A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by: William Shakespeare

Act III, scenes ii–iii

Like Act III, scene i, Act III, scene ii serves a mainly developmental role in the plot structure of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, focusing on the increasing confusion among the four Athenian lovers. Now that both men have been magically induced to switch their love from Hermia to Helena, the vanities and insecurities of both women become far more pronounced. Helena’s low self-esteem prevents her from believing that either man could really be in love with her. Hermia, who is used to having both men fawn on her, has her vanity stung by the fact that they are suddenly cold and indifferent toward her. She reveals a latent insecurity about her short stature when she assumes that Helena has used her height (“her personage, her tall personage”) to win Lysander’s love, and her quick temper is revealed in Helena’s fear that Hermia will attack her (III.ii.293). The men’s exaggerated masculine aggression leads them to vow to protect Helena from the dreaded Hermia—a ridiculous state of affairs given that they are two armed men whereas Hermia is a tiny, unarmed woman. Their aggression betrays Helena, however, as the men refocus it on their competition for her love.

The potion is responsible for the confusion of the lovers’ situation; thus, Shakespeare links the theme of magic to the motif of imbalanced love, which dominates the scene. Had the love potion never been brought into play, the Athenian lovers would still be tangled in their romantic mess, but they would all understand it, whereas the fairies’ meddling has left both Hermia and Helena unable to comprehend the situation. Additionally, Puck’s magical ventriloquism is what prevents Lysander and Demetrius from killing each other at the end of the scene. Thus, magic both brings about their mutual hostility (to this point, Lysander has not been antagonistic toward Demetrius) and resolves it.