A Midsummer Night’s Dream
How does Shakespeare introduce the play’s key themes of love, comedy and magic?
Section 1: Love
In Act 1 scene 1, Shakespeare introduces the theme of love through his characters and the situations that he points them in. Scene 1 deals with many different types of love, including true love, unrequited and jealous love, royal love and false love. These different types of love are shown through the characterisation and the words they say.
The characters who represent true love are Hermia and Lysander.
Lysander tells Egeus that “I am belov’d of beauteous Hermia”, even though he knows that Egeus wants his daughter to marry Demetrius. In these words he is open about his emotions for her. His first words to Hermia in the play are
“How now my love? Why is your cheek so pale?
How chance the roses there do fade so fast?”
He uses the actual words “my love”, and speaks to her gently, like he cares for her, noticing how she looks and how she has changed and worrying about her. Later he calls her “gentle Hermia” and tells her he has plans for them to marry.
Hermia shows an equal love for Lysander. They are both focussed on each other. When Theseus tells her that if she will not marry Demetrius, she will have to spend her life in a nunnery, she says:
“So will I grow, so live, so die my Lord,
Ere I will yield my virgin patent up
Unto his Lordship”.
This means that she is so deeply tied to Lysander that she will sacrifice herself rather than giving her body to another man. She is sensible about the trials of love, and takes it seriously when she says “let us teach our trial patience, because it is a customary cross, as due to love”. She is saying that love often does cause problems and she is willing to wait for him.
When Hermia tells Lysander she will elope with him, she swears on various symbols of true love, like Cupid and Venus’s doves:
“I swear to thee, by Cupid’s strongest bow,
By his best arrow with the golden head,
By the simplicity of Venus’ doves.”
She is showing that her action will be driven by her love, by using symbols that everyone will understand.
Despite the fact that Hermia and Lysander are truly in love, there are problems facing them, which leads on to characters who display unrequited and jealous love.
Demetrius is obsessed and jealously in love with Hermia. He feels that it is his proper place to be with Hermia, but she does not love him at all. He is jealous of Lysander because he has Hermia’s love. Demetrius says:
“Relent sweet Hermia, and Lysander, yield
Thy crazed title to my certain right.”
He is showing his love for Hermia by calling her “sweet”, and his jealousy is shown by saying that Lysander is crazed, and that he has a certain right to Hermia’s hand in marriage.
In addition to this, the situation is further complicated by the fact that Helena is in love with Demetrius, but he does not love her.