The quote taps into the theme of love, one of the primary drivers of the play. It alludes to the later events in which the quote proves itself to be entirely false. As the love potion takes effect (a symbol of the irrational nature of love), the characters fall for one another based on sight only, with no input from the mind.
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Important Vocabulary to Know
- Cupid: a reference to the son of Venus and Mars in classical mythology. IN this case, the name is a metaphor for love itself. One might read the quote as “winged love is painted blind.”
- Painted: used to describe how one’s perceptions are covered. Love is “painted blind” in this quote by Helena.
- Blind: lacking sight or understanding. It is a reference to Helena’s belief that
“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind meaning” Meaning
This quote suggests that love does not use eyes to see one’s beloved but the mind.
Love depends on one’s perception of another person. It is a direct reference to what Helena believes is keeping Demetrius in love with Hermia.
Love is a force that the characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream have no control over. The play shows how love can make and destroy relationships and friendships. Despite this, and despite the love position that controls the characters, the play ends happily with three marriages. Throughout, readers are presented with humorous depictions of love as the characters deal with its effects. Readers may find themselves laughing at the character’s various plights.
Where Does Shakespeare Use This Quote?
Shakespeare uses this quote in Act I, Scene 1 in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is spoken by Helena at the end of the scene. It is part of a dramatic monologue that sets a humorous tone for the rest of the play. Readers will realize as the play progresses that the exact opposite of the quotation proves to be true. More characters fall in love with a look and without thought than do “with the mind.” Here is the quote in context:
And, as he errs, doting on Hermia’s eyes,
So I, admiring of his qualities.
Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity
Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind;
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgment 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.
Helena uses these lines. She knows or thinks she knows, about the irrational nature of love at the beginning of the play. The character is in love with Demetrius (who is in love with Hermia). She dotes on him, as he dotes on Hermia, despite his obvious negative qualities. She believes that love has the power to, as the above quote notes, to transform “base and vile” qualities into “form and dignity.” One’s perception of their beloved is what makes them love them, she says.
Helena is a character who presents a great deal of personality throughout the play. She’s lovesick for Demetrius and spends more than one moment in the play thinking about the nature of love. She believes as the quotation suggests, that Demetrius has built up an idealized image of Hermia’s beauty in his mind that keeps him from seeing her own.
As the play progresses, Helena becomes more unsure of herself. The love potion makes her confused, and she spends a great deal of time worrying about how she looks. She also distrusts Lyander’s declaration of love for her.
Why Did Shakespeare Use This Quote?
Shakespeare used this quote as a prelude to the rest of the play. It is striking humorous, and ironic when one knows what will happen next. That is the exact opposite of what the quotation suggests. When Helena speaks this quote, she’s considering the relationship she wants to have with Demetrius (and that Demetrius wants to have with Hermia).
Demetrius, along with Helena, Hermia, and Lysander, is one of the four lovers who gets caught up in the love potion, fairy magic. He’s engaged to Hermia but falls in love with Helena after being dosed with Oberon’s love potion. This relates back to Helena’s initial declaration about love, that is is strongest when it comes from the “mind” and not the eyes. The love position makes this statement false.
She means that love depends on one’s perception of their love, what they think about them, not what they see when they look at them.
It is ironic because the exact opposite proves to be true as the poem progresses. The four young lovers are dosed with a love potion and fall in love at first glance with one another, depending on eyes only and no thought.
This quote was written by William Shakespeare and published in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play was first published on October 8th, 1600. It was performed for the first time on January 1st, 1605.
- Read: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
- Watch: William Shakespeare
- Watch: William Shakespeare in a Nutshell