Monday, 1 July 2013

Who Loves Whom in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Affections in A Midsummer Night's Dream change more quickly than those in inexplicably popular 'scripted' reality TV shows. So, who loves whom in the play and when do they love 'em?

Let's start with the feelings of adoration that do not alter.

Theseus Loves Hippolyta 

Yep, the Athenian Duke has got it bad for the Amazonian beauty (I fear her image in Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum doesn't do her justice). Likewise, she's got the hots for him. It's a funny match, given that he defeated her tribe, but it seems to be working for them. Throughout the play, these two remain very much in love.

Bottom Loves... Bottom

There's nothing Nick Bottom believes himself incapable of. In fact, he's so sure of his many and varied talents, that he wants to play every single role in The Mechanicals production of Pyramus and Thisbe

Okay, so let's move onto the more changeable relationships, and we'll start by looking at the situation at the very beginning of the play.

Love Connections in Act One

Lysander & Hermia are in Love

Dominic West as Lysander and Anna Friel as Hermia, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
It's forbidden, but these two can't keep their hands off each other. With Hermia's father against the union, their desperation to marry drives these young lovers to elope.

Demetrius Loves Hermia

Christian Bale as Demetrius and Anna Friel as Hermia
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
Of course, this is debatable. Does Demetirus love Hermia or does he just love what's been offered to him by her father? Marriage was once (and in some cases still is) a financial rather than romantic arrangement, and Demetrius stands to gain as Egeus' son-in-law. But, for the sake of argument, we'll call what Demetrius feels for Hermia 'love'.

Needless to say, Hermia does not return his feelings. She has eyes only for Lysander, refusing to give him up even when she's threatened with life in a convent or death.

Helena Loves Demetrius 

Calista Flockhart as Helena and Christian Bale as Demetrius
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
It's not exactly clear what's gone on between these two. Lysander says that Demetrius charmed Helena, "Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head,/Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena,/And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,/Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry," implying that he led her on or at least changed his mind when he found out he was Egeus' favourite to marry Hermia.

So, does Demetrius court Helena because he has feelings for her? Or did he just fancy himself as a player? Make of it what you will. But what we do know is that his attitude towards Helena is catastrophically unflattering. "Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit;/For I am sick when I do look on thee." This may lead us to think that his feelings for her have never been anything other than contemptuous, but, as Shakespeare will soon demonstrate, love can quite easily turn to hate.

Hermia Loves Helena

Anna Friel as Hermia and Calista Flockhart as Helena, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
Not in the romantic sense perhaps, but there is a very strong bond between the two girls. They're BFFs and describe themselves as, "Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;/So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart."

Love Connections in Act Two

Oberon and Titania Aren't Getting Along

To say they 'hate' each other is perhaps too strong, but I flirted with the idea. There is a bitter fight waging between these two fairies. In a plan to teach his queen a lesson, Oberon tasks his trusty sidekick with finding a love-inducing flower. 

Lysander Loves Helena

Dominic West as Lysander and Calista Flockhart as Helena
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
Meaning well, Oberon orders Puck to place some of the love potion in a young man's eye, so he will fall in love with the woman who so clearly adores him. The only problem is Puck gets the wrong Athenian, and the first woman Lysander see is...Helena

Love Connections in Act Three

Titania Loves Bottom

Bottom by name, ass by nature. Nick Bottom is turned into an ass by Oberon and he makes sure that this strange creature is the first thing Titania sees with her 'love potioned' eyes. That'll teach her to take his changeling boy, right?

Demetrius Loves Helena

Christian Bale as Demetrius and Calista Flockhart as Helena
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
Half-rectifying his earlier mistake, Puck places the potion in the right man's eyes and sure enough Helena is the first thing he sees. BUT Lysander is still in love with her, too. And poor Helena thinks both men are playing a cruel trick.

Hermia Still Loves Lysander

Anna Friel as Hermia and Dominic West as Lysander
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
Hermia's feelings for Lysander remain unchanged and she is, naturally enough, confused and hurt by his sudden change of heart. In fact, he begins to talk to her with the same kind of contempt Demetrius had used on Helena, "Thy love! out, tawny Tartar, out!/Out, loathed medicine! hated potion, hence!"

Hermia Hates Helena

Anna Friel as Hermia and Calista Flockhart as Helena A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
Hermia thinks Helena must have done something to bewitch her lover out from under her and is, of course, none too thrilled by the idea. Similarly, innocent Helena is hurt by the accusation and the fur begins to fly.

Helena Hates Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius

Calista Flockhart as Helena, Anna Friel as Hermia, Dominic West as Lysander
& Christian Bale as Demetrius, A Midsummer Night's Dream, (1999) 
In fact, Helena now believes that there is only one possibility: all three of them are in cahoots to tease and torment her. Her misery is our delight, as the confusion leads to hilarious squabbles between the foursome. "I pray you, though you mock me, gentlemen,/Let her not hurt me: I was never curst;/I have no gift at all in shrewishness;/I am a right maid for my cowardice:Let her not strike me."

Love Connections in Act Four

Titania & Oberon are in Love

Believing that her humiliation has been sufficient, Oberon lifts the spell on his wife and the Royal fairy couple let bygones be bygones.

Lysander & Hermia are in Love

Dominic West as Lysander and Anna Friel as Hermia, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
Tasked with fixing the mess he's caused, Puck sets about separating the men and ensuring that they see the right woman upon waking. So, once again, all is right between these two. And after Theseus and Egeus hear of their adventure in the forest, they're suddenly perfectly happy for the two to wed - no nunnery or death for fair Hermia!

Demetrius & Helena are in Love

Christian Bale as Demetirus and Calista Flockhart as Helena, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
As for this happy couple, as I mentioned above, whether you can call it 'happy' is a matter of perception. But for now at least, they seem to have the happily ever after we were all rooting for.

Happy Ending? 

Well, I suppose it really depends on how you look at it. Do you feel that Demetrius has been drugged into feelings that he's never experienced and would never otherwise experience? Or has the potion merely reminded him of affection he has felt for Helena in the past?

And something else we don't know is whether the spell will last indefinitely. There's no mention of a time limit, but what if there is one? What if poor Helena wakes up one day to find her husband has done a runner, because he hates her once more?

But I don't suppose any of it really matters. It's just a bit of fun, and as Puck quite rightly advises: if you don't like it, just pretend it was all a dream!

For more on the four young lovers of A Midsummer Night's Dream, take a look here.