A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare shows many different kinds of
love and marriage. There is the mature love of Theseus and Hippolyta;
the more frantic, passionate and unstable love of the young people; and
the power struggle between Oberon and Titania. The emphasis is both on
the value of love and its strange, irrational aberrations, particularly
those associated with the excesses and sudden u-turns of romantic love.
The Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-the-play shows (albeit softened by
farce), that love can also have tragic outcomes. Pyramus and Thisbe
both die, like Romeo and Juliet, because of a misunderstanding. Perhaps
as they watch Pyramus and Thisbe, the quartet of lovers might feel
particularly grateful that the misunderstandings they went through in
the wood were sorted out for good rather than ill.
are many contrasts in the play, including that between reason and
imagination, or between the rational and the nonrational elements in
human experience. To a Renaissance person there would be no doubt about
which was the superior. Reason, the intellect, the discriminating
faculty, was what lifted human life above that of the beasts. Not only
should reason rule passion, it should also supervise the imagination,
which might otherwise run wild, without any basis in reality. This
perspective is embodied in Theseus's speech at the beginning of Act 5.
Theseus does not believe that what happened to the lovers has any
validity; lovers, madmen, and poets rely on imagination, and yet what
they dream up has no real substance.
disagrees with her new husband, and the play would seem to lend more
support to her view than to his. Theseus's philosophy works well in
the rational, orderly world of the court, where the ordinary laws of
society function. But it cannot sort out the conflict between law and
love that is at the heart of the quarrel between Egeus and Hermia, nor
can it provide any comfort to Helena or bring Demetrius to his senses.
It is only in the wood that a solution can emerge. We might think of
the wood as symbolizing the irrational, unconscious elements of the
psyche. It is these forces that toss the lovers every which way, before
sanity and harmony are restored. But perhaps such disruption is
necessary. Perhaps when Lysander decides that he really loves Hermia,
there is a corner of his psyche in which those feelings really do
exist. By giving vent to them rather than repressing them, he
eventually realizes that his love for Helena is far greater and more
valuable than any feelings he may have for Hermia. And it should be
noted that the impasse in which the lovers find themselves in the wood
is eventually sorted out not by a rational discussion but by a piece of
magic, courtesy of the benevolent Oberon. Magic is just the term we
give to phenomena which cannot be understood by the rational mind. And
it is Oberon and the fairies, not Theseus and his court, who have the
last word, as they come into the palace at the end of the play to bless
addition to reason and imagination, there are many other contrasts in
this carefully structured play, such as day / night; light / dark; wood
/ city; fairy / mortal; dream / waking; appearance / reality;
madness / sanity; and love / law.