The idea of being ‘a lover’ in Shakespearean drama has its own conventions. Discuss with regard to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Richard III’ Essay
The idea of being ‘a lover’ in Shakespearean drama has its own conventions. This lies within the differing conventions of the genres of Shakespearean plays, and the differing part a character has to play within the plot in a different play. In the cases of The Tragedy of King Richard the Third (Richard III) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, being a tragedy and a comedy respectively the central characters and their purposes differ significantly. On one hand, Richard is the evil protagonist whose intense desire and love for power drives the plot, and on the other hand Hermia and Lysander seem to have no significant role other than as lovers around which the plot unfolds.
Passage A from Richard III, (4. 4. 273.1-55, Norton) documents part of a conversation between Richard and his brother King Edward IV’s widow Queen Elizabeth. Richard is asking that Queen Elizabeth convince her daughter, Princess Elizabeth, to marry him. Richard is the Princess’s uncle, and he is responsible for the deaths of Princess Elizabeth’s brothers and some of her uncles.
Richard originally wants Queen Elizabeth to tell the Princess he “did all this for love of her” (Shakespeare, Richard III, 4. 4. 273.1). The way that Richard goes about playing the part of the lover in this conversation is completely in character. Richard is the “manipulative protagonist” (Sparknotes, 2) of the play, as well as being its major villain. He has an open allegiance with evil, and is “determined to prove a villain” (R III, 1. 1. 30). Richard does not play the part of the lover in a sincere way, but it is still convincing, in a sense, due to his charismatic nature.
Richard does not ‘woo’ Princess Elizabeth, but wants to manipulate Queen Elizabeth into doing it for him. His first statement, his attempt at romance, that he “did all this for love of her” (R III, 4. 4. 273.1) falls short with Queen Elizabeth. He fails to understand the depth of emotional effect his actions have caused. He does not realise that a simple shallow claim of love cannot conquer the phenomenal hurt. He does not understand love, so he plays the part of the lover rather unusually.
Richard goes on to catalogue the reasons why a marriage between him and Princess Elizabeth would be advantageous. He takes inspiration from his own thirst and love for power, and plays on the assumption that Queen Elizabeth is focussed on nothing but retaining her ties to the throne of England: “If I did take the kingdom from your sons, / To make amends I’ll give it to your daughter.” (R III, 4. 4. 273.7-8).
He assumes that Queen Elizabeth’s grief is because she has lost the chance to be mother to the King. He does not recognise her grief as a result of her love for her children. He also offers to use his marriage to Princess Elizabeth in order to provide Queen Elizabeth replacements for the doting children she has lost. He claims that as a grandmother she will get only “little less in love than…the doting title of a mother” (R III, 4. 4. 273.12-13). Richard assumes that, like himself, Queen Elizabeth wants to receive love and admiration without having to put the work into it that a mother would have to.
The language that Richard uses and the illusions in his speech also do not match up with the typical idea of a lover. He speaks of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and her children in the basest of terms, assuming the children have no ties to Elizabeth other than being the “issue of [her] womb” (R III, 4. 4. 273.9), and of her “very blood” (R III, 4. 4. 273.15). Richard sees no joy for Queen Elizabeth in raising children, saying they were a “vexation to [her] youth” (R III, 4. 4. 273.18). Richard’s hunger for power, glory and wealth is also evident in his use of imagery. He speaks of his proposed marriage to Princess Elizabeth as bringing “double riches of content”(R III, 4. 4. 273.32), and makes reference to the Queen’s tears transforming to “orient pearl, / Advantaging their loan with interest” (R III, 4. 4. 273.35-36). He does not implore Queen Elizabeth to plant the idea of true love in her daughter’s heart, but rather “th’aspiring flame / of golden sovereignty” (R III, 4. 4.3 273.41-42).
Richard seems to give up playing the part of the lover early on, after Queen Elizabeth rebuffs his attempt to claim romance as the reason for his despicable actions. He then switches immediately into the part he plays better, that of the charismatic manipulator. Because he is talking about love and marriage, the assumption is that he is trying to play the lover. However, his approach towards the idea of this marriage as being politically advantageous must be taken note of, and seen as a more true representation of the part he is playing.
Passage B, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1. 1. 128-178, Norton) is much more in tune with the idea of ‘the lover’ as a role in Shakespearean drama. The two ‘lovers’, Lysander and Hermia are distraught because Hermia’s father insists that she must still marry the man he has previously chosen for her. In this passage they lament about their plight, and the unfair obstacles thrown in the way of true love, and plot to escape Athenian law and secretly marry.
Both Hermia and Lysander throughout this passage are speaking of the depth and desperation of their love for one another. The passage alternates between both lovers, speaking an equal amount of their plight. One of them does not take dominance over the other. It is not so much a case of one character’s wishes taking the spotlight, as with Richard, but the predicament they find themselves in. Shakespearean comedies always have some sort of predicament that must be solved for the play to end happily, and the question of Lysander and Hermia being allowed to marry is one such predicament.
Lysander’s statement that “the course of true love never did run smooth” (Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1. 1. 134) has a certain sense of dramatic irony about it. The lovers agree that true lovers often have to overcome a similar kind of predicament as they find themselves in. But little do they know the turbulence that awaits them in the forest when they elope. The fact that intense love can be directed, or as it were, misdirected, towards a person by a simple act with a magical flower casts a shadow of doubt across the sincerity of the love felt. The sincerity of the lovers themselves is not so much in question, as it seems more to emphasise the lovers are not in charge of their own destiny.
This discourse is littered with classical romantic imagery, illusions and language. There are the common references to nature, such as the roses, or lack-there-of, to be found in Hermia’s cheek, and the “want of rain….from the tempest of [her] eyes” (MND, 1. 1. 130-131) that might reinstate them. The relationship between love and the idea of destiny is picked up on in Hermia’s vow on “Cupid’s strongest bow” (MND, 1. 1. 169) and “Venus’ doves” (MND, 1. 1. 171) as emblems of true love and lovers. The way that Lysander addresses Hermia directly emphasises that these two people have a close personal relationship. This is particularly evident in the antithesis of Lysander’s references to “gentle Hermia” (MND, 1. 1. 161) and the “sharp Athenian law” (MND, 1. 1. 162).
This conversation is ended with two rhyming couplets: “By all the vows that ever men have broke- / In number more than ever woman spoke- / In that same place thou hasr appointed me / Tomorrow truly I will meet with thee” (MND, 1. 1. 175-178). This is a device that is often indicative of a heightened sense of emotion and importance in the dialogue. It emphasises the sincerity of Hermia’s vow to Lysander, but also it draws attention to the humour of Hemia’s words; that more vows have been broken by men than women have even vowed in the first place. This is another indicator that might hint towards the love in the play being slightly insincere, despite the ardent sincerity of the lovers who profess it. The only part the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream have to play is that of ‘a lover’. It is where they fit into the plot, and the plot is centred around the ability for ‘love’ to win at the end of the day.
The idea of the ‘lover’ and the conventions of this role is emphasised by the contrast of Richard with Lysander and Hermia. In order to ‘prove’ a lover, the character must fulfil these conventions. Hermia and Lysander do this, their dialogue peppered with allusions associated with love and romance. In contrast, when Richard attempts to play the lover, he is thwarted by his inability to stray from the bloodthirsty associations of greed found in his dialogue. While everything works out for Hermia and Lysander in the end, the course of events for Richard emphasises that he is in fact “determined to prove a villain” (R III, 1. 1. 30).