What is the significance of Hermia and Helena's silence in Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream?
Hermia and Helena become oddly silent in the fifth and final act. Literary critic Shirley Nelson Garner points out that their silence appears to be a statement about their male dominant society, especially found in marriage.
Garner points out that all three couples in the play seem to have become married between the fourth and fifth acts. While the two women were very vocal up until that point, their new silence seems to say that they have found new roles as wives.
In the earlier acts of the play, the two women had absolutely no problems with voicing their opinions. Hermia is even brave enough to express her side of the argument to Theseus. When Theseus points out that Demetrius is a worthy man, Hermia retorts, "So is Lysander" (I.i.54). Helena also has no reservations in expressing her opinion, especially with Demetrius. When Demetrius follows after Hermia and Lysander with the intention of killing Lysander, Helena pursues Demetrius, accusing him of heartlessness and cruelty and adamantly trying to woo him with her strong words of affection. We see her accuse him of heartlessness in her lines:
You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant;
But yet you draw not iron, for my heart
Is true as steel. (II.i.199-201).
We see her try and woo him with words of love in such lines as, "Your virtue is my privilege. For that / It is not night when I do see your face" (224-225).
In both of these instances, both Hermia and Lysander have shown female rebellion against male subordinates. However, Garner points out that their sudden silence after marriage tells the reader that they have accepted their new role as wives, which is to be silent, obedient, and submissive to their husbands.