Ambiguity in Midsummer Night’s Themes

As Pyramus and Thisbe is performed in Act V of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the themes of the play seem to be turned on their heads. During the first four acts, I was under the impression that one of the play’s central themes is that love is complicated and confusing. Hermia cannot be with Lysander because her father has already picked out Demetrius for her. Not only is she unable to be with the person she loves, but if she does not marry Demetrius then she can be KILLED, or even worse, sent to the convent to become a nun. This implies how serious people during this time period are about love. It is not something handled lightly, Hermia must love this man or her life could come to an end. Right from the opening scene, it seems as if love is hectic and anything but blissful.

Once the potion comes into play, the theme of confusing love is even further implied. After Helena has chased Demetrius for however long, the potion causes him to finally love her back. However, Shakespeare shows us that love can never be that simple. I don’t blame Helena for thinking Demetrius is mocking her. It’s completely human to want something so badly and then get scared and confused once the desire becomes a reality. As much as she wanted him to, I don’t think Helena thought Demetrius would ever love her back. She is completely aware of how much he loves Hermia as she mentions it several times throughout the play. One of Helena’s first lines is when she says to Hermia, “Demetrius loves you fair—O happy fair!” (1.1.182). This provides more evidence to support the theme of complicated love. Poor Helena is lovesick over someone who loves her best friend. And then when he finally loves her back she is suspicious and self-conscious.

To turn all of this around, everything seems to fall into place for the lovers in Act V—disproving the play’s original theme of complicated love. Act V makes love seem graceful, easy and natural. The lovers tell their stories and they all fit together. Hippolyta is amazed, she says, “But all the story of the night told over, And all their minds transfigured so together, More witnesseth than fancy’s images, And grows to something of great constancy;” (5.1.23-26). This implies the simplicity with which everything has fallen into place for Helena & Demetrius and Hermia & Lysander. Also, when Puck/Robin gives his final speech that says this all could have been a dream—“If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended: That you have but slumbered here,” (Epilogue.1-3)—it implies that love can be taken as lightly as a dream. Love is not something that should be crazy and stressful, it is instinctual and easy as dreaming. I’m not exactly sure what Shakespeare is indicating with these two contradicting themes I’ve picked up on. Perhaps he may just be insinuating that love is something that is ambiguous for everyone. Sometimes it is unrequited and noncommittal, and other times it is simple and commonplace. 


2 thoughts on “Ambiguity in Midsummer Night’s Themes

  1. anikakrempl

    I agree with your idea that the theme of love is shown as messy and confusing. However, I disagree that the fifth act contradicted the idea of love being confusing. I think that everything was smoothed over, certainly, but ONLY with the intervention of the supernatural. Without the magic potion, Demetrius would never have altered his affections. I think that the love was still complicated, but now agreeable to all the characters.

  2. Marcella

    Firstly, I like the title of your post. Clever! And your interpretation of Act V is completely valid and well thought out, but I must agree with the comment above. The love that remains in Act V, as I see it, may be the most complicated that it has ever been throughout the entire story. Hermia and Helena may have gotten what they wished for, but they had to endure trials of magic and confusion to get there. And not to forget poor Titania who has now lost her (adopted?) son to Oberon, who she goes back to despite what he did to her.


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