The Concept of Love in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream""

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

11 Pages

Regina Schultze (Author)



1. Introduction

2. The Elizabethan Concept of Love

3. The Literary Language of Love in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
3.1 Lysander and Hermia
3.2 Demetrius and Helena
3.3 Oberon and Titania
3.4 Theseus and Hippolyta

4. Conclusion

5. Literature

1. Introduction

William Shakespeare is surely one of the most important English authors – although he lived 500 years ago, his works are still read and discussed. Since 1897, well over 200 films and countless television programmes adapted from Shakespeare’s plays were produced[1]. Especially his comedies enjoy great popularity.

Because this paper will deal with one of Shakespeare’s comedies, it is necessary to clarify the term “comedy”. In Shakespeare’s century, a comedy was everything that was not a tragedy or a historical play – so the term was as neutral as our German ‘Schauspiel’ is. The intended effect of a comedy was to “frame your mind to mirth and merriment, which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life”[2], so to evoke laughter and entertainment with a therapeutic intention. In addition to that, comedies had a didactic function: they should show general mistakes like thoughtlessness, quarrelsomeness and meanness in the form of exaggeration.[3]

The main theme of the Shakespearean comedy is love. This paper will deal with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (written in 1595 or 1596) with a special attention to the play’s couples. Their state of relationship and the language the lovers use will be in the foreground. Does it differ from normal language use? If so, do the couples all speak in the same way? Does the language differ from couple to couple, in dependency of their quality of relationship?

Firstly, it will be explained how the Elizabethan concept of love works. Secondly, it is demonstrated how a crush is revealed in terms of language and how a lover’s language develops in Shakespeare’s play. To conclude, the film version of Michael Hoffmann from 1999 will be looked at with special regards to a comparison of play and film.

2. The Elizabethan Concept of Love

Following the antique ideas of Hippocrates and Galen, Elizabethans believed that love enters the lover’s body through his eyes via invisible steam. Love acts like an illness[4], because the feeling is not controllable and can even be painful.

All creatures consist of the four elements fire, water, air and earth, which can influence each other. These elements build four humours (blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile) which influence the temper and psyche of human beings.[5] The composition of the humours in the human body underlies the influence of the seasons.[6]

Thus, organs are not anymore passive but they own a certain momentum. In addition to that, human beings are built up analogically to the cosmos, so that the human body reflects macrocosm. For example, the eyes are analogue to the stars.[7]

It becomes clear that the naming of steam, organs and humours are very important in describing love in Elizabethan times.[8] There are three kinds of love: a sensual love, a love that is characterized by reason and fantasy and the most perfect form: a love conducted by intuition which creates a happy end of a comedy.[9]

To fall in love needs six phases. The couple looks into each other’s eyes and becomes aware of a beginning love. Then follows love gloom, which is marked by sighing, and courting with a declaration of love. The last phase is a ritual of engagement, a remedy for the couple’s reciprocal love and their future.[10]


[1] Collick, John: Shakespeare, Cinema & Society. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, p. 2

[2] Shakespeare, William: The Taming of the Shrew. London: The Arden Shakespeare, 1981, Ind., ll, l. 135-6

[3] Baumann, Uwe: Shakespeare und seine Zeit. Stuttgart: Ernst Klett Verlag, 1998, p. 35

[4] Biewer, Carolin: Die Sprache der Liebe in Shakespeares Komödien. Eine Semantik und Pragmatik der Leidenschaft. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2006, p. 1

[5] Schubert, Charlotte/Leschhorn, Wolfgang: Hippokrates. Ausgewählte Schriften. Düsseldorf und Zürich: Artemis & Winkler Verlag, 2006, p. 177-179

[6] ibid, p. 187

[7] Biewer, p. 3

[8] ibid, p. 4

[9] ibid, p. 7-8

[10] ibid, p. 9

Excerpt out of 11 pages


The Concept of Love in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream""
University of Leipzig
Shakespeare Goes Hollywood
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Concept, Love, Shakespeare, Midsummer, Night, Dream
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Regina Schultze (Author), 2008, The Concept of Love in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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