A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Lysander Character Analysis

An Athenian nobleman who loves Hermia. In many ways, he is the model of a constant lover. He risks death under Athenian law by coming up with the plan to elope into the woods with Hermia, and only strays from his loyalty to Hermia under the influence of the love juice. When the effect of the spell is removed, he returns to his true love.

Lysander Quotes in A Midsummer Night's Dream

The A Midsummer Night's Dream quotes below are all either spoken by Lysander or refer to Lysander. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream published in 2004.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
She, sweet lady, dotes,
Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,
Upon this spotted and inconstant man. (109)
Related Characters: Lysander (speaker), Helena
Page Number: 1.1.110-112
Explanation and Analysis:

Lysander speaks up and begins to defend his right to marry Hermia. He observes that Demetrius first won the favor Hermia’s friend Helena and is therefore a fickle lover.

To make his case, Lysander places Helena’s piousness in opposition with Demetrius’ capricious nature. In just two lines he says the word “dotes” three times to refer to Helena, each time with greater gusto. First, the verb is left unmodified; then he appends the adverb “devoutly” to underline the extent of Helena’s commitment; and finally he adds “in idolatry” to cast her behavior as entirely subservient. Demetrius, in contrast, is “spotted and inconstant” because he has deviated in his love. “Spotted” makes use of a physical image to show that the love is marred or impure, while “inconstant” more directly refers to mercurial behavior. That Lysander sees this behavior as justification for why Demetrius should not be with Hermia offers insight into the moral sensibilities of these characters. Although they may prize romantic love, greater value is seen in a consistent affection.

At the same time, however, Helena's affection as it is described here seems overly devout. The language used to describe her also offers a subtle allusion to earlier idea that Hermia may enter a nunnery rather than marry Demetrius. That Helena's love is presented in similarly religious terms shows how parallels exist in the types of devotion. Yet the one-sidedness of her “idolatry” calls into question its romantic efficacy. Thus while Lysander may charge Demetrius with overly fickle tendencies, he also subtly mocks Hermia for being too devoted. True romance, it seems, must exist between these two poles.

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Ay me, for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth. (132)
Related Characters: Lysander (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.134-136
Explanation and Analysis:

Hermia and Lysander discuss their troubling situation in the aftermath of the confrontation with Theseus. Lysander observes that their predicament is not unusual, for it is characteristic of troubles faced by other lovers throughout history.

Lysander speaks in a grandiose tone that claims understanding of a wide range of context. “Ay me” expresses a strong sense of woe, while “for aught” is an emphatic expression that in contemporary English would be similar to “for all” or “in all.” Lysander is thus referring to the sum total of narratives with which he has come into contact. He considers both written and oral texts, both fictions and histories—and arrives at this summarizing, grand pronouncement.

Yet if the tone might seem to inflate the importance of his own romance, the content of the sentence normalizes it. To observe that “true love never did run smooth” in any of these tales is to show how his case with Hermia is consistent with those previous stories. Instead of seeing their love to be particularly woeful, he contends that it is characteristic of a common trend. Shakespeare thus places the story told in Midsummer Night's Dream in a cultural history of other similar romantic stories. He presents the tale of Hermia and Lysander as typical of great romances, while implying that the characters themselves are aware of this similarity—and will act based on those older narratives. At the same time, the play, being a comedy, will play with and make fun of these traditional narratives of "fated lovers."

Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
Lord, what fools these mortals be! (117)
Related Characters: Robin Goodfellow (Puck) (speaker), Hermia, Helena, Lysander, Demetrius
Page Number: 3.2.117
Explanation and Analysis:

Puck has just seen Helena being pursued by Lysander—and both are about to enter the stage with Demetrius. He correctly expects that the two will compete for her love and looks forward to the show.

This line corroborates the way Puck sees himself as a theater director for the events that transpire—as opposed to a character directly involved in the narrative. Describing the other characters as “mortals” sets up a clear divide between the supernatural forest creatures and the normal humans. And considering them to be “fools” places them in a position of subservience: They are following the pre-designed games of Oberon and Puck rather than acting of their own independent accord. As a result, Puck is able to look on the behavior of Helena and her two new lover’s with pure whimsy, for their issues exist in a distanced and, for him, meaningless realm. Shakespeare thus shows that adopting a removed perspective allows one to aestheticize and find humorous what might otherwise be a dramatic or painful series of events. And, of course, the audience of the play gets an extra thrill of delight as they – the ultimate viewers with a removed perspective – watch Puck watching the "mortals."

O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment:
If you we re civil and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?
If you were men, as men you are in show,
You would not use a gentle lady so;
To vow, and swear, and superpraise my parts,
When I am sure you hate me with your hearts.
You both are rivals, and love Hermia;
And now both rivals, to mock Helena:
A trim exploit, a manly enterprise,
To conjure tears up in a poor maid's eyes
With your derision! none of noble sort
Would so offend a virgin, and extort
A poor soul's patience, all to make you sport. (147)
Related Characters: Helena (speaker), Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius
Page Number: 3.2.148-164
Explanation and Analysis:

Helena is now being pursued by Lysander and Demetrius after they have both been bewitched by the love potion. Believing that they are making fun of her, Helena spurns their advances and scolds them for this behavior.

This soliloquy makes a sharp distinction between courteous and uncourteous forms of behavior. Helena considers Lysander and Demetrius’ actions to do her “injury” and “mock” her because, she believes, their behaviors do not accurately represent how they feel. To support this point, Shakespeare uses the language of performance and play: The men act from “merriment,” they act “in show,” and it is all done “to make you sport.” These descriptions corroborate the way Puck and Oberon have staged their own sport of romance in the play. Helena is correctly able to recognize the falsehood in the mens’ behaviors, but she cannot recognize that they are merely characters acting out their parts. And, meanwhile, the men have become so overwhelmed by their "parts" because of the love potion, that they don't even know that they are in fact playing parts.

Helena's speech also confirms the way she is ever-aware of gender role complexity. She implicitly denies Lysander and Demetrius's manhood by saying they are men “in show” rather than in actuality (which also would have been funny in Shakespeare's time, when women weren't allowed to be actors and so the actor playing Helena would, in fact, have been a man). And calling their behavior “A trim exploit, a manly enterprise” is a sarcastic way of saying that she finds their behavior manipulative and thus un-masculine. Similarly, she takes on the traditional role of “gentle lady” and “poor maid”—surprising considering that Helena had previously bucked gender roles by desiring to be the pursuer or wooer. Her new adherence to a division between manly and unmanly behaviors thus shows how rapidly the supernatural forest environment can shift the characters’ identities. Just as Demetrius and Lysander have been bewitched into love and into the roles of pursuers, Helena has been metaphorically enchanted in this new, more passive position.

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
May all to Athens back again repair
And think no more of this night's accidents
But as the fierce vexation of a dream. (50)
Related Characters: Oberon (speaker), Hermia, Helena, Lysander, Demetrius
Page Number: 4.1.68-70
Explanation and Analysis:

Oberon at last feels pity for the way he has treated Titania and the other characters. He informs Puck to finish undoing his mischief and to allow the characters to depart the forest.

These lines verify the sharp division between the play’s urban and forest settings. Whereas the forest is seen as the place of fantasy and magic, the city promises a return to normalcy. Oberon’s use of the word “repair” stresses how the character's return to Athens will restore order to the broken relations and return to normal any behaviors made strange by the forest. His strict delineation between the two spaces casts the events that have transpired in the forest as whimsical and temporary—and to have little relevance to the rest of the characters’ lives.

Oberon also addresses the importance of dreams in this play. Hoping the other characters will think of the events in the forest as only “the fierce vexation of a dream” means that they will consider them to have been a psychologically real experience but one that has no pragmatic effect on their lives. He thus aligns the forest environment with nighttime and dreams, whereas Athens is associated with daytime and “reality.” These associations further emphasize that the romantic complications that have taken place in the forest are to be taken as illusory, for they should be seen as temporary and unreal.

And yet, as becomes clear just a few lines later, the wild, magical, "unreal" events of the forest have actually untangled the romantic mess of the four lovers in a way that the law of Theseus and Athens never could. 

I know you two are rival enemies:
How comes this gentle concord in the world,
That hatred is so far from jealousy,
To sleep by hate, and fear no enmity? (129)
Related Characters: Theseus (speaker), Lysander, Demetrius
Page Number: 4.1.148-151
Explanation and Analysis:

Theseus has stumbled upon Lysander and Demetrius sleeping by each other. He wonders how their proximity is possible considering how they had previously battled for Hermia’s favor.

These lines return to the question of shifting identities, for Lysander and Demetrius’ current behaviors are highly surprising in light of their previous ones. Theseus begins with the firm affirmation “I know” and then wonders how their deviation—“gentle concord”—from his knowledge of their rivalry would be possible. He wonders how the “jealousy” that they feel of each other would not inspire “hatred,” for presumably if they did indeed hate each other they would fear “enmity” or some kind of negative retribution. His incredulous response shows that Theseus expects the two to have consistent identities and behaviors—and that he is surprised when Oberon’s exploits have pacified them.

Importantly, this conclusion requires an external viewer—Theseus—to make sense of the way these two men have changed. Others within the forest are similarly bewitched actors in Oberon’s play and thus unable to rationally recognize how quickly they have shifted allegiances. But Theseus is able to stand apart from the action and thus offer this insight. Shakespeare thus makes him an analog for the audience—one who questions character development like any good interpreter.

And yet, at the same time, Theseus's confusion at the change in Lysander and Demetrius's characters again emphasizes how a viewpoint based entirely around "law" and "reason" is insufficient to comprehend or affect a world full of the irrational human feeling of love. 

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Lysander Character Timeline in A Midsummer Night's Dream

The timeline below shows where the character Lysander appears in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 1
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
An angry Athenian nobleman Egeus, enters, with his daughter Hermia and her two suitors Lysander and Demetrius. Egeus explains to Theseus that he wants his daughter to marry Demetrius, but... (full context)
Men and Women Theme Icon
...obey her father, and adding that Demetrius is a worthy man. When Hermia responds that Lysander is also worthy, Theseus says that Egeus's support of Demetrius makes him worthier. (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Hermia wishes her father could look at Lysander through her eyes, but Theseus responds, "Rather your eyes must with his [your father's] judgment... (full context)
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Demetrius asks Hermia to relent and marry him. But Lysander snaps that since Demetrius has Egeus's love, he should marry Egeus. Egeus, furious, vows to... (full context)
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Lysander points out that he's as well born and wealthy as Demetrius. He adds that Demetrius... (full context)
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Now alone, Lysander and Hermia discuss the troubles lovers of history have had to face, from war and... (full context)
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Lysander comes up with a plan for the two of them to elope: they'll hide at... (full context)
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...Demetrius would love her. To make Helena feel better, Hermia tells her that she and Lysander are about to elope. The two lovers give Helena the details of their plan and... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...love to her and now loves Hermia. Helena decides to tell Demetrius about Hermia and Lysander's plan. She knows Demetrius will follow them into the woods, and that she's betraying her... (full context)
Act 2, scene 1
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
...Helena to stop following him since he does not love her, and promises to kill Lysander. When Demetrius again demands Helena leave him, Helena says "I am your spaniel . .... (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Lysander and Hermia enter. They've gotten lost, and decide to spend the night where they are.... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Once Hermia and Lysander fall asleep, Puck enters, complaining that he's searched the forest and hasn't found the Athenian... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...breath to follow. Helena despairs, and concludes she must be ugly… but just then notices Lysander on the ground. (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Helena wakes Lysander, who immediately professes his love for her. He curses Demetrius for mistreating her, and regrets... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Hermia suddenly wakes from a nightmare in which a serpent was eating her heart while Lysander stood by, smiling and doing nothing. When she discovers Lysander is gone, she is terrified,... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...the potion as Oberon asked, Demetrius and Hermia enter, fighting. Hermia suspects Demetrius has harmed Lysander because she doesn't believe he would abandon her. Demetrius insists he didn't hurt Lysander, but... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Plays Within Plays Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
...returns with the warning that Helena is on her way and trailed by the lovelorn Lysander. Puck is excited to watch the two men woo Helena, saying, "Shall we their fond... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Helena enters with Lysander following and begging her to see that his vows of love are authentic. She doesn't... (full context)
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Men and Women Theme Icon
As Demetrius and Lysander argue, Hermia enters. She demands to know why Lysander abandoned her. Lysander tells her it... (full context)
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Hermia can't understand why Helena would accuse her of such a thing. She demands Lysander tell her what's going on. But Lysander tells her to leave him alone and says... (full context)
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Helena asks Lysander and Demetrius to protect her, which they gladly do, though she never ceases to think... (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
Love Theme Icon
Plays Within Plays Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
...they started and fall asleep without seeing each other. Puck drops the love potion onto Lysander's eyes, saying that "when thou wak'st thou tak'st / True delight in the sight /... (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
Love Theme Icon
Plays Within Plays Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
...will dance at Theseus's castle in honor of Duke Theseus's wedding and the weddings of Lysander and Hermia and Demetrius and Helena. (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
...enter, about to hunt. But they recognize the sleeping lovers and wake them. Theseus asks Lysander and Demetrius how such rivals came to be sleeping peacefully in the same glade. Lysander... (full context)