A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by: William Shakespeare

Unreason

1

Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason for that [i.e., to love me], and yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays. (III.i.)

Bottom addresses these words to Titania after she swears her love to him. Though Bottom’s head has been transformed into that of a donkey, he is not under the same love enchantment as Titania, and thus does not understand why she would have to love him. In spite of this, Bottom reasons that love and logic don’t always go together. Amusingly, Titania responds to Bottom’s illogic with an equally unreasonable conclusion: “Thou are at wise as thou art beautiful” (III.i.).

2

You speak not as you think. It cannot be. (III.ii.)

Hermia speaks these words in response to Lysander, who has just asked her why she persists in following him: “Could not this make thee know / The hate I bear thee made me leave thee so?” (III.ii.). The sudden and complete reversal of Lysander’s affections strikes Hermia as an impossible turn of events that cannot stand to reason. She conveys this feeling of unreason by pointing to the apparent contradiction between what Lysander says and what he thinks.

3
More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique fables nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends. (V.i.)

After the lovers have returned to Athens and told the story of their wild night in the forest, Theseus expresses his skepticism. The strangeness of the events recounted strain his sense of reality, and so he attributes the lovers’ belief in their own story to the idea that they, like madmen, suffer from “seething brains.” This condition has diluted their mental faculties, allowing them to “apprehend / More than cool reason ever comprehends.”