In much of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it appears that, as Bottom the Weaver says, ‘reason and love keep little company’. However, in some cases, this is not true.
Francis Bacon once said that ‘it is impossible to love, and to be wise.’ There are many instances in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when this is reflected; for instance when Lysander and Demetrius both suddenly start loving Helena – but perhaps most notably when Titania falls in love with Bottom the Weaver, (calling him ‘as wise as [he is] beautiful’), once he has been turned into an ass which even his friends, the other Mechanicals, run away from. He hardly seems a fitting choice for the Queen of the Fairies.
This sudden change in Titania’s feelings is of course the result of the love juice being squirted on her eyes by her husband Oberon, who wanted the young boy who was the subject of their quarrel. Indeed, the love juice – the ‘little western flower, before, milk white; now purple with love’s wound’ – is absolutely central in the story, for it is this which makes the characters change their mind about whom they love, and makes them become unreasonable to a point where they almost defy reason; as with Titania. The love juice is the sole reason why the ‘love cycle’ of who loves whom changes so often throughout the course of the story.
The fact that the juice is squirted on a person’s eyes is, I believe, important as well. Shakespeare seems to be telling us that we love only with our eyes, as opposed to our brain; which is why love can be irrational. The love juice not only affects the characters’ actions; it affects their speech as well. Beautifying words, such as those from Lysander’s speech in hyperbole in Act 3 Scene 2 (‘goddess, nymph, perfect, divine’), become commonplace. In Act 2 Scene 2, Lysander (referring to Hermia and Helena), says, ‘who will not change a raven for a dove?’
This makes us wonder: what does the love juice represent? Ultimately, it raises the question: what is love?
The love juice seems to direct the main characters’ feelings for the person they initially loved, towards someone else; the first person they see upon awakening after having been given the drug. It seems to me as if Shakespeare is telling us that although we love only with our eyes, we shouldn’t; because anyone can look beautiful on the outside, but it is a lot harder to be beautiful inside, which is one of the many morals of the play.
Dictionary.com defines ‘love’ as a ‘profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.’
I disagree with this definition for two reasons. The first is that love is not limited to people; it is perfectly possible to love an art, like the Mechanicals’ apparent love of theatre in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is unfortunately overshadowed by their complete lack of talent. The second is that if you only love with your eyes, like Shakespeare says we do, is it possible to feel ‘profoundly tender, passionate affection’, or does love...