the arrangement did not seem to be problematic at that time. However, in essence, forced love is not really love. Love is a spontaneous emotion that is evoked, as opposed to one that is merely forced.
The second type of love is the parental kind, as exhibited by the relationship of Egeus to his daughter Hermia. In the play, Egeus complains to Theseus that while he had given consent to Demetrius to marry Hermia, it is she who seeks to disobey for her love of Lysander (Shakespeare). Egeus warns that her disobedience may result in death, while Theseus presents another option which is becoming a nun (Shakespeare).
Parental love is that which is received upon birth, a love expressed by parents to their children (Hammack 2). Among all kinds of love, parental love is most continuous; it is the secure kind of love that remains throughout one’s life. There is nothing more fulfilling than being loved by and having a strong close relationship with the family. However, this kind of love is not without fault. Parents may have a negative effect on their children when the former force their will or decisions on the latter.
For instance, in the play, Egeus believes that Demetrius is the one most fit to marry Hermia; in his resolve, he discards the feelings of his own daughter for his decision. Thinking his daughter’s life is not hers but his, Egeus says, “And she is mine, and all my right of her/ I do estate unto Demetrius” (Shakespeare). As Hermia’s father, Egeus acts like he owned her and made decisions with her in mind. Egeus may have preferred Demetrius to be Hermia’s husband because he thought that was what was best for her. Nonetheless, it was Lysander whom Hermia loved, and they did end up together eventually.
The third kind of love featured in the play was romantic love. In the story, two couples demonstrated this kind of love: Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius. In the case of Hermia and Lysander, the feeling was mutual. They reciprocated each other’s love, and it caused them to defy Athenian law by eloping (Shakespeare).
This is the typical concept of romantic love. It is characterized by the fervent desire to have that special someone in one’s life (Hammack 3). It is also marked by a compromise, in which both shared and carried the load that came with the relationship. Lysander knew that his relationship with Hermia was in danger due to Egeus and Demetrius. Not wanting to part from his beloved, Lysander suggested that they elope to a place in which the Athenian law cannot hinder their love (Shakespeare).
Hermia complied, and together they struggled to overcome the obstacle in their relationship. Such bold action can only be done by people experiencing romantic love. One becomes willing to face hardships for the sake of the other, as there is a strong need to be with the beloved and make him or her happy (Hammack 3).
The case of Helena and Demetrius is different because even if it still falls under romantic love, it initially involved unrequited love. Helena is in love with Demetrius, but Demetrius has only eyes for Helena’s friend Hermia (Shakespeare). Hermia informs Helena of their elopement, hoping that she would keep it a secret. She did not; instead, she thought of Demetrius’ welfare and told him of Hermia and Lysander’s plans. She did betray her friend’s trust, but she simply wanted to win Demetrius. Despite the fact that he did not love her, she still wanted him to be happy. That is why she told him of Hermia’s plans. Helena’s love is a romantic one because she sought to make her beloved happy, even if it was at her own expense (Shakespeare).
One aspect of romantic love is the desire to look after the happiness of the beloved (Hammack 3). Helena did that to Demetrius; she knew he loved Hermia, so she told him her whereabouts. Another aspect of romantic love, as was mentioned earlier, is the need to be with the beloved (Hammack 3). Helena followed Demetrius in the woods, and even though he made it clear that he did not want to be with her, she still pursued (Shakespeare). If Oberon did not take pity on her and if Puck did not put the potion on Demetrius’ eyes, Helena would have continued to suffer. In the end, everything went well, with Demetrius declaring “The object and the pleasure of mine eye/Is only Helena” (Shakespeare).
The last type of love portrayed in the play is a love that is shared by sisters, a love grounded on friendship. Hermia and Helena shared a special friendship that was almost destroyed by Puck’s error (Shakespeare). Because of Puck, both Lysander and Demetrius fell in love with Helena. This made Hermia think ill about her friend, making them argue in the process (Shakespeare).
The love shared between friends is marked by concern for the welfare of the other (Helm). This stems from the fact that it involves an extent of intimacy, which in part plays a crucial role in one’s personal development. Love between friends is also characterized by caring for one another (Helm).
In the play, after Puck had committed the mistake, Helena thought that the declarations of love from Lysander and Demetrius were mere mockery (Shakespeare). She also thought that Hermia was also involved. That is the reason why she spoke about their friendship in detail. Helena narrates that she and Hermia had a vow of sisterhood; for all the times they spent together, they were like two entities with a single heart. Their friendship originated from childhood, and continued until their days in school. That is why Helena was hurt when she thought that Hermia was also mocking her (Shakespeare).
Hermia and Helena are bound by love that unites friends. They are already like sisters. Because they have been together for a long time, they have developed a level of intimacy that they cannot share with others. Their relationship which began as early as childhood made them responsible for each other’s growth. Because there is caring involved between friends, to be mocked by a friend would surely hurt. Hermia’s anger toward Helena when the former thought that the latter stole her lover away was out of the sense of betrayal she felt as a friend.
Love indeed comes in many forms, and has numerous different variations. In the play
A Midsummer Night’s Dream alone, there are four types of love that Shakespeare openly explored: forced love, parental love, romantic love and love between friends. All these are simply part and parcel of the universal concept that is love.
Hammack, GS. “Different Types of Love.” Associated Content. 12 June 2006. 12 May 2008 ;https://www.yahoo.com/?err=404;err_url=https%3a%2f%2fwww.yahoo.com%2farticle%2f37378%2fdifferent_types_of_love.html%3fpage%3d3%26cat%3d41;.
Helm, Bennett. “Friendship.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 17 May 2005. 12 May 2008 ;https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/friendship/;.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 13 November 2000. 12 May 2008 <http://shakespeare.mit.edu/midsummer/full.html>.