A Comparison Between Shakespearean Play

A Comparison Between Shakespearean Play Love in the Time of Queen Bess

“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, such shaping fantasies, that apprehend more than cool reason ever comprehends” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.i. 4-8). Such lovers in the age of Queen Elizabeth I were kin to passionate displays of sentiment since the social mores of the day dictated that emotions be experienced, expressed, and celebrated to the fullest. William Shakespeare, Elizabethan playwright and renowned lover, knew the dangers of self-indulgence in matters of the heart and used his writing as a forum for warning youths inclined towards sensual irrationality. Prominent emotions epitomized by young lovers in William Shakespeare’s dramas, particularly Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, run the gamut from arduous love, malicious revenge, pitiful despair, and bawdy lust. The hot-blooded youth of these lovers only exacerbates their tendencies toward love’s extremes, and such folly proves fatal for Romeo and Juliet, while temperance is the savior of Midsummer’s lovers, Hermia and Lysander. These two plays were written by a thirty-year-old Shakespeare, newly entered into the decade in which the boy becomes the man, and the folly of youth is looked back on with fondness and prudent wisdom. The plays were completed within months of each other, and each carries a significant message to the young audiences of his time: “Question your desires, know of your youth, examine well your blood” (MND,I. i. 67). Shakespeare’s intent in mirror Hermia and Lysander to Romeo and Juliet is to demonstrate the importance of virtue in conquering sexual desire, temperance in the face of impulsiveness, and the necessity of taking control of one’s own destiny in order to survive ungovernable factors such as Fate and the supernatural.
In reading these two works we see that the time frames are of considerable brevity to contain the multitude of events encapsulated in each. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example, takes place entirely over the course of twenty-four hours, while Romeo and Juliet spans over less than a week. However, before the play even begins, Lysander has adamantly wooed Hermia, a wooing much protested by her father Egeus, “Thou, thou Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes and interchanged love tokens with my child…With cunning hast thou filched my daughter’s heart, turned her obedience, which is due to me, to stubborn harshness” (I.i. 28). Lysander’s extensive persuasive methods and the turning of Hermia’s obedience imply a prolonged courtship. Lysander and Hermia are two deeply devoted individuals who know and love each other well, and yet once out of danger of the Athenian law and away from the watchful eyes of parents, they and their raging hormones do not prevail and they remain chaste. For all Lysander’s oaths of love (oaths strongly reminiscent of Romeo’s impassioned vows to Juliet), Hermia stays strong, replying, “Such separation as may well be said becomes a virtuous bachelor and a maid” (II. ii. 64). Moderation of this kind marks maturity in the lover and patience in the loved.
In contrast to Hermia’s restraint, at the opening of Romeo and Juliet (before Romeo has even met Juliet) he laments, “In sadness…I do love a woman” (Romeo and Juliet, I.i.204). Romeo’s beloved Rosaline, he explains, causes his sadness because she will not be seduced by his shoddy efforts to bed her, and refuses to “stay the siege of loving terms, nor bide th’encounter of assailing eyes, nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold” (I.i.222). He has exhausted every resource available to him and pledges to die because she will not love him, vowing “Thou canst not teach me to forget” (I.i.237). Mere hours later he proves false to his word, and Juliet proves a much more willing and pliable target of his efforts. She allows herself to be kissed without even introduction, her heart and soul won after a single conversation, in full knowledge that she “should have been more strange” (II. ii.102). She knows right well she acts with rashness, and admits her proper upbringing when Romeo pleas for satisfaction and she innocently replies, “What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?” (II.ii.126). This undue opening of the doors of passion is duly their undoing, and the reason for their over-hasty marriage is strictly carnal (much like that of Gertrude and Claudius in Hamlet).
Friar Laurence, in an effort to counsel Romeo in the ways of temperance, sagaciously remarks, “Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast” (II.iii.94). The elder characters in both plays (Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet and Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) demonstrate judicious understanding of prudence and its application to the young lovers. Theseus advises Hermia to take time and think about her unpleasant situation before reaching any rash conclusion that could blight the rest of her life. In scene one of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, after Lysander and Hermia are left alone, Hermia becomes extremely upset and emotional while Lysander soothes her with his faith in their love. In such dire circumstances where the stakes are life and death, desperation seems the most natural reaction. Lysander, however, applies the balm of his words to his and Hermia’s wounded hearts: “For aught that I could ever read, could ever hear by tale or history, the course of true love never did run smooth” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I.i.132). Hermia, truly Lysander’s match in all things, gains courage from this and responds, “If then true lovers have ever been crossed, it stands as an edict in destiny. Then let us teach our trial patience, because it is a customary cross” (I.i.150). Their love is built on rock and not even the worst of tidings can destroy it. Even when Demetrius begins taunting her and leads her to believe that Lysander may be dead, she finds assurance in her love and spits into his face, “I’ll believe as soon this whole earth may be bored, and that the moon may through the center creep, and so displease her brother’s noontide with the Antipodes” (III.ii.52). Such events will never occur and neither will the dissolution of her love. Where weaker women might be tempted to acts of desperation, Hermia never falters, even in her anguish at the thought of Lysander dead. The true test of her love does not truly occur until Lysander spurns her and dissolves all his previous vows of love. Throughout the unthinkable struggle of facing this new reality, she continues to love him, and while collapsing into an exhausted sleep turns her thoughts to him and prays, “Heavens shield Lysander, if they mean a fray!” (IV.i.447). Of course with the release of the love juice’s power over Lysander, he returns to his faithful, beloved Hermia.
Shakespeare establishes Romeo as impulsive the first time the audience sees him. He quickly forgets the once-coveted Rosaline in favor of the willing Juliet. Romeo alarms Friar Laurence’s suspicions and misgivings by proposing that he marry Romeo and Juliet that afternoon, and it causes him to swear, “Holy Saint Frances, what a change is here! Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear so soon forsaken? Young men’s love then lies not truly in their hearts but in their eyes” (Romeo and Juliet, II.iii.65). Romeo’s love finds its base in sensory satisfaction (Juliet’s radiance at the Capulet ball was the very reason he fell in love with her) and thus he quickly betrays himself and Juliet. Rashly he marries Juliet, kills Tybalt in a rage, and needlessly slays Paris and himself in the course of a few days. Minutes only after discovering the supposed death of Juliet, Romeo’s thoughts turn to self-slaughter and despair. While Hermia’s love nobly seeks truth, Romeo’s craves immediate reward. She pushes through her pain and grows more from it, while he cannot bear pain and yearns to end it with the simple dismissal, “O mischief, thou art swift to enter in the thoughts of desperate men!” (V.i.35). Juliet, who in the majority of the play resembles a figure of modesty, intelligence, and wisdom beyond her years, becomes a different person after Romeo’s departure for Mantua. She cuts ties with the Nurse, the nearest thing to a mother figure she has, and impetuously seeks a simple solution to the problem of her marriage to Paris. Instead of braving the hardship Lysander and Hermia faced with telling her father the truth of her love, Juliet continues to seek the council of Friar Laurence with the “easy fix” sleeping potion, exclaiming like a child, “Give me, give me! Oh, tell me not of fear!” (IV.iii.121). When her plan fails and she faces the choice of living a different kind of life than one she imagined or ending it, she chooses pale death. No redemption exists for the lovers in their death, but rather for their families afterwards.
Destiny, and the supernatural play important roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. The prologue itself names Romeo and Juliet “star-crossed lovers” (I.i.6), and the events of the play live up to this unfortunate title. Romeo, Juliet, Lysander, and Hermia all share the problem of the intervention of domineering parents. For Romeo and Juliet it exists in the person of Capulet, well meaning in most things but when crossed, violent and cruel. Egeus is a similar stock figure in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, although a very real difference exists between them: while Capulet merely threatens to dispose of Juliet if she does not do his bidding, Egeus puts this same threat into action. He so strongly intends to have his will carried out that he is willing to take the matter up with Theseus, growling, “As she is mine, I may dispose of her, which shall be either to this gentleman or to her death, according to our law” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I.i.42). Shakespeare has made Lysander more admirable in this first scene than in the entire text of Romeo and Juliet, because Lysander has the audacity to attempt a peaceable agreement between he and Hermia’s father. When this fails, Lysander then proves his worth by taking matters into his own hands and formulating an escape plan. Why does Romeo not suggest Juliet accompany him to Mantua until the two households are reconciled? Shakespeare boldly proclaims here that those who are resourceful and rely on more than Fate will achieve great success.
Shakespeare’s lovers in Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are similar in nature and close in age, but Hermia and Lysander triumph in the end when faced with obstacles similar to Romeo and Juliet. They owe their success not to having access to superior resources but to the superior use of the ones they had, not to mention their God-given intellect, patience, and above all, temperate love. The love shared by Romeo and Juliet is a consuming fire, a “smoke made with the fume of sighs; being purged, a fire sparkling in lover’s eyes; being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers’ tears.” (Romeo and Juliet, I.i.190-192). That kind of love is spent as quickly as saved, but Hermia and Lysander’s is true, tested, and lasting because of its basis in fortitude and patience.

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