Romantic Poet a Midsummer's Night essay

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Oberon and Titania are thus not above the common desires and petty passions that motivate all mortals -- but they know the harms that their jealousies can do, even on a cosmological level, accept that infidelity is a part of life -- and when moved use more creative ways to wage war with the opposite sex. Titiana is jealous of Hippolyta, her most obvious human parallel, given that she has also enjoyed a relationship with Theseus, but she extracts no revenge -- she simply moves on, as Oberon can love a shepherdess, a young boy, and his queen. At their most profound and insightful, the ageless fairies seem to be able to accept that beings such as themselves will have multiple passions, even though they still have the feelings of a human-like creature. This is unlike the four adolescent lovers who literally fall to blows when they suspect infidelity, or even Hippolyta who tries to first foreswear men rather than seek power and multiple relationships like Titania.

Oberon and Titiana, even though they use allegations of infidelity as a weapon during their power struggle, do not seriously expect one another to be faithful all of the time. The parallels between the two suggest there is the sense that conflict is inherent to male-female relationships, in both the celestial and terrestrial spheres. But Thesus' and Hippolyta's language and behavior do not set their desires in the context of eternity. Their words have a conventional ring, and are characterized by black-and-white thinking when talking of love and conflict, not by profound sense of the sorrows that envy causes for the environment, in provoking a war, as does Titania.

The conventional nature of human love and envy perhaps is most starkly dramatized however, in the conventional and virtually interchangeable language of the lovers, Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena. When expressing their feelings for one another, rather than using images and setting their passion against the tide and sweep of a wider history, they resort to the language of couplets and conventional wisdom:

Hermia: O. cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low.

Lysander: Or else misgraffed in respect of years,

Hermia: O. spite! too old to be engaged to young.

Lysander: Or else it stood upon the choice of friends,

Hermia: O. hell! To choose love by another's eyes.

In contrast to the specific language of the fairies, the lovers speak in vague generalities and use the same types of meter and rhetorical expressions. Helena's monologue, mourning the loss of Demetrius to Hermia, even uses rhymed couplets, just like Lysander and Hermia rhyme together, to express their love. This makes the confusion that Puck has for the different lovers emblematic of a greater truth -- humans think too much of their passions, and take them too seriously -- even while they use less individuated and profound language to express their passions.

As Titania notes about the mother of the boy she covets, mortals die -- before they can understand the limits of monogamy and the full and dangerous effects of jealousy. First Demetrius and Helena, Hermia are to be wedded, but when Egeus gives him the chance to wed Hermia (almost as if the old man is a kind of human 'Puck' planting the seed in the young man's mind) Demetrius shifts to loving Helena. In the woods, Puck accidentally causes both young men to love Helena, as if things have remained unchanged, only the name of the woman has shifted. At the end, Demetrius is still 'charmed' to love Helena, and it seems to matter little as the story comes to a close, as it is only restoring things to back the way they were. For humans, it does not matter, because they cannot understand the cyclical nature of love and desire. This is why complexities of immortal fairy desire and language, who can love women, men, boys, girls, even asses, will forever stand in stark contrast with the homogeny of human life and the human petty squabbling of couplets and threatening, as Hermia does at one point, to scratch her rivals eyes out: "I am not yet so low/but that my nails can reach unto thine eyes."

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. "A Midsummer Night's Dream." MIT Classics Page. December 11, 2008[continue]

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