A Midsummer Night's Dream
How we cite our quotes:
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; (1.1.4)
This is one of the most famous lines of the play, and for good reason. Lysander's declaration pretty much sums up the play's notion that lovers always face difficult hurdles on the path to happiness – whether it's a disapproving parent, rival lover, or something else. In the play, Shakespeare makes this "love is an obstacle course" metaphor very literal when the young Athenians go chasing each other around the wood in pursuit of love. We're also interested in the way Lysander locates his love for Hermia in a long, rich "tradition." For Lysander, love is epic and the stuff of great literature and history.
Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it,
Making it momentary as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say 'Behold!'
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion. (1.4.7)
Here, Lysander lists the obstacles that can separate lovers: "war, death, or sickness." Lysander also knows that, even though love can be explosive like "lightening," it's usually short-lived: "So quick bright things come to confusion."
P.S. The idea that love is transient, by the way, is a major theme in Romeo and Juliet, where Friar Laurence says the following about Romeo's passion: "These violent delights have violent ends" (Romeo and Juliet, 2.6.1).
How happy some o'er other some can be!
Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so;
He will not know what all but he do know.
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 wing'd Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath Love's mind of any judgment taste;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste; (1.1.6)
When Helena admits that she loves many of Demetrius's "base and vile" qualities, she recognizes that her love has made her "blind" in that her judgment has been skewed by her passion. This idea resurfaces throughout the play, especially when Titania literally falls in love with a "base and vile" creature – an "ass."
We also want to point out that Helena is acting a little immature here when she complains that most people think she's prettier than Hermia. Apparently, love also makes us self-absorbed.