In "A Midsummer Night's Dream", what does Helena mean when she says "Sickness is catching: O were favour so"?What does this say about her character? What does Helena believe...

In "A Midsummer Night's Dream", what does Helena mean when she says "Sickness is catching: O were favour so"?

What does this say about her character? What does Helena believe love is based on and what are her views on love?

Expert Answers
robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Helena knows sickness is contagious: she wishes that "favour" - an Elizabethan word for "affection" (it's where we get "favour-ite" from) was too. That way, of course, she might be able to catch whatever it is that Hermia has got that makes her so attractive to Demetrius. "Favour" is also a close aural relation of "fever" which adds a little extra kick to the joke.

It's a very sad thing to say really: "I wish I could catch whatever it is you've got that makes you lovable". Helena is painfully self-conscious and sad about teh fact that Demetrius just won't love her back (note, of course, that when Demetrius does love her back, she decides that it's probably a joke) and her self-mocking longing to be more like Hermia points an arrow straight toward her low, low self-esteem.

Helena, I think, doesn't actually believe that you can catch "lovableness" in the manner of an illness: but if you set these lines in the context of the speech that proceeds them, she wants to try and "catch" (in the meaning of "successfully imitate") the way Hermia behaviours: her voice, her eyes, and so on. Helena thinks that she can learn to be more attractive: in short, that she can alter outward parts of herself to become more lovable. It's quite a sad view of the world!

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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