A Midsummer Night's Dream: The Perspective of Theseus
In his play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare clearly establishes the feelings of Theseus with respect to love and reason.
Theseus distrusts the nature of love and its effect on people as he states in the following passage:
I never may believe these antic fables or these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold:
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination
That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear (V, i, 3-22)!
Theseus expresses his doubt in the verisimilitude of the lover's recount of their night in the forest. He says that he has no faith in the ravings of lovers or poets, as they are as likely as madmen are to be divorced from reason. Coming, as it does, after the resolution of the lovers' dilemma, this monologue serves to dismiss most of the play a hallucinatory imaginings. Theseus is the voice of reason and authority, but he bows to the resulting change of affection brought about by the night's confused goings on, and allows Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius to marry where their hearts would have them. This place where the line between dream and reality blurs is an important theme of the play.
Theseus is also a lover, but his affair with Hippolyta is based upon the cold reality of war, "Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword, And won thy love doing thee injuries"(I, i, 16-17). He is eager to wed Hippolyta and marriage is the place where reason and judgment rule. He wins the hand of his bride through action not through flattery, kisses and sighs inspired by her beauty. In lines 4-6 of his monologue he dismisses the accounts of lovers and madmen on the grounds that they are both apt to imagine a false reality as being real. When, in I, i, 56, Hermia tells Theseus, "I would my father looked but with my eyes", Theseus responds, "Rather your eyes must with his judgment look"(57). Theseus has a firm belief that the eyes of lovers are not to be trusted. That the eye of the lover "sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt"(11) is, to him, proof of this. It precisely by enchanting the eyes of the lovers that the faeries manage to create so much...