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In Act II of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", why are Demetrius, Helena, Lysander, and...

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joroco19 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted February 4, 2009 at 9:20 PM via web

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In Act II of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", why are Demetrius, Helena, Lysander, and Hermia in the forest?

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted February 4, 2009 at 10:05 PM (Answer #1)

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Lysander tells Hermia, in Act 1, Scene 1, that they're going to run off together to his aunt's house to get married. But to do so, they're going to go through the woods:

A good persuasion; therefore, hear me, Hermia.
I have a widow aunt, a dowager
Of great revenue, and she hath no child:
From Athens is her house remote seven leagues;
And she respects me as her only son.
There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee;
And to that place the sharp Athenian law
Cannot pursue us. If thou lovest me then,
Steal forth thy father's house tomorrow night;
And in the wood, a league without the town,
Where I did meet thee once with Helena
To do observance to a morn of May,
There will I stay for thee.

They tell Helena of their plans to run away, and that they're going to meet in the woods. And she tells the audience that she's going to tell Demetrius (who she loves, and who is in love with Hermia - and indeed, has got her father's word that he can marry Hermia) that Hermia is running away to the woods:

I will go tell him of fair 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.

Demetrius goes. And Helena follows him.

So to recap - Hermia and Lysander are escaping to the woods to elope together. Demetrius is chasing Hermia, and Helena is chasing him.

Hope it helps!

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted February 4, 2009 at 10:42 PM (Answer #2)

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Hermia loves Lysander but her father orders her to get married to Demetrius who once loved Helena. According to the harsh Athenian law if Hermia does not fulfill the commands of her father she will be executed or she will have to remain a virgin all her life: "Either to die the death or to abjure
For ever the society of men."

Lysander suggests to Hermia that they run away from Athens to a faraway place, outside the purview of the Athenian law and get married secretly: "And to that place the sharp Athenian law
Cannot pursue us. If thou lovest me then,
Steal forth thy father's house to-morrow night;
And in the wood, a league without the town...There will I stay for thee."

Hermia agrees to meet Lysander in the forest on the outskirts of Athens.  However, Hermia makes the mistake of revealing their plan to Helena her friend. Demetrius once loved Helena and she in order to win back his love and favour decides to reveal Lysander and Hermia's plan to run away from Athens to Demetrius: "I will go tell him of fair Hermia's flight:
Then to the wood will he to-morrow night
Pursue her; and for this intelligence
If I have thanks."

Once she does that, Demetrius follows Lysander and Hermia in to the forest, in turn, follwed by Helena. This is how the two pairs of lovers end up in the forest at the same time.

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