Lysander in Act 1 Scene 1 foreshadows the plays main
source of dramatic comedy: Love. “The course of true
love never did run smooth.” (line 136)
We are going to explore how this idea
comes to effect the dramatic comedy of
parties feel the
Love for your
doesn‟t return the
love of the other
were used in
schools to teach
Latin, even though
their plots usually
of the young lovers
over foolish father
Can we see the
Roman comedy in
TASK: Describe the love between these
Theseus and Hippolyta
Egeus and Hermia
Lysander and Hermia
Demetrius and Hermia
Demertrius and Helena
Helena and Hermia
Titania and Oberon
Titania and the Indian Boy
Puck and Oberon
Bottom and Titania
(according to Lysander)
LYSANDER The course of true love never did run smooth.
But either it was different in blood – ...
Or else misgraffed in respect of years- ...
Both are aware
that lovers before
Or else it stood upon the choice of merit - ...
them have come to
Or if there were a sympathy in choice,
sad ends and the
War, death or sickness did lay siege to it,
story of Pyramus
Making it momentary as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream:
reminds us that
Brief as the lightening in the collied night.
love can be a
That in a spleen unfolds both heaven and earth.
source of tragedy
And ere a man hath power to say ‘Behold!’
as easily as of
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.
HERMIA If then true lovers have been ever crossed.
It stands as an edict in destiny.
Then let us teach our trial patience,
Because it is a customary cross,
As due to love as thoughts and dreams and sighs,
Wishes and tears, poor fancy’s followers.
(Act 1 Scene 1 Lines 136-157)
(Hermia – the ever-moving messenger of the
Greek gods, know to Romans as Mercury)
Hermia is the darker and shorter of the two
women. Dark hair and skin were considered
unfashionable in this period, but before the
magic juice distorts their reactions both men
perceive Hermia as highly attractive. Hermia is
self-assertive, perhaps she takes after her
father, and defies not only her father but the
Lysander for the most part a model young
aristocrat. He woos Hermia with poems, songs
and gifts, is coolly assertive in his dealings with
Egeus and his rival Demetrius, and is smoothly
courteous to Theseus. The elopement plan
shows his initiative, though his inability to find his
way through the wood soon takes away some of
our admiration for him.
(Helena – means Light)
Her name is fitting for her fair coloring, she‟s
also tall. She seems at first to be confident of
her own attractiveness but having been
rejected by Demetrius before the play begins,
she has less self-esteem than Hermia and is
Demetrius is a less sympathetic figure.
Before the play begins he has courted
Helena then abandoned her for Hermia. He
ridicules Lysander and is unpleasant to
Hermia, it is only when the magic juice has
been placed on his eyes does he show
honour and dignity. He is the only one of the
four lovers from whom the spell is never
The four young lovers amorous affairs form a central thread of the story.
But their love is turned on and off like switch by the application of magic
eye-drops, with the result that the two men insult and abuse their
sweethearts and all four finally descend to extremely unromantic brawling –
another example of how Shakespeare highlights the darker side of comedy.
Critics have described MSND as presenting a “detached attitude to such
matters at the nature of love and the behaviour of lovers.” It seems there is
little to choose between Hermia and Helena, Lysander and Demetrius – so
much so that we find ourselves mixing them up just as Robin and Oberon
do within the play. The attraction the couples feel for each other seems to
have nothing to do with the merit of the person being loved, only with the
feelings of the person who is in love with them. Love is entirely in the eye of
the beholder. In particular, as the two men‟s views are changed by the
application of the fairies‟ magic juice to their eyes, they fall rapidly in and out
of love with the two women, adoring and deriding their partners by turns,
while confidently proclaiming all the while that their behaviour is prompted
by judgement and reason.
TASK: Is this unidealistic view of love shocking to a modern
The Lovers – Courtly Love
One of the most influential literary ideas in the medieval period
was that of amour courtois, courtly love. It originated with the
troubadours of southern France in the 12th century, and its
principal characteristics are:
The courtly lover idealises his beloved; she, his sovereign lady,
occupies an exalted position above him. His feelings for her
ennoble him and make him more worthy; her beauty of body
and soul makes him long for union with her, not for passion’s
sake but as a means of achieving the ultimate in moral
(Courtly love, the New Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and
Poetics, Alex Preminger and TVF Brogan, 1993)
The Lovers – Courtly Love
The important thing to note is that this was not a
particularly common (or sensible) way of actually
behaving; it was an excuse for poetry. In the
development of poetic fashion it began to morph into
something less idealistic:
BLAZON – an elaborate descriptive
list emphasising the physical beauties
of the distant beloved.
Physical Suffering – the lover became less
„ennoble‟ and more pained: sighing, burning,
lack of appetite, sleeplessness etc. Perhaps
this is because it more visual than being
The conventional image of a courtly lover by the late 16th century
in England was material for satire (to be mocked), particularly on
stage, where the poetic attitudes of the lover can be translated
into a specifically eccentric physical appearance.
“The Course of True Love Never
Did Run Smooth”
The magic juice dropped into the lovers‟
eyes makes them all „madly dote on the
next live creature‟ that they see. Thus we
have the absurd scenes: 2.2 and 3.2.
The Course of Love
Act 3 Scene 2
• Lines 122-136 Lysander and Helena argue. Why?
• Line 136 Lysander says he loves Helena. How does Helena react?
• Lines 137-144 Demetrius wakes up and sees Helena. What does he say?
• Lines 145-161 Helena is in love with Demetrius. When she hears him say
he loves her how does she respond?
• Lines 162-176 Lysander and Demetrius argue over who they love. What
do they say?
• Lines 177-191 Hermia appears, looking for Lysander. What happens next?
• Annotate the extracts to identify the conventions of courtly love.
• Highlight and label anything significant about the way Shakespeare uses
language in these extracts.
• How is the comedy created in these extracts?
After you‟ve answered the questions on 2:2 and 3:2, draw a representation of the
course of the Lovers‟ love. This could be a storyboard, a timeline, a diagram etc. but
it must have a series of quotes to show the course of their love.
LYSANDER awakes under the influence of magic and sees Helena.
LYSANDER: [Waking] And run through fire I will for thy sweet sake.
Transparent Helena! Nature shows art,
That through thy bosom makes me see thy heart.
Where is Demetrius? O, how fit a word
Is that vile name to perish on my sword! ...
Reason becomes the marshal to my will,
And leads me to your eyes, where I o'erlook
Love's stories, written in Love's richest book. (2:2: Lines 110-115, 126-128)
A few minutes later, Demetrius, supposedly also in love with Hermia, wakes to see Helena as his ideal beloved.
DEMETRIUS: (Awaking) O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!
To what, my love, shall I compare thine eyne?
Crystal is muddy. O, how ripe in show
Thy lips, those kissing cherries, tempting grow!
That pure congealed white, high Taurus' snow,
Fann'd with the eastern wind, turns to a crow
When thou hold'st up thy hand. O, let me kiss
This princess of pure white, this seal of bliss! (3:2: Lines 139-146)
But Helena has had enough of this deceiving rhetoric of courtly love, and speaks with articulate fury:
HELENA: O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment.
If you were civil and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?
If you were men, as men you are in show,
You would not use a gentle lady so:
To vow, and swear, and superpraise my parts,
When I am sure you hate me with your hearts. (3:2: Lines 149-156)
The next thing the audience witnesses is a girl-fight.
HERMIA: O me! you juggler! you cankerbossom!
You thief of love! What! Have you come by night,
And stolen my love's heart from him?
HELENA: Fine, i' faith!
Have you no modesty, no maiden shame,
No touch of bashfulness? What! Will you tear
Impatient answers from my gentle tongue?
Fie, fie! you counterfeit, you puppet you!
HERMIA: ‘Puppet!’ why so? Ay, that way goes the game.
Now I perceive that she hath made compare
Between our statures; she hath urged her height;
And with her personage, her tall personage,
Her height, forsooth, she hath prevail'd with him.
And are you grown so high in his esteem
Because I am so dwarfish and so low?
How low am I, thou painted maypole? Speak.
How low am I? I am not yet so low
But that my nails can reach unto thine eyes. (3:2: Lines 294-308)
The last words of the two girls occur in Act 4 Scene 1 and both speeches have a certain ambiguity.
HERMIA: Methinks I see these things with parted eye,
When every thing seems double.
HELENA: So methinks;
And I have found Demetrius like a jewel,
Mine own, and not mine own. (4:1:Lines 190-195)
Who‟s upset – Act 2 Scene 2
Analyse the lines listed below to explore the
differences in Helena‟s, Lysander‟s and
Hermia‟s reactions to what has happened in
the woods. For each state: who‟s upset and
An Odd Romance
Perhaps to highlight further that love is in the eye of the
beholder , magic even brings about a liaison between
the queen of the fairies and a lower-class mortal who
has temporarily had his head replaced by that of an ass.
When Titania embraces Bottom, Shakespeare seems to
be telling us that sexual attraction is not only subjective
and irrational, but liable at times to take absurd and
How does this fit with the origins of dramatic
Comedy highlights that human beings are in
fact ridiculous and cannot change. Comedies,
therefore, often confirm our view of the world.
An Odd Romance
Titania and Bottom
In the play’s fairy world, where the courtly romantic conventions are irrelevant, love is considerably more brutal.
The love-juice dropped by Oberon on Titania’s eyes carries a malevolent curse.
OBERON: What thou seest when thou dost wake,
Do it for thy true-love take;
Love and languish for his sake.
Be it ounce, or cat, or bear,
Pard, or boar with bristled hair,
In thy eye that shall appear
When thou wakest, it is thy dear.
Wake when some vile thing is near.(2:2:32- 39)
This will not be romantic love, but bestial lust. Oberon and Puck between them engineer Titania’s waking to espy
Bottom transformed with an ass’s head. The audience witnesses a coupling that contravenes inter-species
taboos, class distinctions, and aesthetic taste (‘My mistress with a monster is in love!’ says Puck). Nevertheless,
their two scenes (3:1 and 4:1) have a charm that transcends the incongruous. They emphasise physical pleasure
– music, food and drink, lovemaking.
TITANIA: Be kind and courteous to this gentleman;
Hop in his walks, and gambol in his eyes;
Feed him with apricocks and dewberries,(160)
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries;
The honey-bags steal from the humble-bees,
And for night-tapers crop their waxen thighs,
And light them at the fiery glow-worm's eyes,
To have my love to bed and to arise;(3:2: Lines 158-165)
TITANIA: I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again.
Mine ear is much enamored 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.
BOTTOM: Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason
for that. And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep
little company together now-a-days. The more the pity
that some honest neighbors will not make them friends.
Nay, I can gleek upon occasion. (3:2:Line 132- 140)
TITANIA: Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed,
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
And stick musk-roses in thy sleek smooth head,
And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy. (4:1:Lines 1-4)
TITANIA: What, wilt thou hear some music, my sweet love?
BOTTOM: I have a reasonable good ear in music. Let's have the tongs and the bones.
TITANIA: Or say, sweet love, what thou desirest to eat.
TITANIA: Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms.
Fairies, be gone, and be all ways away.
So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist; the female ivy so
Enrings the barky fingers of the elm.
O, how I love thee! how I dote on thee! (4:1:Lines 35-45)
A moment in a play or other work when a character
makes a critical discovery. Anagnorisis originally
meant recognition in its Greek context, not only of
a person but also of what that person stood for.
Happily Ever After...
How does the „course of love‟ reach its end?
The end of a dramatic comedy, when it finally and satisfyingly
comes, will discharge all ignorance and misunderstanding (the
moment of anagnorisis), will bring together those who deserve
to be so, in marriage or family reconciliation. Marriages and
reunions, not death and disharmony, characterise the end of a
Shakespearian comedy. How far do you think MSND reaches
a moment of anagnorisis?
It is notable that the two young women do not speak at all in Act V.
Some critics have speculated that they are still in shock at their
treatment by their lovers, but it may simply be that they are no
longer so significant to the story once they are married and that it
would not be proper for young wives to join in the banter over the
Lysander in Act 1 Scene 1 foreshadows the plays
main source of dramatic comedy: Love, “The
course of true love never did run smooth.” (line
HOW does this idea come to
effect the dramatic comedy of a