Illusion of Love in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream
The play A Midsummer Night's Dream is centered around themes that are seemingly apparent and clear: those of true love, false love, love's blindness and the inconstancy of love. However, this pattern of the themes of love dissipate to reveal that these themes are only apparent to the reader who wants them to exist. We want Lysander and Hermia to be in love; we want Demetrius to love Helena as she loves him, but the question arises as to whether these lovers are actually in love. Is Shakespeare providing us with a wholesome tale of true love or is he conveying something more raw, more provocative than that? When taking a closer look at this play, one sees a recurring pattern and another common theme - that of lust and sexuality. The love theme in this play is but an illusion, the reality is that this play is centered around sex and desire.
A common focus in A Midsummer Night's Dream is that of eyes and sight. The words "eye," "sight," and "see" occur a total of one hundred seventeen times throughout the play (Berry). One may suggest that this eye imagery conveys the theme of love more strongly as "love is blind" or that love enters through the eyes (Vaughn, 73). However, the eyes are based on the physical world; love is not based on sight alone. The physicality of Shakespeare's use of sight is a direct consequence of lust. One does not love with their eyes, one loves with one's heart and mind; one desires with one's eyes.
Similarly, the physicality of the play is also maintained through the constant profession of physical beauty. Helena laments that she wishes she looked like Hermia:
O, teach me how you look, and with what art,
You sway the motion of Demetrius' heart. (I. i. 192-193)
After the juice of the flower has been put on Lysander's and Demetrius' eyes, they both profess the beauty of Helena, this after they had declared the beauty of Hermia. Appearance seems to be the basis of feeling for the entire play.
The title of the play itself indicates sexual connotation. The word "midsummer" indicates that the play takes place during the summer equinox which was often celebrated and closely related to May-day. There are several references to May in the play, alluding to the celebration. In medieval times, May-day was a festival of spring, celebrating courtship and fertility, prohibited in 1644 because mating and merriment got too out of control (Benet). During the festival, escape with a lover into the woods was not scorned as it normally would be, and sexual frivolity becomes common place. Also, May-day was centered around a large, phallic structure, the maypole, around which the people would dance, holding onto ribbons attached to the pole (Benet). The play, being set on a day when sexuality and courtship was favourable, lends itself to the theme of sexual love and infatuation, rather than "true" or romantic love.
The physical setting of the play also has strong...