In the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, the theme of opposites plays a prominent role. Shakespeare explores several relationships in this play, but the most intriguing is the relationship between Hermia and Helena. Specifically, Shakespeare calls the reader’s attention to the relationship between Hermia and Helena and their distinct differences. It is because of these differences that Hermia and Helena develop a mutual respect and admiration for one another, though in the beginning of the play, the girls have a much rockier relationship. At first glance, these two girls do not seem to be all that different, but as the play progresses, the reader realizes that a relationship of rivalry and jealousy exists.
Hermia and Helena are both portrayed as beautiful young women. Helena is in love with a man named Demetrius, who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. Demetrius, however, does not return Helena’s affections, but attempts to woo Hermia. Hermia is not interested in Demetrius’ attempts to win her heart, as she is deeply in love with Lysander. It is within this love triangle that Hermia and Helena’s relationship exists in the form of a rivalry. By the end of the play, a noticeable change in Helena has occurred, and it is obvious that she
As the play begins, the reader is thrust into this love affair between Hermia, Demetrius, Helena, and Lysander. Hermia’s father, Egeus, has forbidden her relationship with Lysander, forcing the two lovers to concoct a plan to elope together. In this scene, the reader senses through her actions that Hermia is sure of both herself and her impeding elopement to Lysander. Hermia appears to be completely content with the man who loves her, and very secure in her own skin.
Hermia confesses her plans to elope to her friend, Helena, who tells Demetrius of the plan in order to gain favor in his eyes. Helena, too, appears to be confident in her appearance and intelligence. Although she is confused by Demetrius’ obvious disinterest in her, Helena make is very clear to the reader that she thinks very highly of herself. This attitude is apparent when Helena says, “Through Athens I am thought as fair as she” (Act 1, Scene 1, Line 227).
Although Helena appears to be overconfident in herself, she also has a side of her that is very insecure with herself, and envious of Hermia and the attention that Demetrius showers on her. Although Helena has made it clear that she is just a beautiful as Hermia, Helena believes that Demetrius is only in love with Hermia because of her beauty. It is apparent that Helena believes that she has more than just beauty to offer Demetrius when she says, “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind” (Act 1, Scene 2, Line 134). A short while later, Puck, the right hand to the Fairy King, Oberon, attempts to give Helena her precious Demetrius.
The plan, however, backfires, and it is Lysander who is made to woo Helena. When Lysander approaches Helena and tells her of his newfound feelings for her, she doesn’t believe him and thinks that it is a joke. Helena yells at Lysander because she thinks that he is making a fool of her. “Wherefore was I to this keen mockery born? When at your hands did I deserve this scorn?” (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 129-130). This contradicts Helena’s earlier feeling of being just as attractive as Hermia, and just as deserving of those things that she has.
While Lysander is pursuing Helena, Hermia awakens to find her love missing. The reader is again shown how confident and secure Hermia is when she worries that Lysander has been killed. The thought of Lysander being unfaithful to her never enters Hermia’s mind, and she assumes the worst when he is not there when she wakes.
At the end of the play we see Helena and Demetrius are together, thanks to the correction of Lysander’s assisted feelings for Helena. Helena seems to have accepted Demetrius’ affection, whether real or not, and decides to be with him. This shows that, contrary to previous actions, Helena is starting to believe that Demetrius’ feelings are true. Whereas earlier in the play she was running away from Demetrius, sure that he was mocking her in his attempts to woo her, now she is marrying him and committing her life to being with him.
This marriage and Demetrius’ sudden change of heart also calm Helena’s jealousy for Hermia. Originally, Demetrius had left Helena to woo Hermia, and now in Helena’s mind, order has been restored by Demetrius’ return to her. At the end of the play we see a more secure character and obviously a much happier Helena.
In the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, every character goes through an evolution and by the end of the play, everyone is wiser for the experiences they endured. In the beginning of the play, we see Helena as an overconfident and jealous girl who is desperately chasing after the man she loves. Hermia is a more stable, self-assured character, completely confident in her relationship with Lysander. As the play wears on, Helena becomes extremely insecure and suddenly unsure of herself, whereas the reader never sees Hermia falter.
Hermia runs away from the man that she had been chasing after for so long, and questions his affection for her. In the end, all’s well that ends well for Helena. She accepts Demetrius’ love and affection by marrying him, which creates more security for Helena, and gives her a sense of order restored in her life. Throughout the play, the reader sees Helena mature from an outwardly cocky, but yet inwardly insecure young woman into a self-assured and confident woman.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1980.
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