In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lysander delivers the line, “The course of true love never did run smooth” (I.1, 134). He is referring to his own romantic complications in regards to marrying Hermia. This line, however, very aptly describes all the romantic relationships in the play. There is nary a functional relationship to be found. Even the love of Lysander and Hermia, the one love that could be considered genuine, is easily compromised with the use of a little magic. It is clear in Theseus’ wooing Hippolyta by his sword and the attempt at a forced matrimony of Hermia and Demetrius by patriarchal decree that love is also not a legitimate necessity in marriage. What is the capricious love of this play good for then? The audience of the play must abandon notions of romance. Shakespeare has made love another punchline in this comedy. There is no need to be disillusioned with love when you can laugh at it instead.
Love is used as a vehicle for humor from the very first scene in the first act. When confronted about being forbidden to marry Hermia because he does not have her father’s approval, Lysander makes a jibe at Demetrius. “You have her father’s love, Demetrius;
Let me have Hermia’s: do you marry him” (I. 1, 98-99). This joke plays on the ridiculousness of the affection Egeus has for Demetrius being the final say of who Hermia should wed. Egeus responds, “Scornful Lysander! true, he hath my love, And what is mine my love shall render him” (I.1, 100-101). The audience then learns that Lysander is just as well derived, just as well possessed and in fact possibly richer than Demetrius. Egeus’ love for Demetrius is then arbitrary and makes him as humorously fickle as his young daughter.
Love in the realm of fairy’s is just as ridiculous. Titania’s speech of her rapturous love for an ass, serves as an example. Asses are known to be ugly in sight and sound, yet she dotes on these qualites.
“I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again:
Mine ear is much enamour’d of thy note;
So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape;
And thy fair virtue’s force perforce doth move me
On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee.” (III. 1, 959-963)
Manipulating the love of Titania is but another prank to Puck. Shakespeare is once again attuning the audience to the fact that acts and declarations of love in this play are just as deep and meaningful as a prank played by a bored fairy.
Even the play within a play, which is supposed to be in celebration of marriage and portray a deep and tragic love, is muddled by the troupes ineptitude and convoluted by their over-sensitivity- criticisms that could be applied to real romantic relationships. It is clear that no idyllic ideas should be had about the love in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The audience should not, however, jump to the idea that Shakespeare is trying to deconstruct love because it does not exist and the world is shallow and real romantic connection is hopeless. Shakespeare is simply playing on the idea that the things people do or say because they are inspired by love are silly. Love is funny like that.