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

Term Paper, 2015

11 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The change of the love pairs
2.1 Magic flower 'love-in-idleness'
2.1.1 The role of Puck
2.2. Inconstancy of love

3. Different metaphors for Love
3.1 Love and nature
3.2 The power of love
3.2.1 Love seems to be a sickness
3.3 Love and eyes

4. Conclusion

5.1 Primary Literature
5.2 Secondary Literature

1. Introduction

William Shakespeare is one of the most important English authors, his plays are well known today although he has lived in the 16th century. Especially his love dramas enjoy great popularity. This paper deals with his comedy „A Midsummer Night's Dream“. Nearly everybody knows the famous sentence Lysander says to Hermia: „The course of true love never did run smooth“ (MND I.i.134).

Love is the main theme in this play and this sentence mirrors the love between the four Athenian lovers very well. The flower 'love-in-idleness' screws up the whole love constellation as well as Egeus, Hermia's father, who does not allow his daughter to marry the man she loves. Throughout the play love is presented with a huge range of metaphors and it acquires new shapes.

It is notable that those metaphors who describe the love in the play are metaphors of nature. The moon, the image of inconstancy is often used to show the inconstancy of love between the four Athenian lovers caused by the magic flower. Furthermore, love is linked to the eyes, but it is misleading, however, to conclude that there is a simple association between love and beauty, just because the eyes are linked to love. Besides Shakespeare shows the power of love between the protagonists. Love is not only a feeling, it changes the perception.

2. The change of the love pairs

The love between the four Athenian lovers has different stages. First, at the beginning of the play, Hermia and Lysander love each other. But Demetrius is also in love with Hermia, but his affection is not returned. Instead, Helena loves him. But with her, Demetrius was betrothed before the play begins. Hermia has two lovers and Helena has none. With the entrance in the wood, everything changes. After the application of the love-juice, Lysander awakes and suddenly he is in love with Helena: “Not Hermia, but Helena I love” (MND II.ii.112) The constellation is now as follows: Lysander loves Helena, Helena loves Demetrius, Demetrius loves Hermia and Hermia loves Lysander. When the juice is used the second time, Demetrius also falls in love with Helena. Now, the two men battle over Helena as they earlier did over Hermia. The disorder causes that the love is hopeless. But Lysander is given the juice-antidote, he returns to Hermia. Demetrius love to Helena rests and its the perfect match of the four Athenian lovers. (c.f. Berry 94)

2.1 Magic flower 'love-in-idleness'

The flower 'love-in-idleness' causes a lot of troubles in love which changes the love pairs. Oberon, the King of the Fairies, describes the story behind the magic `love-in-idleness`-flower. Cupid has enchanted the flower with one of his magic arrows, he “loos'd his love-shaft smartly from his bow.” (MND II.i.159) This is Oberons explanation where the flower comes from. The research literature has different theories wherefrom the flower stems. Olson writes this about the origin of the flower:

The herb has been suspected by modern critics of containing some superstitious magical potion, perhaps some aphrodisiac. However, the association of love and idleness goesback as far as Ovid's Remedia Amoris. Idleness is porter of the Narcissian garden of self-love in Le Roman de la Rose. (Olson 86)

The effect of the flower is as follows: “The juice of it, on sleeping eyelids laid,/Will make or man or woman madly dote / Upon the next live creature that it sees.” (MND II.i.170-172) The flower was “milk white” and now it is “purple” (MND II.i.167) The colours have a meaning, white stands traditionally for chastity and virginity, purple is the colour for mystic and changes. (c.f. Bartsch) This shows that the colours of the flower correspond to its effect. The flower changes the love between Lysander and Hermia and Demetrius and Helena.

Berry says about the magic juice: “The potion that is Puck ordered to drop into other's eyes is more than a mere device for inducing error, it is a delicately humorous symbol for love itself.” (Berry 93) Without the flower and the magic in the wood, the play would not function. Lysander betrays Hermia with Helena because of the magic juice. This fraud is funny for the audience because it is caused by the flower. Otherwise, it would be a tragedy and Lysander would be condemned by the audience. Further, he says about the juice: “The dramatic point of the juice is that it simulates, and therefore parodies, the conditions of love.” (Berry 93) The spectator is requested to judge the natural love between Hermia and Lysander and the man-made, or flower-made, love between Lysander and Helena and Helena and Demetrius.

The love experienced by Demetrius through the juice is different to that of Lysander. Demetrius love to Helena is real love. Demetrius was in love with Helena before he felt in love with Hermia: “The pleasure of mine eye,/Is only Helena. To her, my lord,/Was I betroth'd ere I saw Hermia;”(MND IV.i.170-171) The magic juice helps him to return to Helena. His love to Hermia was no real love what he notices with help of Oberon and Puck. Hermia drew off his affection to Helena but his real passion belongs to Helena. Their love have come to a stability (c.f. Dent 87). On the other hand Lysander finds Helena beautiful after his eyes are changed by the 'love-in-idleness'. He says: “Transparent Helena!”(MND II.ii.111) “Lysander has seen through Helena, and what he has seen is something more beautiful than her outward shape” (Vyvyan 84) It is not real beauty, what makes him fall in love with her. The flower has changed something in his cognition. In the Elizabethan Psychology the eyes are a mirror of the soul.(c.f. Anderson 114ff.) Lysander sees not Helena's beauty, he sees her soul. Before, Helena was not interesting for him. The love which appears between him and Helena is no real love. It is simulated and can only happen with the help of Puck. And because it is no real love Oberon can turn it back with Diana's flower. The love between Demetrius and Helena is no longer returnable. What Demetrius and Lysander experience through the magic flower is just mental delusion and passionate illusion.(c.f.Lengeler 100)

2.1.1 The role of Puck

Oberon uses Puck as bearer of the flower. He sends Puck to Helena and Demetrius, Oberon says about the two: “A sweet Athenian lady is in love/With a disdainful youth” (MND II.ii.260-261), he wants to help them with the magic flower. Puck, “can't find Demetrius although he spends the whole night wandering through the wood looking for him.“ (Swinden 58) Then, he founds an Athenian man, but it is Lysander. He squeezes the juice in the false eyes. “The four lovers, after all, are puppets while they are in the woods, the helpless victims of supernatural enchantments.” (Young 68) Puppets of Puck who makes fun of the siliness of the lovers behaviour. He likes to play with them and thinks their behaviour controlled by the love is foolish: “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” (MND III.ii.115) He seems to be an irdish Cupid who plays with the feelings of the four.

For Shakespeare, Puck is an important part of the comedy. He is the one who screws up the pairs. The audience sympathises with him because he is a bit clumsy when he confuses Demetrius and Lysander. He says about himself: “I am the merry wanderer of the night.” (MND II.i.43) This implicates that he brings happiness. Furthermore he speaks at the end directly to the audience. He steps outside the play and through this character Shakespeare breaks the fourth wall which is build up between audience and stage. This shows that Puck is an important character in the play, not only for the other characters but also for the audience.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


The Concept of Love in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
University of Bonn
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Shakespeare, Love, Anglistik, Literaturwissenschaften ;, A Midsummer Nights Dream, Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius;, Helena, Concept of Love, William Shakespeare;, Love in Idleness;
Quote paper
Clarissa Benning (Author), 2015, The Concept of Love in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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