Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind:
Nor hath Love's mind of any judgement taste;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste:
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1.1), Helena
In a soliloquy the forlorn Helena laments the inconstancy of love, and in doing so neatly summarizes the central theme of the play. Interestingly, Shakespeare owes the description of "wing'd Cupid painted blind" to Geoffery Chaucer, one of England's finest poets. Chaucer invokes the sightless winged god in several works, most notably in The Romaunt of the Rose:
And in his hande me thoughte I saugh him holde
Two fyry dartes, as the gledes rede;
And aungellyke his winges saugh I sprede.
And al be that men seyn that blind is he,
Al-gate me thoughte that he mighte see. (234-238)
In As You Like It, Rosalind, more feisty than the demure Helena, rails against Cupid as only she can:
No, that same wicked bastard of Venus that was begot
of thought, conceived of spleen and born of madness,
that blind rascally boy that abuses every one's eyes
because his own are out, let him be judge how deep I
am in love. (As You Like It, 4.1)
Points to Ponder
Nay, faith, let me not play a woman; I have a beard coming.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1.2), Flute
A carpenter named Quince and his fellow workmen, Snug the joiner, Bottom the weaver, Flute the bellows-mender, Snout the tinker, and Starveling the tailor gather in Quince's house. The group has heard that Theseus is to be wed and they want to produce a play in his honor. Quince, the director, announces that the play will be "The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby" (11-2), and he announces who will play which part. Flute's comment above is funny and apt because in Shakespeare's time, and for nearly a century thereafter, women were not allowed on the English stage. Boys whose voices had not changed were dressed in drag and forced to battle the challenging lines spoken by Shakespeare's great heroines. More about women on stage...