Theme of Jealousy in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This paper seeks to explore the theme of jealousy as can be found in Shakespeare’s A midsummer night’s dream. The play follows the childish romantic exploits of four lovers named; Lysander who is in love with Hermia and later in love with Helena, Demetrius, who is in love with Hermia and later Helena, Helena who is in love with Demetrius and Hermia who is in love with Lysander (Malone, 1790). The young lovers fall out of love quickly and express their emotions extremely which exacerbates the amount of jealousy they feel towards each other (McMahon, 2001). The romantic entanglements and the jealousy the lovers display towards each other often serves as a framework for fantasy and humour within the play (Neilson, 1870).

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At the beginning of the play, Hermia’s father plants the first seeds of jealousy in Lysander’s heart by giving his consent only to Demetrius to marry his daughter. He seems somewhat jealous of Lysander whom he accuses of stealing the obedience of his daughter form him through his cunning and unrelenting pursuit of her love. He is ready to have Hermia live the rest of her life as a nun or have her put to death if she does not consent to marry Demetrius. He loathes the new man in his daughter’s life and is determined either to have her wed Demetrius or have her spend her entire life in utter isolation. However, this paternal jealousy is normal and cannot compare to the jealousy that the four lovers will have towards each other through the five acts of the play.

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Lysander is jealous of Demetrius who has managed to acquire the consent of Egeus to marry Hermia despite having no special attributes or more material possessions that himself. He encourages Demetrius to go ahead and marry Egeus if he so wishes but to relent from his incessant pursuit of Hermia (Shakespeare, 1999). Lysander is jealous that Demetrius is not satisfied with Helena doting on him as she does but still wants the hand of Hermia in marriage which he, (Lysander) much as he tried could not obtain. On the other hand, Demetrius is jealous of Lysander whom Hermia continues to love in spite of his unrelenting pursuit of her affections. Helena is jealous of Hermia. She wonders what makes Hermia so much fairer than she that all the men seem to be in a mindless pursuit of her. She labels herself as ugly and Hermia as fair, with a “sweet tongue” and eyes like “lodestars” (Shakespeare, 1999). She gets even more incensed when Hermia claims that she has scorned, hated and cursed at Demetrius but still he continues to pursue her. Hermia tries to explain that it is no fault of hers that Demetrius loves her so and that she has done nothing to encourage his endless pursuit but Helena sinks deeper into jealousy and attributes Demetrius’ affection for Hermia to her beauty. Beauty that she does not possess and must instead do vile and baseless things in order to win Demetrius’ love. She believes that if she tells Demetrius about Hermia’s and Lysander’s plans to meet in the woods, he would realize that Hermia would never love him and turn his affection to her. However, Demetrius is appalled by her presence by his side. He seeks only the company of Hermia whom he cannot find. This exemplifies the capacity of jealousy to destroy friendships by breaking bonds of trust between individuals. Lysander and Hermia trust Helena who is Hermia’s childhood friend to refrain from revealing their secret plan of running away to anyone but she betrays their trust out of jealousy and tells Demetrius (Cash, 2013).

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In the second act, the Fairy King is jealous of the fairy queen for having taken possession of an Indian boy whom he would rather have for himself. He is also jealous of her many loves. The fairy queen is jealous of the fairy king’s mistress and his many other loves. The king seeks to seek revenge against the queen in a way that would grant him possession of the boy and punish her for invoking his wrath. In the same act, Puck enchants both Demetrius and Lysander to fall in love with Helena to remind the audience that love is a bit magical and prone to change (Black, 2004). In this act, the character of Lysander and Demetrius and Lysander seems almost indistinguishable as they are both involved in similar pursuits and use almost the same language and tactics to carry them through (Mizener, 1969). Lysander leaves his place by Hermia’s side in the woods and begins pursuing Helena with the intent of stealing her affections away from Demetrius. Helena is so shocked by this dramatic turn of events that she believes Lysander is mocking her. When Demetrius also enters and begins professing his love for her, she believes that Hermia has convinced the men to mock her in jest and make a fool of her. This turn of events turns the tables on Hermia who now becomes jealous of Helena. When Lysander tells her that he stole away from her in the night to look for Helena, she is not angry at Lysander but rather embittered by her jealousy towards Helena whom she accuses of stealing his love from her in the night. Hermia insults Helena, calls her a “juggler”, a “canker blossom” and a “thief” while Helena remains shocked as to how far the three were willing to carry joke (Shakespeare, 1999).

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Demetrius and Lysander continue their jealousy towards each other in their quest to win the affection of Helena. Lysander is jealous of Demetrius because Helena loves him and Demetrius is jealous of Lysander since he has to compete against him for love once more. However, Puck enchants the men once more and Demetrius falls in love with Helena and Lysander regains his former affection for Hermia. Demetrius cannot seem to recall what made him love Hermia so much and he recalls this love as one would remembering an idle gaud.

According to Brooke in 1971, fairies are the main agents of correction and effecting change in the play. This is especially true in the case of the love entanglement between these four lovers and the jealousy that stems from it. The magical transformations of emotions, the misguided jealousy that comes out of it and the dramatic way in which this jealousy is forgotten add to the entertainment presented by the play which is made even more compelling by the presence of the Stooges and powerful spirits (O’Brien, 1938). The play manages to restore harmony by the sundering of the friendship between Hermia and Helena and the removal of the spell on the fairy queen by the fairy king (Kehler, 1998).

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To conclude, the romantic entanglements between the four lovers, the disagreements between the fairy king and queen as well as the paternal love Egeus has for his daughter form the main basis upon which Jealousy in this play can be discussed. Jealousy and its capacity to disrupt friendships and damage relationships come out through the characterization of the four lovers. Moreover, the power of unmodulated display of emotion and its influence on jealousy is also shown and embodied in the play by the characters of Demetrius and Lysander who increase the jealousy of each of the women towards each other through their behaviour towards them.

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