In William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, how might one interpret Hermia's words in 2.2.145-50 (beginning with "Help me, Lysander, help me!" and ending with "at his cruel prey")?
In William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia, near the very end of Act 2, awakens from a troubling dream and asks for help from Lysander, whom she loves (but who does not love her):
Hermia. [Awaking] Help me, Lysander, help me! do thy best
To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast!
Ay me, for pity! what a dream was here!
Lysander, look how I do quake with fear:
Methought a serpent eat my heart away,
And you sat smiling at his cruel pray. (2.2.145-50)
This passage makes an effective contribution to the rest of the play in a number of different ways, including the following:
- It emphasizes one of the play’s major themes – dreaming, but also awakening from dreams.
- It emphasizes how strongly Hermia feels connected to Lysander, although Lysander had just a few lines earlier stressed his own distaste for Hermia when he had said to her sleeping body, “never mayst thou come Lysander near” (136). Thus the passage quoted above helps contribute to another major theme of the work – the idea of comically confused affections, in which people love other persons who do not share the first person’s love.
- It emphasizes that Hermia feels threatened by her dream, thus contributing to another major theme of the play: that not all dreams are pleasant or consoling. However, Hermia’s dream of being assaulted by a snake is, in fact, merely a dream after all, thus contributing to our sense that there aren’t too many real, actual threats in this particular forest. Most of the threats are merely imaginary.
- It emphasizes that Hermia felt as if the imagined snake was eating at her heart – an image obviously relevant to another one of the play’s major themes: heart-ache, especially of the romantic variety.
- Finally, it emphasizes, in line 150, Hermia’s fear that Lysander is not really in love with her, even though she loves him. Line 150 even suggests a fear that Lysander may actually take pleasure in her pain. Thus line 150 is relevant to yet another major theme of the play: the fear that we may love those who actually hate us.