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Are You Really in Love?

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…Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark...

- Sonnet 116: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds..." by William Shakespeare

In 2001 around twenty percent of American couples divorced. In 2010 fifty percent of marriages in America ended in divorce, and sixty percent of second and third marriages ended the same way. The total divorce rate for 2010 in America is sixty-seven percent. What could have caused this drastic change? If Shakespeare is right about love being “an ever-fixed mark”, why does it seem so fleeting? In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another work of William Shakespeare, he writes about four young Athenian lovers, Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena. Hermia and Lysander are in love while Demetrius and Helena were in love until Demetrius broke off and began to love Hermia. The four lovers end up in a magical forest where fairies put magical flower juice in the men’s eyes causing them to be infatuated with Helena. Lysander eventually is taken out from under the flower’s influence, but Demetrius remains under the spell forever. During the play, the characters mention how reason affects the choices they make concerning love. Through the tone, imagery, and language in these statements that the characters make about reason and love, Shakespeare expresses that reason plays a large part in lasting love while infatuations are triggered by sight, acted on impulse, and last but a moment.

While under the infatuation potion, the reader notices through his use of imagery, tone, and language that Lysander believes reason causes him to love Helena, but it is only his eyes that find her figure pleasing and desire that controls the immediate shift in his decision of who to love. As he tries to explain to Helena why he loves her, Lysander says “reason becomes the marshal to my will” (2. 2. 127). The personification of reason becoming a marshal figure, shows the reader Lysander’s belief in one’s reason being capable of holding a marshal position, which is true. It is important that when one makes a decision it is based on reason or influenced by internal thoughts and ideas rather than external ones. However, people do not always use reason in their decisions, and even as Lysander speaks of reason taking charge, he allows an outside force to influence the decisions he makes concerning love. The only reason Lysander gives for loving Helena in his monologue is her blond hair. In another use of imagery Lysander compares Helena to a dove and Hermia to a raven revealing that he has no solid reasons to love Helena, but that his feelings were triggered by her appearance and his sense of sight. The tone throughout Lysander’s speech is amazement, illuminating an overriding desire for Helena taking over his mind. At the end of the line Lysander says, “And leads me to your eyes, where I o’erlook / Love’s stories written in love’s richest book” (2. 2. 128-129). No doubt as he says this, Lysander is looking into Helena’s eyes. The reader can also assume he is experiencing an almost irresistible desire for her. Instead of reason acting as marshal, Lysander has allowed desire to take over, causing him to speak impulsively without thinking about the consequences. One word Lysander uses to describe his relationship with Hermia is “repent” (2. 2. 119), which relates to a turning point where one shuns a previous behavior or belief to honor another. Repent also points to some internal influence of one’s values. “Reason” (2. 2. 122, 123, 125, 127), another important word, implies an internal influence of one’s mind and maturity as well in that reason must be mature in order to be reasonable. These two words give express Lysander’s belief in the assumption that as he loves Helena he is in his right mind, being influenced by reason and when he loved Hermia he was not thinking clearly, and was only infatuated with her. When in reality, Lysander is being influenced unknowingly by an uncontrollable feeling of infatuation that some people call and believe to be love.

While he is still under the potion’s influence Shakespeare uses Demetius' imagery, tone, and language to reveal the example of an infatuation based man he put into his play. The tone throughout the monologue is rather confused and the reader can imagine the long sentences being spoken slowly as Demetrius tries to think. He says, “I wot not by what power / (But by some power it is) my love to Hermia, / melted as the snow” (4. 1. 171 - 173). The first line and beginning of the second line really give away Demetrius’ perverted state of mind. He claims not to know why he loves Helena; he feels certain there is a reason, but does not care to find out what that reason is. The later part of the quotation, where Demetrius likens his love to Hermia as melted snow supports his certainty in his love for Helena; by using this imagery he claims that when he thought he loved Hermia he was really only feeling infatuated towards her. Although Demetrius does claim this while under the potion, one could argue this statement to be true, considering that Demetrius was infatuated Helena before Hermia. Such a past as Demetrius’ causes one to wonder how much of Demetrius’ love is ever truly love and not infatuation. Later in his speech Demetrius says of his newly found love for Helena, “But like a sickness did I loath this food. / But, as in health, come to my natural taste” (4. 1. 180 -181), comparing Helena to food or fuel, something he needs to survive. He also compares the time when he loved Hermia to a time of illness and the times he loves Helena to times when he is healthy. This comparison gives the reader the idea of Demetrius’ love situations to be a passing passion rather than an enduring fire, revealing the source of Demetrius’ inconsistent love pattern to be getting caught up in infatuations rather than sticking to someone for a more solid reason.

Helena’s language, tone, and imagery demonstrate that she understands that reason plays into love while infatuation is an ignorant, powerful feeling that can and has hurt many. She says, “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind; / And therefore is winged Cupid is painted blind” (1. 1. 241). One key word from this quotation is “mind”; when something matters it is taken to mind. Thus Shakespeare’s use of the word mind makes the argument that love and who one chooses to love is an important decision. “Blindness,” although usually referred to as a disadvantage, is here an advantage. Because, when one is blind one cannot use their eyes they are forced into using other senses much more frequently, not only relying on appearances, which easily deceive. Helena compares love using its eyes to a child tricked into making the wrong choice. This portrayal of love using the sense of sight is almost identical to infatuation because infatuations are emotions triggered by sight that can cause the victim to believe he or she is actually in love. Helena says, “And when this hail some heat from from Hermia felt, / so he dissolved, and show’rs of oaths did melt” (1. 1. 250 - 251) of Demetrius’ love and promises to her. She paints a before and after picture when using this imagery. The before picture is full of hail raining down hard and strong. In the after picture, however, one would never know the hail was there; it “dissolved”. That is how infatuation is; at first it looks strong, real, and true, but then, once one’s sight falls on something else, one would ever know that apparently strong, real, true infatuation was ever there.

Through certain passages in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare is trying to bring to the attention of the reader the difference between love and infatuation and is stressing the importance of reason playing into the important decision of who to “fall in love with.” The play shows a strong loving relationship between Lysander and Hermia. Shakespeare also reveals what infatuations look like through Demetrius and Lysander, while they are under the spell. Lysander’s mistake that lead to infatuation was simply assuming that reason had played a roll his judgement. Demetrius’ mistake was simply not caring whether or not reason had any affect on his choice of whom he loved. For people today going throughout their everyday lives, possibly falling for a guy or girl here or there, one or two crushes every once in a while, a reader could say the play serves as a warning. Furthermore, a possible reason for the drastic increase in divorce could have something to do with people who are on their way into a serious relationship not taking a pause to ask themselves a simple question that can save so much pain: “Am I really in Love?”




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