The Deception of Eyes

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare creates many definite symbols that represent the themes of love and the illusion of love through supernatural beings and objects such as cupid and the love potion. However, there is one symbol in which Shakespeare consistently changes the meaning to and that is the humanly symbol of eyes. Throughout the play Shakespeare makes many references to eyes, but although he mentions eyes to a grand total of forty-one times in his play, he does not give them a “definite” meaning of their usage.
In fact in Act V when the symbol of eyes is first introduced, it is represented as a symbol of the fidgeting and unrest in a mad man or a lover trying to find that love or the object that they desire.  The quote on page 886:
                                                                                (Shakespeare p. 886)
represents eyes as nothing more than just a mental image. But on page 887, the eyes are represented as an emotional response by Egeus to the play. The quote,
                                                                                (Shakespeare p. 887)
shows the shifts of the function and symbol of the eyes. This is a completely different function and representation of the eyes in scene IV. In fact throughout scene four and even in the earlier scenes, the usage of eyes was primarily towards the lovers and the shifts that the lovers’ had towards one another.
When Puck laces the eyes of Lysander it is the function and symbols of the eyes to “fall in love” with the wrong person which is Helena. His eyes betray him which brings up the notion of eyes being deceptive. Furthermore it is the eyes in which all the characters that were fooled by the potion (Titania, Lysander, Demetrius) that had created for them the illusion of love towards Helena and Bottom. In fact there are many mentions of the eyes being veiled or “covered” in some way or the other. One moment in which the eyes are “covered” is how the potion is administered.
Puck does not administer the potion when they have their eyes open. No, in fact he does this when their eyes are closed and “covered.” He covers their eyes with potion when they are blinded by sleep.
The shifts in the symbol, eyes in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream are, although puzzling, befitting. Love (as shallow as this may seem) is first developed through having some sight with that person. You have to see the person before you love them. But, it is the eyes that can create illusions and delusions on who you love as well. In fact the constant shift of functions and usage of eyes in this play speaks about the shifting and changing loves and plots in the play; demonstrating that eyes are not windows to our soul, but deceptive tools and slaves to our imagination and desires.

2 thoughts on “The Deception of Eyes

  1. Jacey Lawler

    This is a very interesting post topic! I love how you noticed the frequent mention of “eyes” in various contexts throughout the play. Shakespeare using “eye” forty-one times is fascinating and an important thing for readers to note. The significance that human vision plays in romantic love is quite intriguing. There are many times in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" where one’s looks are prized. For example, Hermia states how she is fair and beautiful when pleading with Lysander (3.2.275) and an infatuated Titania states: “So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape” when first spotting Bottom (3.1.123). These are observations that reveal how visual a thing love actually is. Although people tend to state that the “inside” of a person is the most important, Shakespeare understood the magnitude that physical attraction plays in a romance. I think this could be a way of interpreting his great focus on sight and eyes.

  2. Cyrus Mulready

    I really appreciate your careful attention to the "eyes" of this play, Christina, and you do lovely work here considering the importance of the word and symbol. One further idea to add to this is the possible punning on "eye," which when heard can also sound like "Aye" (as in "yes") and "I." I'm not sure how often Shakespeare puns on the word in this play, but it would be interesting to go back through your examples and see if there is any further insight to be gained from these alternate homonyms.


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