Shakespeare?s lovers in A Midsummer Night?s Dream and Twelfth Night are
In A Midsummer Night?s Dream, the moon is the guiding force of
madness in the play which influences the chaotic nature and lunacy of the
characters. The moon seems to preside over the entire play and is a symbol of
Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies, are one example of
lunatic lovers that parallel the theme of changeability. Oberon and Titania are
quarreling over the possession of an Indian boy that Titania has mothered since
the boy was a baby. This makes Oberon very jealous. But, Oberon doesn?t help
matters much with his straying after nymphs and admiring Hippolyta. This
quarrel becomes so intense that it begins to affect the seasons on earth. Titania
describes it as:
The spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world
By their increase now knows not which is which,
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
The constant changing of the earth?s state in the seasons creates chaos among
mother nature. In order to solve the quarrel, Oberon wants to teach Titania a
lesson by telling Puck or Robin Goodfellow to use a magical nectar on her and
the Athenian man called Demetrius:
Fetch me a flower; the herb that I showed thee once
The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
In the case of the two lovers, Hermia and Lysander, they plan to meet by
moonlight and elope in Athens. Egeus, Hermia?s father, wishes for her to marry
a man named Demetrius whom he thinks is of high stature and is fitting for his
daughter as a husband. Hermia is very much in love with Lysander and chooses
to directly disobey Athenian law and her father?s wishes by eloping. Hermia?s
willingness to risk banishment from her homeland shows that love can make a
person do irrational things.
Helena, Hermia?s friend, was once the beloved of Demetrius and if she
can win back his love, then Hermia and Lysander will be free to wed. In an
effort to gain the attention of Demetrius, Helena betrays the secret of her dearest
friend when she informs Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander are eloping. This
is another example of a ?lunatic lover? in Shakespeare. Helena knows that she
must keep Hermia?s secret, but she cannot help but tell it to Demetrius in order to
get him to notice her. Helena?s love for Demetrius could cost her the friendship
that she has with Hermia but when a person is so much in love sometimes he or
she will risk anything.
A mistake made by Puck increases the chaos and madness in the play.
Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and sprinkles Lysander?s eyes with the
potion instead. Lysander awakens and the first person he sees is Helena. Under
the influence of the potion, he immediately falls in love with her. A catastrophe
is created when Hermia awakens from her slumber and finds that Lysander has
only eyes for Helena. A fight emerges among the two best friends when Helena
O spite! O hell! I see you are all bent
To set against me for your merriment.
If you were civil and knew courtesy
You would not do me thus much injury.
. Puck also sprinkles the potion on Titania?s eyes causing her to act like a
?lovesick lunatic?. When she awakens, she sees Bottom who is now an ass
head, and she immediately falls in love with him. Even though Bottom is an ass
head, the potion hinders her judgment and she is attracted to him anyway.
Otherwise, Titania would certainly not be attracted to the ass head, Bottom, at
all. In these lines, Titania talks of the repulsive Bottom as a very handsome man:
Come, sit thee down upon this flow?ry bed,
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
And stick muskroses in thy sleek smooth head,
And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.
The madness of this type of love is reflected in the line, ?reason and love keep
little company nowadays? from Act III, Scene I (145-46). Love is blind to reason
and sometimes love overpowers reason.
Theseus in A Midsummer Night?s Dream reemphasizes the connection of
the lunatic and the lover, hence the phrase ?lovers are lunatics?:
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen?s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The lunatic lovers in Shakespeare?s Twelfth Night also show the
changeability and madness of love. Viola, who is disguised as a young man
named Cesario, is in love with Duke Orsino. Viola was shipwrecked and wanted
to seek employment with Olivia, but she could not because Olivia did not wish to
associate with anyone due to her brother?s recent death. Viola is employed with
Orsino instead as a eunuch. Throughout the play, Viola stays true to her purpose
in helping Duke Orsino win Lady Olivia?s love.
Orsino says that love acts like a demon and can wreck a person?s life in
the following lines:
If music be the food of love, play on!
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall.
At this point in the play, Orsino is not in love with one particular person. He is
in love with love itself. He uses words such as ?excess,? ?surfeiting,? ?appetite,?
and ?dying fall,? which shows that the Duke is sentimentally in love with love.
Orsino thoroughly enjoys giving himself up to the exquisite delights of his own
passions, and uses Viola (Cesario) to do his courting of Lady Olivia for him.
Also in that same speech, Orsino refers to the metaphor of the sea that he loves:
O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, naught enters there.
The sea is vast and symbolizes Orsino?s capacity for love. The sea is also
changeable, unstable, and constantly shifting. At the end of the play, Orsino?s
love shifts from Lady Olivia to Viola (Cesario). He has been working up to this.
The Fool comments on the changing attraction and compares Orsino?s love to
that of an opal. An opal is a gem stone that constantly changes color according
to the nature of the light:
Now the melancholy god protect thee,
And the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta
For thy mind is a very opal.
Another incident of love causing madness occurs when Maria concocts a
scheme involving a letter and Malvolio. Malvolio discovers a letter that says
should it fall by accident into the hands of the author?s beloved, he should be
aware that the woman who loves him is ?above? him, but she begs him not to
fear her ?greatness?:
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have
greatness thrust upon ?em.
Malvolio is to wear yellow stockings that are ?cross gartered? to win the
love of Lady Olivia. This attire is considered a symbol of a low-class serving
person. Also, yellow is a color that Lady Olivia detests the most. Malvolio does
these outrageous things because he wishes to woo the countess, Lady Olivia. In
Act III, Scene 4 (61) Olivia reacts by saying, ?Why, this is very midsummer
madness!? Malvolio?s crazy behavior of wearing the yellow stockings also
shows that love is blind to reason, and a person will do just about anything to
impress the one he loves.
In Act III, Scene I, another lunatic action done by a lover occurs. The
Lady Olivia falls in love with Cesario who is really the woman, Viola. When
Cesario comes to court Olivia for Orsino one evening, Olivia tells Cesario that
she will not have him. Then as Cesario is about to leave, Olivia is curious to
know what he thinks of her so she tells him to stay. This shows the changeability
and madness in Lady Olivia?s character. Surprisingly, Olivia makes a passionate
declaration of love for Cesario when she boldly refused to court any man because
she was in mourning of her brother?s death. Olivia says:
Cesario, by the roses of the spring,
By maidhood, honour, truth, and everything…
I love thee so…
Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.
Cesario cannot answer her plea for love or the disguise would be revealed so
Cesario chooses to reject Olivia. Lady Olivia is now reduced to the same state as
Orsino in terms of his courtship with her. They both pleaded for love and were
Also, a homosexual love affair occurs between Antonio and Sebastian.
Antonio cannot ignore his feelings for Sebastian but at the same time, he is now
sure how Sebastian will react. Antonio would like to be Sebastian?s servant but
that is not possible because Sebastian dare not take Antonio to Duke Orsino?s
court due to the ?many enemies? that are there. Antonio says that he will always
treasure his friendship with Sebastian and decides to go with Sebastian anyway
despite the danger. Antonio recognizes the dangers ahead if he follows Sebastian
to Orsino?s palace, but after the horrors of the shipwreck, future ?danger shall
seem sport.? This is another example of blindness and madness of love. Antonio
knows the dangers of traveling to Orsino?s palace, but he is willing to do it
anyway because of love.
Throughout all of this constant madness and lunatic love affairs in Twelfth
Night, the Fool observes the incidents and manages to refrain from being
involved in the madness. The Fool always seems to be one step ahead of
everyone else in the play. He saw through Viola?s disguise before any of the
Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun;
It shines everywhere. I would be sorry, sir, but the Fool
Should be oft with your master as with my mistress.
The continual usage of ?sir? and the emphasis applied to the word when talking
to Cesario hints at the Fool?s knowledge of Viola?s disguise. The rest of the
characters in the play are the Fool?s entertainment, and he enjoys watching the
lunatic lovers. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare shows how silly people can really
be and through the Fool?s perspective we can observe the madness of the love
affairs and the vagaries of sexual attraction in the play.
In conclusion, the lovers in both A Midsummer Night?s Dream and
Twelfth Night are lunatics and show that love is blind to reason.
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