In "A Midsummer Night's Dream," how does Helena respond to Demetrius threatening physical abuse?

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robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Demetrius, it seems to me, doesn't actually threaten physical abuse in a serious way - but more because he's tried more or less every other tactic he can think of to get Helena to go away and stop irritating him:

You do impeach your modesty too much
that
It is not night when I do see your face
Therefore I think I am not in the night...

Demetrius, Helena argues, is too virtuous to rape her - and anyway, because she loves him so much, it doesn't even seem like night, so she isn't scared. And therefore, she isn't leaving him alone.

If anyone *is* serious about some sort of sexual or physical abuse in the play, it's Helena herself:

And even for that do I love you the more.
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you.
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.

Helena actually wants to be abused by Demetrius - which gives the whole conversation a sort of pseudo-S&M quality. This play really isn't one for little kids!

Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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