I decided to take a few courses from a local community college this spring. First because I figured it was time to get back cracking at that BA, and secondly because the classes just looked interesting.
So far it appears that I've been right on both counts.
Tuesday night I had my first class for the Shakespeare course and I just loved it. We have an amazing professor, and for once in my life I find myself able to understand Shakespeare without bursting a blood vessel. Of course, that could be because I never actually read "A Midsummer Night's Dream" before.
(or it could be that I'm just finally mature enough to enjoy the Bard's poetry.)
What really surprised me about our lecture on Tuesday (which was half lecture, half dramatically reading the play aloud, which rocked) was that the main theme of MND is love. I don't know why that surprised me. Love is a central theme in many of Shakespeare's plays. I guess I didn't realize how central it was to MND's plot.
(The following is adapted from my notes, and reflects the lecture given by the Professor, as well as some thoughts of the other students. I claim no authorship, rather personal reflection. Also, I was inspired to share my interest in my class subjects by my friend Carpe, whose new blog "Thoughts from Gaming" illustrates that what is learned in school really can be interesting enough to pass onto one's friends.)
MND's main theme is thus:
Love looks not with the heart, but with the mind.
Now at first glance, this looks kind of weird. It seems to be saying that love looks not with emotion, but with rationality. Which is definetely not the theme of MND.
No, the message here is that love is irrational. Love is not what you see, but rather what you transform in your mind. What you imagine.
Imagination is the key point in this play. In fact, one could say that the flower with which the characters are charmed into new love is imagination embodied. It gives the mind new imaginative power to see loveable qualities in others. It allows Demetrius to love again the maid he hates, and Titania the fairy queen to fall in love with a donkey. (Or a man with a donkey's head.)
Reason has nothing to do with love.
Shakespeare makes this point over and over again. From the very beginning we hear that the two young suitors for Hermia's hand are alike in every way. Wealth, prestige, physical appearance...the only differance is that Lysander is the one beloved of Hermia.
And so this sets up the whole mad romp (or dream) through the woods, as love changes with a rapidity that throws everything off-kelter.
Demetrius loves Helena, Demetrius loves Hermia, Demetrius loves Helena again. Lysander loves Hermia. Lysander loves Helena. Lysander loves Hermia again. Titania loves Oberon. Titania loves Bottom of the Donkey's head. Titania loves Oberon...and so it goes.
And all this is possible because of the flower that is imagination.
Of course, this leads me personally to wonder how much of the "love" is really love, and how much is infatuation? What is the exact power of the flower? When Lysander turns from Hermia to Helena, is his love for Helena true unselfish love? Or is it infatuation, an affection for her that is passionate but not grounded on firmer foundations?
There is an answer to this, believe it or not. My professor asked us why Oberon could claim the changling child from Titania after she had fallen in love with Bottom. What had changed about Titania besides her strange affection for a man with a donkey's head?
As my Professor explained, (and won my esteem for saying so) when one is in true love, one is no longer selfish. Love changes and transforms us and how we see others.
Now of course I would say that one cannot be happy in love forever. Love is a struggle, hard work.
But I think that one of the key differances between infatuation and true love (and I'm going off my memory of a diagram on the FT Forum that one of our members posted on the Twilight thread) is that true love is selfless. One cares more for the other person's needs and wishes than for ones own.
So do I think the flower's juice of imagination grants more than infatuation?
Considering the above, and considering that Demetrius is allowed to marry Helena under the power of the juice, I think the answer is yes.