Love is beautiful, love is sweet. According to Booth & Mays (2010), love is the warmth and the fuzziness that makes one feel like they are standing in the sun. It is in the name of love that many people have done wonders they did not believe they were capable of.
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Love has given strength to the weak and hope to the hopeless. It has mended broken dreams and ferried ambitions and intentions. In the name of love, there have been growth and ruin as well.
The theme of love has been explored by many literature scholars. Shakespeare is one of the literature icons who in his works explored this theme.
In this paper, the author is going to analyze a character from one of Shakespeare’s plays and how the character is used to portray the theme of love.
In the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare uses Helena to advance the theme of love. This character, however, portrays a different face of love that, ordinarily, many would fail to admit exists.
Helena displays the sad truth that, sometimes, love is just a lonely street and you could be the only one there at the moment.
Helena is a woman who falls in love with Demetrius (Berington, 2006). He however has no time for Helena and would rather think of Hermia than bear the sight of Helena.
Hermia on the other hand wants to get married to the lovely Lysander and so they decide to elope rather than hang around. By decree, Hermia is supposed to either die or be sent to a nunnery if she does not obey her father’s wish to marry Demetrius.
According to Benedetto (1999), Hermia should get married to Demetrius “…..to fit (the) fancies of (her) father’s will, or else the law of Athens yields (her) up, which by no means we may extenuate, to death or to a vow of single life” (1.1. 118-120).
Helena is desperately in love. Her love for Demetrius seems not to be returned. She is desperately seeking his attention and love but does not get it.
Her desperation first shows when she approaches Hermia and asks her what to do about Demetrius. She questions Hermia on what makes Demetrius love her so much and what she should do about it.
She wants to know how to get Demetrius to fall in love with her like he is with Hermia. She quips, “….oh that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill! Oh that my prayers could such affection move!” (Berington, 2006: 1.1. 197-200).
Helena further shows that she is jealous of Hermia. She cannot understand why all of Athens proclaims her beauty and fairness yet Demetrius chooses to fall in love with Hermia.
On finding out that Hermia intends to elope with Lysander, she gets furious. She wonders how love could be romantic and beautiful to some people. She wonders why it is different for her and what makes Hermia so lucky in love.
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She mourns, “How happy some o’er other can be! Through Athens I am as fair as she. But what for? Demetrius thinks not so; he will not know what all but he does know: And as he errs, doting on Hermia’s eyes” (Benedetto, 1999: 1.1 226-230).
Helena is a tactful and decisive lady. She discovers Hermia’s plan to elope with Lysander and devices her own strategy. She intends to lead Demetrius to the woods where the two lovers will be.
In pursuit of Hermia and Lysander, she believes she will get Demetrius alone and make him fall in love with her again. She does this ostensibly to assist Demetrius but deep in her mind she knows that this is to benefit her and not Demetrius.
She thinks in her mind, “I will go tell him of Hermia’s flight: then to the wood will he tomorrow night pursue her; and for this intelligence if I have thanks, it is a dear expense: But herein mean I to enrich my pain, to have his sight thither and back again” (Benedetto, 1999: 1.1 246-251).
In act 2, Helena’s desperate nature once again prevails. Demetrius is deeply offended by her presence yet she insists on staying with him. Demetrius talks ill of her and confesses how he can never bring himself to love her yet she will not budge.
Helena manages to bring out the theme of women’s submission to men. She is adamant to serve Demetrius in service if not in love. It is almost as if she believes that it is her sworn duty to serve this man and even die for him if need be.
She says, “I am your spaniel; and Demetrius, the more you beat me, I will fawn on you. Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me, neglect me, lose me; only give me leave…” (Berington, 2006: 2.1.202-206).
She portrays her determination as well as her desire and ambition. She is a classic depiction of how women would go out of their way to try and get what they want. She is not deterred by the insults hurled by Demetrius.
When Demetrius tries to scare her by highlighting the loneliness and dangers of the forest, she counters him with lovely words. She narrates how being in the forest to sway his love is more of a drama and effect that she needs to beg him to love her.
Her will is not swayed nor is her agenda. Helena’s character is short of pathetic and miserable from one perspective.
However, from another perspective, her determination and sheer devotion is admirable and courageous for a woman. She is short of saying “I can get it whether you want it or not!”
Helena’s desperation however leads to a bad conclusion. It seems her constant chase after Demetrius makes her believe that she is not pretty. Her confidence is wounded and her ego shattered. She gives up and decides it is no longer the right thing to do.
She says, “no, no, I am as ugly as a bear; for beasts that meet me run away for fear” (Berington, 2006: 2.2 94-96). She further laments, saying that “…..what wicked and dissembling glass of mine made me compare with Hermia’s sphery eyne?” (Benedetto, 1999: 2.2 98-99).
Helena is scarred and feels less worthy compared to fair Hermia. She considers herself stupid to have believed that she was capable of securing Demetrius and his love. In this context, her failure and frustrations lead her to conclusions that are ill and detrimental for her.
Helena however not only depicts a woman’s devastation in love; she displays a woman’s motivation and determination to achieve. She is strong willed and ready to go an extra mile to get what she wants.
Shakespeare uses Helena to convey the theme cited by many other philosophers, literalists as well as psychologists. Women are in general objective about their love life.
They are ready to give anything in their life for a man and follow him anywhere for the desire and promise of love.
Benedetto, C. (1999). Comedy of love: A midsummer night’s dream. London: Athlone Press.
Berington, D. (2006). But we are spirits of another sort’: The dark side of love and magic in a midsummer night’s dream. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Booth, A., & Mays, K. (2010). The Norton introduction to literature (10th edn). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.