What can we learn from the "grand quarrel scene" between Helena and Hermia in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream ?
The quarrel scene between Hermia and Helena is both one of the most comical and the most tragical parts of the play. It is comical because many humorous lines are exchanged that clearly portray the foolishness of mankind that Puck is observing and is a central theme. In addition, the scene is tragical because one clear consequence of Puck's actions is that Hermia and Helena's friendship has been torn apart. Not only that, literary critic Shirley Nelson Garner points out that they never really make amends. In fact, they don't say much to each other after this scene and even fall completely silent in the final act.
One humorous line due to its dramatic irony is Helena's claim that Hermia is joining forces with Demetrius and Lysander in mocking her, as we see in her line, "Lo, she is one of this confederacy!" (III.ii.195). This line is an example of dramatic irony because the audience is aware that Demetrius and Lysander genuinely think they are in love with Helena due to Puck's enchantment while Helena thinks they are all just mocking her. Another instance of humor can be seen when Helena in her anger makes a "short joke" by referring to Hermia as a "puppet" in her line, "Fie, fie! you counterfeit, you puppet you!" (298). Clearly we see that the four Athenians ridiculous behavior is serving to prove the theme concerning the foolishness of mankind, especially portrayed in Pucks line, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (116).
However, after this scene, as Nelson points out, Helena and Hermia, who have been dear friends since childhood, never say much to each other again after this quarrel scene. The women's argument ends when the two men go off to engage in combat and Helena runs away from Hermia, saying, "Your hands than mine are quicker for a fray; / My legs are longer though, to run away," leaving Hermia alone to say, "I am amazed and know not what to say" (358-360). When the lovers awake in the woods after having been correctly paired by Puck, the men do most of the talking to Duke Theseus and Egeus. After Theseus and Egeus depart asking the four lovers to follow, Hermia finally speaks up saying that she thinks she sees "these things with parted eye, / When every thing seems double" (IV.i.190-191). Helena echoes her sentiment but then addresses the rest of her lines more to Demetrius than to anyone else. Finally, in the closing act, neither woman speaks a line, neither to each other, nor to the other company in the scene. One thing that the women's silence shows us is that their friendship has been altered forever.