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Symbols in A Midsummer Night's Dream

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the most powerful symbol that Shakespeare uses is the symbol of the love potion. Since the love potion has the power to make a person fall in love with another despite their prior emotions, desires, and statuses, it symbolizes the overwhelming and irrational nature of love. Characters comically fall in love with others immediately and beyond their own will, mocking the traditional love stories of Elizabethan England.

Symbols Examples in A Midsummer Night's Dream:

Act I - Scene I

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"the livery of a nun..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Theseus states that Hermia will face death or a life in solitude and prayer as a nun should she refuse to comply with her father’s wishes. The word “livery” means the particular clothing or accessories of a particular profession or station. In this sense, Theseus uses clothing as a symbol of status, or one’s position in life.

"Fetch me this herb, and be thou here again Ere the leviathan can swim a league...."   (Act II - Scene I)

The juice from the flower literally causes people to blindly fall in love with the first person they see, but it is also a symbol of how love has been portrayed in the play thus far. Hermia and Helena have both commented on how love affects the eyes—suggesting that it is a blinding force that is all-encompassing.

"And you sat smiling at his cruel prey. Lysander! What, removed? Lysander! lord! What, out of hearing? gone? No sound, no word? Alack, where are you? Speak, an if you hear;(155)..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Hermia dreams that a snake steals her heart, and she awakens to find that Lysander has deserted her at some point during her slumber with “no sound, no word.” The cunning snake in Hermia’s dream can be seen as a symbol of betrayal; the heart, symbol of love. Hermia’s love has indeed been stolen from her, but because of magic and not Lysander’s betrayal.

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