compare and contrast helena and hermia in a midsummer nights dream

How do Hermia and Helena alter and connect in their approach to love and courtship?

“Two lovely berries moulded on to one stem/ so with two seeming bodies but one heart…..” In William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Helena confronts Hermia to remind her once again of their relationship. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play about the two Athenian couples who constantly run through the course of true love. In this play Helena and Hermia are the two characters that have found their true lovers but are running through obstacles that prevent them to be with their loves. Hermia who is in love with Lysander has to go against the will of her Father Eugeus, while Helena has yet to make her love that is Demetrius fall in love with her. The whole play twists around the lovers and the way they approach to love and courtship. Although Hermia and Helena are both willing to risk honour for true love; in truth Hermia is confident in her approach to courtship while Helena lacks self-esteem.

Hermia and Helena are both willing to risk their honour for their true loves. For example Hermia is risking her honour by running away with her true love Lysander:

My good Lysander,
I swear to thee by Cupid’s strongest bow,
By his best arrow with the golden head,
By the simplicity of Venus’ doves……..
By all vows that ever men have broke
(In number more than ever women spoke),
In that same place thou hast appointed me,
Tomorrow truly will I meet thee. (1.1.169-178)

Hermia vows upon the strongest symbols of love such as Cupid’s strongest bow, and Venus’ doves as her promise to meet Lysander at the place where they’ll elope. Hermia is risking her reputation by running away with Lysander, because she leaves the city with a person who she loves and trusts but is not married to, so therefore the society may consider her act as a disappointing example for other civilians. While Hermia is willing to risk her honour for Lysander, Helena is willing to risk her repute for the sake of her true love Demetrius. This is best illustrated by Demetrius who states: You do impeach your modesty too much,

To leave the city and commit yourself
Into the hands of one that loves you not,
To trust the opportunity of night
And the ill counsel of a desert place
With the rich worth of your virginity. (2.1. 199-204)

This passage from Demetrius depicts that Helena is risking her reputation by being alone with him at night in a deserted forest. As stated by Demetrius, Helena is committing herself to someone who does not love her and therefore she cannot trust Demetrius with the rich worth of her virginity. “Your virtue is my privilege…..”(2.1.205). Helena’s reply to Demetrius’s statement is that Demetrius will protect her with his virtue so therefore leaving the city and being alone with him does not seem to Helena as risking her honour. In conclusion Hermia and Helena are both connected in terms of risking their honour for Lysander and Demetrius. Helena and Hermia are both willing to risk their honour for true love, yet they both are also different in their approach to get to their lovers to be with them. For example the passage below shows Hermia’s confidence at her approach with Lysander. ….But, gentle friend, for love and courtesy

Lie further off in human modesty.
Such separation as may well be said
Becomes a virtuous bachelor and a maid.
So far be distant. And, good night, sweet friend.
Thy love ne’er alter till thy sweet life end! (2.2. 45-50)

Hermia is confident in her approach to courtship because knows how to say no to Lysander on something that may not seem right to her such as sleeping with him. Separation before marriage is a right thing for Hermia to do and she has the confidence to express herself to Lysander. When Hermia tells Lysander to lie further off in human modesty she says it without hesitation. In this case Helena lacks the confidence that Hermia has in her approach to love. Helena is insecure about her identity and often compares her body image to Hermia’s as she does in the following passage. Call you me “fair”? That “fair” again unsay.

Demetrius loves your fair. O happy fair!
Your eyes are lodestars, and your tongue’s sweet air
More tunable than lark to shepherd’s ear
When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear.
Sickness is catching. Oh, were favor so,
Yours would I catch, fair Hermia, ere I go.
My ear should catch your voice. My eye, your eye.
My tongue should catch your tongue’s sweet melody…… (1.1. 181-189)

This passage describes that Helena is insecure about her body image as well as her personality. Helena thinks that Demetrius loves Hermia because of her beauty which makes Helena think that she is inferior to Hermia. Even though both Helena and Hermia are both known to have the same beauty; Helena finds herself uglier because she doesn’t have the love of Demetrius. Helena’s approach to her love is weaker than that of Hermia’s because of her insecurity and a low self-esteem. Helena wants Hermia’s beauty to be a sickness that she can contract. Hermia’s sweet strain, her lodestar eyes, and Hermia’s overall beauty is what Helena wishes and her insecurity about herself. As a result Hermia’s approach to courtship is stronger because of the high level of confidence she has, whereas Helena lacks that confidence because of her insecurity about herself. To conclude, although Hermia and Helena are both willing to risk their honour for true love, Hermia is stronger at her approach to love and courtship, and Helena lacks self-esteem because of the insecurity about herself. Hermia is willing to risk her reputation by running away with Lysander, while Helena is willing to risk her reputation by being alone with Demetrius at night. With this connection also comes an alteration, when Hermia proves her confidence that Helena is not bound to have. Hermia knows how to say no to something that may not seem right to her. “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind/ therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind…..” (1.1. 234-235). Helena’s statement that love is blind and looks with the eyes depicts that she approaches to love thoughtlessly; do you think this approach makes her successful in winning the heart of Demetrius?

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