Love is the overriding theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play may be a comedy yet the idea it supports is serious. In the play Lysander said “Ay me, for aught that I could ever read, Could ever hear by tale or history, The course of true love never did run smooth….” Lysander utters these words to Hermia when she feels burdened by the obstacles to their love particularly when her father, forbid them to marry.
Lysander assures Hermia that the course of true love has never been easy. There will always be insurmountable difficulties to impede it. Lysander cites differences in age as one (“misgrafted in respect of years”) and difficulties caused by friends or “war, death, or sickness,” which make love appears “swift as a shadow, short as any dream” (I.i.137, I.i.142-144). Hermia counters by remaining positive all throughout their travails and believing that the difficulties are merely the price lovers pay for romantic bliss. The exploration of love’s difficulties is actually at the heart of the play. That, love’s trail was never paved.
Love’s difficulty is depicted in a number of instances in the play such as when Puck attempted to put love potion to Lysander and he ended up loving his fiancée Hermia’s best friend Helena. Helena, on the other hand, is in love with Hermia’s suitor Demetrius. But Demetrius loves Helena. The love triangle creates an imbalance with one Hermia having so many suitors while Helena has none.
All is well at the end, however, when Puck undoes his actions. Lysander loves Hermia again and Demetrius falls in love with Helena. A group wedding ensues.
Another theme of the play is fantasy or as the title suggests dreams. This dream or fantasy is represented by fairies in the forest and magic potions. The emphasis of this setting in the play prepares the readers’ mind to the fact that something “magical” is about to occur. This, of course, lends some sort of credibility to the story.
The fantasy part of the play also symbolizes loss of identities of the characters. This is best exemplified by Oberon and Titania who quarrels because of Oberon’s obsession to the Indian boy leaving Titania feeling unacknowledged.
It is this theme of lack of recognition of love that actually propels the story forward. This problem is not exclusive Oberon and Titania since other characters in the play undergo similar conflict. Demetrius ignores Helena’s love and Hermia also refuses to acknowledge Demetrius’ love for her.
That love causes loss of identity on the lovers is a certainty. Victor Kiernan, a Marxist scholar and historian said “It was the more extravagant cult of love that struck sensible people as irrational, and likely to have dubious effects on its acolytes”.
The loss of identities is a mere blurring of distinction in the desire to pursue practical ties between the characters in order to cope with the daunting world in the dark forest as exemplified in the brief and strange relationship between Titania and Bottom the Ass.