The overriding theme of the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare deals with the nature of love.
Though true love seems to be held up as an ideal, false love is mostly what we are shown. Underneath his frantic comedy, Shakespeare seems to be asking the questions all lovers ask in the midst of their confusion: How do we know when love is real? How can we trust ourselves that love is real when we are so easily swayed by passion and romantic conventions? Some readers may sense bitterness behind the comedy, but will probably also recognize the truth behind Shakespeare’s satire. Often, love leads us down blind alleys and makes us do things we regret later. The lovers within the scene, especially the men, are made to seem rather shallow. They change the objects of their affections, all the time swearing eternal love to one or the other. In this scene Shakespeare presents the idea that both false love and true love can prevail..
Throughout Act III Scene II, many conflicts arise. However, the main conflict within the scene is the confusion the lovers face when their perceptions are altered. This confusion enhances the central theme of true love versus false love. There are many aspects of the play that deal with this central theme, but it is most prevalent within this scene. The chaos reaches a climax causing great disruption among the lovers. However, the turmoil is eventually resolved by the character who is originally responsible for the confusion, Puck.
Puck causes the disruption initially, when he intervenes in the lovers’ business. Jester and jokester, Puck, otherwise known as Robin Goodfellow, is like a wild, untamed member of the fairy clan. Though fairy king Oberon tells him they are “spirits of another sort,” Puck, with his connection to English legend and folklore, seems related to a slightly more dangerous kind of sprite. Not that he is truly malevolent, but his tricks make people uncomfortable. However, they don’t seem to do any permanent damage.
He casts an ironic eye on humanity. Thinking of people as fools, he loves to make fools of them. He expresses this idea when he states “What fools these mortals be” But laughter, not tears, is his aim. With his quickness, ventriloquism, and shape-changing ability, he clearly has magic fairy powers of his own. Meddling in the affairs of lovers and administering Cupid’s love juice, clearly presents Shakespeare’s views on the nature of love.
Puck’s mischievous ways may allow him to meddle within the affairs of the lovers, however, does this interference do more harm than good? This scene begins with Oberon encountering Puck in the middle of the woods. Puck, very excited, explains his actions. He tells Oberon how he caused Titania to fall in love with Bottom, who now has a donkey head. Puck also tells him that the Athenians had been placed under the spell causing them to fall magically in love. Oberon is very pleased with Puck’s efforts, and agrees that the situation turned out better than expected.
However, Oberon soon realizes Puck had made a mistake by causing the Athenian to fall in love with the wrong person. Oberon admonishes Puck for his mistake. Because of Puck, true love has been turned, “and not a false turned true.” Puck replies that those are the rules of fate. For every man holding true love, a million fail, breaking their oaths again and again.
This was not exactly what Oberon had in mind, he was hoping to remedy a situation, not make it worse. Puck always tries to throw something extra into the situation; he enjoys complications. “Then fate o’er-rules, that, one man holding troth, A million fail, confounding oath on oath.” By saying this, Puck makes it clear that the odds on finding true love are a million to one. It becomes clear that humans are going to need very accurate eyes to be able to see love clearly. Puck’s mischief turns a supposedly true love inside out.
However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. This mistake is used for the benefit of both Helena and Demetrius. Puck uses his magic to unite the lovers under a cloud of false love. This aspect of false love is what holds the lovers together, proving that false love can be just as strong as true love.
The other aspect of the nature of love is that true love triumphs. This is proven through the characters Lysander and Hermia. Puck meddles within their lives as well, but their true feelings return in the end. While under Puck’s spell, Lysander falsely loved Helena, making him blind to his true feelings. He lashes out against Hermia, his true love, calling her names such as “dwarf, minimous, bead and acorn.” At one point, he even says that he hates her. “Although I hate her, I will not harm her so.” Hermia quickly responds, “What, can you do me greater harm than hate?” It is obvious that her heart has been broken.
This also expresses Shakespeare’s ideas of the nature of love, with its twists and complexities. Love is a long hard road and cannot be reached by taking a straight, clear-cut path. Even though throughout the scene Hermia and Lysander are in constant conflict, a resolution is eventually reached. Hermia and Lysander remain in love, proving that true love can prevail. In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” William Shakespeare explains the difficulties of the nature of love. Both false love and true love prevail in the end, leading the reader to come to the conclusion that all types of love can triumph.
Hermia and Lysander represent the existence of a “true love”, while Helena and Demertrius represent the opposite extreme. Shakespeare presents the idea that love is unpredictable and can cause great confusion. Love is something that cannot be explained, it can only be experienced. Shakespeare challenges us to develop our own idea of what love truly is.