LOVE AND AUTHORITY IN SHAKESPEARE'S COMEDY AND TRAGEDY
The relationship between love and forms of various authorities in Shakespeare's plays is usually that of a conflict, with the outcome concerning sad or happy ending resting entirely on chance. Two of Shakespeare's romances, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet show this.
On one hand, the relationship between love and any forms of authority is that of conflict, nothing else. In AMND this conflict begins as soon as Egeus brings Hermia and others before Theseus, and proclaims openly: "I beg the ancient privilege of Athens: / As she is mine, I may dispose of her". (AMND I.1.42-43) Why? Because Hermia is in love with Lysander, while Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius. As Lysander later indicates in the play, he and Demetrius are identical to each other in terms of family status and riches; the only difference is that Hermia prefers him, and her father prefers Demetrius.
Yet from this very small difference arises one of the primary conflicts in AMND, one that puts Hermia's life in direct danger, since Theseus (the representative of the play's political authority while Egeus is more of a social one) at this moment supports Egeus completely, telling Hermia that
Upon that day either prepare to die
For disobedience to your father's will,
Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would,
Or on Diana's altar to protest
For aye austerity and single life.
Here, on one hand, the audience has young lovers, Hermia and Lysander, and on the other the challenges they must overcome in order to be happy. Yet are Shakespeare's sympathies completely on the side of love and young lovers?
The answer to that might be less certain than how it may initially appear. In the beginning of R&J, old Capulet, Juliet's father, seems to be disposed well enough towards young Romeo (at the ball) calling him "a virtuous and well-governed youth" (R&J I.5.66), supposedly undermining the initial Capulet-Montague conflict, maybe even implying that if Romeo were to court Juliet, he would not be hindered by his family name. More precisely, in act 1 scene 3 lady Capulet seemed to be neither disparaged nor upset by Juliet's initial decline to show any enthusiasm at lady Capulet's description of Paris: clearly at this point of R&J there is no conflict between love and authority, unlike the other play... because Juliet had not met Romeo and fallen in love with him, among other reasons.
It appears, at first, to be reasonable to assume that love and various forms of authority do not have to conflict with each other, but, as it was said above, in case of R&J that is so because there is no love yet: Juliet has not met Romeo and has not encountered true love: under these conditions, any sort of arranged match can work out quite well, as various interactions between Capulet and his wife often demonstrate. R&J demonstrates that taken on its own, without love - especially romantic, passionate one - authorities of various kind are not as negative as they may appear at first.
Consequently, it can be said that one of the reasons why love and lovers come into conflict with authority figures is because they are incompatible, especially in mental mindscapes. To a bystander's mind's eye, there is little difference in status of Romeo and Paris, even less in that of Demeter and Lysander... except in the eyes of their lovers. In AMND Shakespeare shows that love is unreasonable and does not make any sense as both Helena in AMND and Juliet in R&J show to the audience and their interlocutors. Helena's telling Demetrius of Hermia's and Lysander's escape, and Juliet's equally steadfast loyalty to Romeo in face of her parents' pressure on her is perfectly reasonable to the lovers themselves, anything but reasonable to everyone else, and in the face of authority figures, it is rebellious as well.
Love, William Shakespeare says, is not something that adheres to any sort of authority, whether it is social or political. Yet, without any authority, love tends to get out of control, as the forest scenes of AMND show with great clarity. Once they are out of Athens and in the wild woods, Lysander, Hermia and others become hopelessly entangled in their feelings for one another, and things almost ended up in tragedy, if it were not for chance. That same chance that caused Mercutio and other characters in R&J to die had prevented the deaths of the lovers in AMND. Romeo may have acknowledged himself to being a fortune's fool, but this is actually true of all the lovers in Shakespeare's romantic plays. AMND, however, differs from R&J by the authority's approach to love: Romeo and Juliet die because the political authority does not get involved with them, since nobody knew (except for Friar Lawrence) that they loved and married each other. Left to their own devices, with no authority to stabilize them, they lost all of control of their lives and died.
This did not happen in AMND, because fate (more precisely, the fairies) took pity on the young lovers and prevented bloodshed - and then, in act 4, along came Theseus, Hippolyta and their retinue, bringing the law with them. And then, for reasons that are never fully revealed in the play, Theseus chooses to be merciful, and uphold the courtship of Hermia and Lysander, as well as that of Demetrius and Helena. Chance, little more than chance, has brought them high, even as it brought Romeo and Juliet low, chance... and Athens political authority, embodied in the character of Theseus, who overrode Egeus' parental authority, and has "officially approved" of the couples. That sort of political authority is absent in the love lives of Romeo and Juliet (the prince of Verona does not get involved very personally in their lives) and so they die.
In conclusion, then, it is safe to say that according to Shakespeare, love is constantly rebelling against authority, especially parental authority, but it still requires that authority to live happily ever after.