The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet By William Shakespeare

Introduction to the Poet

William Shakespeare (1564–1616) has been universally acknowledged as one of the greatest figures in the world of letters. Born on 23rd April 1564 at Stratford-on-Avon, a town in Warwickshire, England, Shakespeare became the most popular playwright of the Elizabethan Age. Apart from writing famous tragedies like Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and King Lear and equally famous comic plays like As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, etc., Shakespeare wrote a series of 154 sonnets, which were published together in 1609. While 126 of these sonnets are addressed to an unknown friend called ‘Mr. W.H.’, 28 of them revolve around a ‘dark lady’. His plays, as well as his sonnets, exhibit an exceptional understanding of life and a remarkable insight into the complexities of human nature. Shakespeare was a gifted poet and a dramatist who possessed, as Dryden rightly remarked, ‘the largest and most comprehensive soul’. Some of his plays also contain poems which will continue to give pleasure to the readers through all ages.

Introduction to the Poem

‘The Lunatic, The Lover, and the Poet’ is a passage taken from Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer-Night’s Dream. These lines are spoken by Theseus, Duke of Athens, to his betrothed Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, in Act V, Scene i. A mad man, a lover and a poet, the Duke explains, share the faculty of intense imagination, which enables them to create and inhabit a world of fantasy. The poet emphasizes the power of imagination in both transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary and creating entirely new fanciful situations from almost non-existent realities. Such imaginative constructs, the poet lightly observes, remain the exclusive domain of lovers, poets and madmen, away from the commonplace and the humdrum in ordinary mortal life. The lover, for example, sees ‘Helen’s beauty’ in ‘a brow of Egypt’, while the poet has the creativity to produce concrete shapes to ‘airy nothing’. The lovers, poets and madmen are generally away from the ordinary worldly life and remain in their own world of imagination. The central idea of this poem is the power of imagination that invents imaginary joys and fears from imaginary causes.

Explanation of Important Passages

(Lines 1—5)

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,

Are of imagination all compact.

One sees more devils than vast hell can hold:

That is, the madman; the lover, all as frantic,

Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt;

Word-meanings:
1. compact = made up;
2. vast = large;
3. brow = face;
4. frantic = insane, wild, excited;
5. lunatic = brow of Egypt = a gypsy; the reference is to the belief that the gypsies were of Egyptian origin.

Reference to the Context: These lines have been taken from the poem ‘The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet’ written by William Shakespeare. This poem is an extract from Shakespeare’s play a Midsummer-Night’s Dream. In this poem, the poet brings out the similarity between a lunatic, a lover and a poet. This similarity lies in the faculty of their imagination.

Explanation: In these lines, the poet says that a mad man, a lover and a poet are wholly made up of imagination. One of them sees more devils than even the vast hell can hold. He is a madman. The lover has an equally insane mind. He sees Helen’s beauty in the face of an Egyptian gypsy woman. There is no doubt that the lunatic, the lover and the poet are highly imaginative persons. The lunatic imagines shapes and figures which do not actually exist. Anyone who has ever seen the behaviour of a lunatic would agree on this point. The lover too has his own illusions. He thinks his beloved to be the most beautiful woman on earth, though she may be a woman of average beauty. The poet too has his own imagination. His imagination can soar to heights which even the imagination of a lunatic or a lover cannot reach.

(Lines 6—11)

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy, rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;

And, as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

Word–meanings:
1. Frenzy = madness;
2. glance = look;
3. bodies forth = gives shape to;
4. airy nothing = something that does not exist at all;
5. eye = the eye of imagination.

Reference to the Context: These lines have been taken from the poem ‘The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet’, written by William Shakespeare. This poem is an extract from Shakespeare’s play a Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this poem, the poet brings out the similarity between a lunatic, a lover and a poet. This similarity lies in the faculty of their imagination.

Explanation: In these lines, the poet explains how the power of imagination works in a poet. His imagination moves from heaven to earth and earth to heaven. By his power of imagination, the poet can give a name to the unknown things. He can give a concrete shape even to imaginary and intangible things. Thus, the poet has a great gift of imagination. The eyes of a poet roll in a fine glow of inspiration. They wander from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven. Thus they cover the entire universe. While the poet’s eyes are rolling everywhere, his imagination creates forms and shapes which are completely divorced from reality. Then through his pen, the poet describes those forms and shapes in such a way that they seem real to the reader.

(Lines 12—16)

Such tricks hath strong imagination,

That, if it would but apprehend some joy,

It comprehends some bringer of that joy;

Or in the night, imagining some fear,

How easy is a bush suppos’d a bear!

Word-meanings:
1. apprehend = find, sense;
2. comprehends = grasps, perceives;
3. tricks = arts;
4. bringer= cause.

Reference to the Context: These lines have been taken from the poem ‘The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet’ written by William Shakespeare. This poem is an extract from Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this poem, the poet brings out the similarity between a lunatic, a lover and a poet. This similarity lies in the faculty of their imagination.

Explanation: In these lines, the poet says that a strong imagination has wonderful faculties. If it invents some kind of joy, it can invent the cause of that joy also. If one imagines some frightening object in the darkness of the night, even a bush appears to be a bear to such a person. In these lines, the poet tells us about the power of imagination. According to him, imagination is very powerful. It can bring joy as well as fear. When an imaginative person finds joy, he imagines the bringer of that joy also. At night, a man sees a bush. In his imagination, he may take the bush to be a bear. Thus, imagination can give both joy and fear to a man.

Stanzas for Comprehension

(Lines 1—5)

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,

Are of imagination all compact.

One sees more devils than vast hell can hold:

That is, the madman; the lover, all as frantic,

Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt;

Questions and Answers

1. What is the similarity between the lunatic, the lover and the poet?

2. What does the lunatic/madman see?

3. What does the lover think about his beloved?

4. Who was Helen?

5. How does the poet compare the lover with the lunatic?

6. What does the poet mean by ‘a brow of Egypt’?

Answers

1. They are all led by intense imagination.

2. The madman sees more devils than the vast regions of hell can hold in his imagination.

3. He thinks she is as beautiful as Helen of Troy.

4. She was said to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She was the wife of the king of Sparta but ran away with the Prince of Troy.

5. The poet says that the lover’s imagination is as frantic as that of the lunatic.

6. By ‘a brow of Egypt’ the poet means an Egyptian Gypsy girl.

(Lines 6—11)

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy, rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;

And, as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name

Questions

1. Name the source of the poem?

2. What has been said about the poet’s eye?

3. What does the poet’s imagination do?

4. What does the poet’s pen do?

5. What is meant by ‘airy nothing’?
Answers

1. This poem has been taken from Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

2. The poet’s eye has a fine glow of inspiration. It rolls from the sky to the earth, and from the earth to the sky.

3. The poet’s imagination gives concrete shape to things that are unknown or non-existent.

4. The poet’s pen describes the imaginary forms and shapes in such a way that they seem to the reader as realities.

5. By ‘airy nothing’ means something that is non-existent and purely imaginary.

(Lines 12—16)

Such tricks hath strong imagination,

That, if it would but apprehend some joy,

It comprehends some bringer of that joy;

Or in the night, imagining some fear,

How easy is a bush suppos’d a bear!

Questions

1. What happens when the imagination apprehends some joy?

2. When does the imagination mistake a bush for a bear?

3. Does the imagination always lead to joys only?

4. What do the following words mean in the given lines:

a. tricks

b. bringer

5. Who is the writer of these lines?

Answers

1. When the imagination apprehends some joys, it can invent the cause of that joy also.

2. In the darkness of the night, the imagination mistakes a bush for a bear.

3. No, the imagination leads to fears also.

4. (a) Tricks—(devices and arts) – A strong imagination has wonderful tricks. It can invent joys in life.

(b) Bringer—(cause) – A strong imagination can invent the cause of joys.

5. Shakespeare is the writer of these lines.

Short-Answer Questions

Q. 1. In what respect are the lunatic, the poet and the lover alike?

Ans. The lunatic, the poet and the lover, all have intense imagination. The poet says that the lunatic in his imagination sees so many devils that even hell cannot hold. The lover’s imagination is also very strong. With his power of imagination, a lover finds Helen’s beauty in every beautiful woman. And a poet’s eye of imagination rolls from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven. His pen gives concrete shape to things that are unknown or completely non-existent. In this way the lunatic, the lover and the poet are alike.

Q. 2. Give Shakespeare’s account of the power of imagination?
Ans. Shakespeare says that imagination is very powerful. It can bring joy as well as fear. When a person finds joy, he imagines the bringer of joy also. At night, a man may imagine a bush to be a bear and may become afraid of it. For example, a mad man will see devils all around him. A lover will see Helen’s beauty in his beloved’s face. A poet will give a concrete shape to unknown or non-existent things. Thus the power of imagination makes unreal things look real.

Q. 3. How does Shakespeare describe a poet’s power of imagination?

Ans. The poet’s imaginative eye has a fine glow of inspiration. It rolls from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven. It can visualize each and every corner of the universe. The poet’s imagination gives concrete shape to things unknown or things that are non-existent. Then his pen describes them in such a manner that they seem to the reader as real things.

Essay Type Question

1. Give a critical analysis of the poem: ‘The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet’

OR

Outline the development of the central idea of the poem.

Ans. ‘The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet’ is a poem taken from Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These lines are spoken by Theseus, Duke of Athens, to his betrothed Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, in Act V, scene i. A madman, a lover and a poet, the Duke explains, share the faculty of intense imagination, which enables them to create and inhabit a world of fantasy. The poet emphasizes the power of imagination in both transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary and creating entirely new fanciful situations from almost non-existent realities. Such imaginative constructs, the poet rightly observes, remain the exclusive domain of lovers, poets and madman, away from the commonplace and the humdrum, in ordinary mortal life. The lover, for example, sees ‘Helen’s beauty’ in ‘a brow of Egypt’, while the poet has the creativity to produce concrete shapes to ‘airy nothing’. The lovers, poets and madmen are generally away from the ordinary worldly life and remain in their own world of imagination. The central idea of this poem is the power of imagination that invents imaginary joys and fears from imaginary causes. The poet illustrates it by giving the examples of the lunatic, the lover and the poet. He says that they are all made up of imagination.

They are led by their imagination entirely. For example, the madman sees devils all around him.

The lover sees Helen’s beauty in the face of his beloved. And the poet ‘gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name’. In other words, he describes his imaginary shapes and forms in such a way that the reader takes them as truly real. Such is the power of a strong imagination. Thus imagination is a source of both joy and fear.

Objective Type Questions

Q. 1. Who was Helen?

Ans. Helen was a Greek lady. She was the most beautiful woman of Greece.

Q. 2. What is the similarity between the mad man, the lover, and the poet?

Ans. They all have intense imagination.

Q. 3. How is the lover’s imagination?

Ans. The lover’s imagination is frantic.

Q. 4. What does the lunatic see?

Ans. The lunatic sees devils in his imagination.

Q. 5. What does the poet mean by ‘a brow of Egypt’?

Ans. By ‘a brow of Egypt,’ the poet means an Egyptian gypsy girl.

Q. 6. What are the tricks of imagination?

Ans. The imagination can give strange shapes to things.

Q. 7. What does imagination do in case of joy?

Ans. It creates the bringer to that joy.

Q. 8. What does the lover see in the brow of his beloved?

Ans. Helen’s beauty

Q. 9. Who gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name?

Ans. The poet.

The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet By William Shakespeare Summary and Question Answers

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