Theme of Love
Though readers may be confused as to why Shakespeare treats so lightly the institution of love, examination of the theme of the play addresses this very issue.
A critical factor that is apparent through the contrast between the fairies and the Athenian nobles is the lack of genuine happiness among the latter; their interactions are marked by discontent. From the start of the play, Demetrius has unrequited love for Hermia, and Helena similarly has unrequited love for Demetrius. Oddly, even the two who mutually love each other, Lysander and Hermia, are unhappy as well; societal pressure continues to thwart their relationship from growing. Lysander believes that “if there were a sympathy in choice, \ War, death or sickness did lay siege to it, \ Making it momentary as a sound” (I.i.141-143). His pessimistic outlook on his future with Hermia indicates the lack of happiness. Because of the unbalanced love relationships among the four nobles, friendships are affected as well. Helena jealously and bitterly responds to Hermia’s greeting in Act 1: “O happy fair! Your eyes are lodestars, and your tongue’s sweet air \ More tunable than lark to shepherd’s ear \ When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear” (I.i.182-185). Helena’s jealousy soon leads to an act of betrayal and chaos quickly ensues. Further, even when Demetrius and Lysander are both made to love Helena by the fairies’ potion, Helena skeptically ignores the sudden change in events. In fact, when the two men profess their love for her, she angrily responds, “Wherefore was I to this keen mockery born? When at your hands did I deserve this scorn?” (II.ii.96-97). At this point in the play, Hermia is profoundly upset as well because of Lysander’s sudden change in feelings.
Only through successful magic and trickery are the nobles allowed some measure of peace and satisfaction at the end of the play. Therefore, one interpretation of the theme is the dissatisfaction and confusion that often accompanies love. Shakespeare comments on this very confusion through Theseus when he says “And as imagination bodies forth \ The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen \ Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing \ A local habitation and a name” (I.v.14-17). Though the readers realize that requited love required other worldly intervention, Shakespeare is saying lovers are always tormented with feelings of inequality and are made to endure hardships.