A Midsummer Night’s Dream depicts the lunacy in love by warping tensions and the dream-like quality of love beneath the eyes of the dreamer to produce “rare visions” in which to learn from. The title of the play holds tremendous weight, as it depicts the passions of love through dreams, while emphasizing the relationship between the two. Dreams and love then become intertwined with one another and the similarities begin to become more apparent. Shakespeare brilliantly weaves the lives of the four young lovers and creates disarray within a magical world of fairies and love juice. The characters within the play take hold of the trite and conventional words of love and declare them with the sincerity of true love. However, these words are a mockery of love when Lysander and Demetrius, two of the male characters, reverse their declarations of love from Hermia to Helena. Although the tensions arise most poignantly among the lovers, it is Bottom who emerges from the dream state with the desire to learn from his unconscious moment and the ability to see the mingling of the dream versus reality. Love and dreams both become foggy, unclear, passionate states in which the individuals involved become delusional victims. The title emphasizes the importance of each of the character’s dream, and highlights the irrational, impersonal and under valued qualities of love.
Lysander’s words that “the course of true love never did run smooth” (I, i, 54) seems to mimic the faulty passions of love within the play. Like dreams, love is foolish, crazy and driven by desires. Shakespeare highlights the absurdity of love by showing the dispensable and interchangeable emotions within the dreams. The male characters claim each love as being the greatest love, yet their shallow and conventional words show the true nature of the men. For instance, just before falling asleep, Lysander says to Hermia, “I mean that my heart unto your is knit, / So that but one heart we can make of it” (II, ii, 161), then when waking he declares to Helena that he would “run through fire […] for thy sweet sake” (II, ii, 162). Both declarations are common phrases spoken when in love and dreams.
Dreams and love have a reoccurring way of mimicking and repeating conventions. Despite the trite words, betrayals and heartache within the dreams, not all of the characters within the play change or learn upon awakening. In fact, some of the characters seem unchanged by their dreams, such as Hermia and Helena, who remain blind to the pain their lover’s had bestowed, while Lysander once again directs his affection toward Hermia as though it had never faltered. Then, Demetrius is seemingly changed for the better as though he remained dreaming.
Prior to falling asleep, Demetrius seemed concerned only in himself, disregarding the wants of the woman he claimed to love. Rather than letting her marry a man whom she loved in return, he set out to force her to unwillingly marry him. However, when dreaming, Demetrius finds himself under the enchantment of the love juice and in love with Helena. Upon awakening, he remains true to the person he had become in the dream, restoring order in reality by marrying Helena and allowing Lysander and Hermia to be together. In reflecting upon his dream, Demetrius declares,
“But, my good lord, I wot not by what power –
But by some power it is – my love to Hermia,
Melted as the snow, seems to me now
As the remembrance of an idle gaud
Which in my childhood I did dote upon;
And all the faith, the virtue of my heart,
The object and the pleasure of mine eye,
Is only Helena” (IV, i, 173)
Moreover, Demetrius’ dream melts away his passion for Hermia and brings him to a place where he can see his love for Helena. His dream was meant to remind him of the life he should lead. So whether he is truly awake or still remains in his dreams, he is seen as a better man.
Nick Bottom is another man who dreams in the enchanted world of fairies and love juice. He is seen to be a pig-headed, self-concerned man who is transformed in the dream world into having the head of a donkey, which symbolizes an ass of a man. Yet although Bottom enters the dream world as an ass that is loved by the beautiful Tatiana, he emerges from it with knowledge and understanding. When he awakes, he states,
“I have had a most rare vision. I have
had a dream, past the wit of a man to say what dream
it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this
dream. Methought I was – there is no man can tell
what. Methought I was – and methought I had— but
man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what
methought I had” ( IV, i, 173).
Moreover, Bottom sees dreams as “rare visions.” Perhaps Shakespeare sees dreams as stoically also. He wakens to a better self where his pride, conceited views and disrespect vanish. His dream becomes his art as he vows to have a ballad written of his experience.
Dreaming in the play challenges the excepted thoughts, and brings chaos to the reality that love is blind. Both love and dreams should provide visions of truth, yet often fail to do so. Then if love and dreams are so irrevocably linked, should they both then be placed upon a pedestal of expectations? Traditional, common, and overdone, yet passionate, enlightening and wooing, love and dreams fog the mind, entrance the being and set out for a deeper purpose. If you think the relationship between love and dreams is full of nonsense, Shakespeare may insist you take this absurdity as being “no more yielding but a dream” (V, i, 179).