How do the two female characters, Hermia and Helena, compare in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream ?

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tamarakh's profile pic

Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the beginning of the play, the biggest difference we see between the two female characters, Hermia and Helena, is that one is confident while the other lacks confidence. Hermia is a bold, confident woman because she is loved by the man she loves; in contrast, Helena not only lacks confidence, but often acts in desperation because the man she loves has suddenly rejected her.

We especially see Hermia's confidence and boldness in the very first scene. When Duke Theseus argues in favor of her father that Demetrius is a "worthy gentleman" for her to marry, Hermia boldly retorts, "So is Lysander" (I.i.54). We even see her apologize for her boldness later. Another way in which she acts with confidence and boldness is with respect to Lysander's request to lie beside her in the woods. Hermia is conscientious enough of what virtue requires and confident enough of Lysander's love to reject his request and tell him to "[l]ie further off" (II.ii.45). In rejecting Lysander, Hermia is preserving her chastity until their wedding day, which she considers a virtuous thing to do, as we see in her lines:

Lie further off, in human modesty;
Such separation as may well be said
Becomes a virtuous bachelor and a maid. (58-60)

However, if Helena were in Hermia's same shoes, she might be so desperate for love that she would threaten her virtue.

We see Helena's lack of confidence and desperation in the very first scene. When Hermia addresses her best friend as "fair," Helena's response is to pout and ask how she could be called fair when Demetrius loves Hermia's fairness, not her own, as we see in her lines, "Call you me fair? That fair again unsay. / Demetrius loves your fair. O happy fair!" (I.i.184-185). In fact, Helena is so enamored of a man who has broken her heart that she makes the decision to tell him Hermia's and Lysander's plans to runaway, even though she will probably get no other reward for it than simple thanks. Helena is so desperate for his love that she even runs after him into the woods, which endangers her maiden chastity, as Demetrius points out himself:

You do impeach your modesty too much
To leave the city and commit yourself
Into the hands of one that loves you not. (II.i.218-220)

Hence, we see that the greatest difference between the two women is that one is confident and bold because she is loved by the man who loves her, while the other lacks confidence and is desperate.


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bmuhly | eNotes Newbie

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Rowan Muhly

The presentation of Helena and Hermia in the play   A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

 William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy about four young Athenians whose lives become mixed up with fairies, love potions, strange circumstances and funny events. Two of the characters in the play are called Hermia and Helena, good friends who are also jealous of each other. Even though they are very good friends Helena and Hermia are presented as two characters who are sometimes opposite in personality, likes and dislikes.Helena is presented as physically tall and blonde but despite this she has  no confidence and low self esteem. Helena is in love with Demetrius and desperate to be liked by him. She is often whiny and she is bitter because Demetrius treats her badly and threatens to kick her.Helenatells Demetrius that he can treat her like a spaniel (dog), Act two scene 1 lines 202-209Helenasays to Demetrius:

I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:

Helena says he can ignore her or hit her or just generally treat her badly. Demetrius has already done that, ignoring her so he can go chasing after Hermia. Lysander accuses him of this to the Duke, and the Duke says he had already heard about it. (in Act 1 Scene 1)  Demetrius falls in love withHelenaonly after the potion used by Puck.Helenais jealous of Hermia because Demetrius loves her instead.Helenadoes not hate Hermia but she is very envious of her friend.Helenadoes not feel that anyone values her or that anyone likes her. When Lysander and Demetrius say they love her she will not believe them, because she cannot believe that anyone could love her. "I am as ugly as a bear" she says.  Helenais subservient to Demetrius. At the end of Act two scene 1 Oberon tells Puck to find Demetrius and places the potion on him so that he lovesHelena

  “Effect it with some care, that he may prove more fond on her that she upon her love…”

 Hermia is presented as being short and dark, full of confidence, very sure of herself, and in love with Lysander. Hermia is usually  optimistic and upbeat although she is also defiant which she shows when she is prepared to go against her father’s wishes and run away with Lysander. Hermia can be stubborn, determined and feisty.  Lysander treats Hermia very well and plans to escape with her until the muddling up of Puck when he puts the potion on Lysander which makes him fall in love withHelena.  Lysander treats Hermia with respect, he is also headstrong, controlling, and perhaps a little arrogant. Egeus, Hermia’s father, is also stubborn and controlling and he is very powerful. Hermia  becomes jealous ofHelenawhen the potion is used by Puck because Lysander falls in love withHelena. Hermia detests Demetrius,  but  she  has lots of self esteem, she is  confident and sure of herself  and although she has a sense of duty to her father she is not willing to put her duty as a daughter before her love for Lysander.

In the play A Mid Summer Night’s Dream William Shakespeare presentsHelena and Hermia as two characters caught up in a confused series of events. As we read the play we get to know these two girls through their actions and relationships with other characters. Even though they are very good friends Helena and Hermia are presented as two characters who are sometimes opposite in personality, likes and dislikes.


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