What are the personality traits of Hermia and Helena in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream?
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The key to understanding Hermia and Helena is knowing that Shakespeare intentional made them both similar to showcase their almost interchangable natures. They are both of equivalent social ranking, and are both considered to be beautiful. Even their names are similar, both start with an 'H' and have six letters.
However they are different. Physically, Hermia is shorter than Helena. (In Act III,ii they both are making gibes at one another regarding stature.)
Hermia is more chaste than Helena. Helena's former relationship with Demetrius is brought up in the very first scene, "Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head,/ Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena,/
And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,". However, even when she is alone with her Lysander, Hermia maintains her chastity, "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."
One thing we know about Hermia is that she is very bold and self-assertive. We even see her boldness and assertiveness in the very first scene. When her father Egeus petitions Duke Theseus to punish Hermia with the full force of the law should she continue to refuse to marry Demetrius, Hermia very boldly states her own position. For example, immediately after hearing her father's side of the story, Theseus argues in his favor by saying to Hermia that "Demetrius is a worthy gentleman" to which Hermia very boldly replies, "So is Lysander" (I.i.53-54). Hermia even apologizes for her boldness in the next few lines, showing us that two of Hermia's personality traits are certainly boldness and self-assertiveness.
Helena, in contrast, suffers from insecurity due to Demetrius's rejection of her. More than just rejecting her, they were actually engaged before he started pursuing Hermia. As a result of her insecurity, like most women who become insecure due to love tribulations, one of her personality traits is being diffident, meaning "lacking confidence in one's own ability [or] worth" (Random House Dictionary). We first see evidence of her diffidence when Hermia greets her with the exclamation "fair Helena" and her only reply is to mope about how Demetrius thinks Hermia is fair and not Helena. We further see evidence of her diffidence when she decides to throw her friendship with Hermia to the wind and tell Demetrius of Hermia and Lysander's plan to elope and run off into the woods with nothing more than the hope of receiving a thank you from Demetrius for the news. Since this act of betraying Hermia really will gain her nothing, it shows us her underlying feelings of lack of self-worth.
Hermia is shorter (and interpreted as short tempered). She is also the "fairer" of the two; perhaps even the more desirable. Helena could be considered the more desperate and pathetic of the two since she slavishly goes behind Demetrius. However, both of them are easily prone to anger and fight each other often throughout the play.
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