Lovers and madmen in « a midsummer’s night’s dream », shakespeare

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream written in 1595 or 1596 is a romantic and fanciful comedy where William Shakespeare emphasizes the role and the power of imagination and shows how the feeling of love often derives from unrealistic motives. In a so-called “purple patch”, Theseus, Duke of Athens, often seen as the voice of reason in the play, recognizes, after being told about the mesmerizing night thelovers have spent,
“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains_,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends._
The lunatic, the lovers, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.”_ (_V, 1, 4-8)
Using a rhythmic ternary expression “the lunatic, the poet, the lover”, he thus emphasizes the prominent role of imagination, showing how the three aresimilar. Indeed he pronounces this last word not less than three times in his response to his wife to be, Hippolyta.
What do these three categories of people have in common? Are they idealistic, even naive, or victims of their imagination? Why should we put side-by-side lunatics – in other words madmen – and lovers, and not include the poets? Surely because poets are often considered naturallyand unsurprisingly irrational and imaginative in order to create something really unusual and original, while lovers and madmen need external circumstances to let their unrealistic vision spread. Let us say that this remark is an obvious wink from the author Shakespeare to his reader, a meta-poetic moment about his work as a playwright.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a madman issomeone (i) “mentally ill”, (ii) “temporarily or apparently deranged by violent sensations, emotions or ideas; (iii) angry and resentful, lacking restraint or reason; (iv) marked by extreme excitement, confusion, or agitation”. We will investigate how these definitions apply to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and what kind of lovers and madmen Shakespeare presents us. How does Shakespeare illustrate loveas madness in this play? Can we not find madness in other groups than in the lovers’ group? And what is the point of these wanderings in a world of craziness? Is Shakespeare a psychologist, a philosopher or even a sophist?
Are the characters of A Midsummer Night’s Dream “mentally ill”? Hermia is obviously “mad” about Lysander in the figurative sense of the term: she is ready to disobey herfather and to elope with her lover. She chooses nonconformity and that is evidence of good mental health. At the beginning of the play, she is far from being marked by extreme excitement. On the contrary she calmly and serenely displays that she does not want to marry Demetrius: “My soul consents not to give sovereignty” (I, 1, 79-82). Indeed she feels a little confused after dreaming of aserpent eating her heart away, just after Lysander declares to Helena that he loves her and that he hates Hermia, being mistakenly bewitched by Puck, but this can be considered a kind of premonitory dream. The serpent actually symbolizes betrayal according to the bible and we know that Lysander is betraying Hermia at that moment. The dream does not affect her intern coherence.
Moreover we see thatthe passion of Hermia’s father, Egeus, and his instinct of possession aggravate her situation and force her to be excessively passionate in return. He does not approve of Lysander, though we don’t know why, for Lysander and Demetrius seem to be rather interchangeable. His attitude is thus totally irrational and more than anyone he deserves the term of “madman” according to one of the abovedefinitions (“angry and resentful, lacking restraint or reason”). Actually he creates a fantastic excuse to justify his cruel treatment of his daughter: “This man hath bewitched the bosom of my child” (I, 1, 27-38). He would prefer to see her living in a nunnery or even being sacrificed, instead of being married with Lysander. This attitude is rather disproportionate and lacks nuance. Opposed to his...
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