What are some character traits of Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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In the first scene of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hermia's father, Egeus, appeals to Theseus, the duke of Athens, to order Hermia to marry Demetrius, who Hermia refuses to marry. Egeus prefers Demetrius over Lysander, the young man with whom Hermia is in love and actually wants to marry.

Lysander points out to Theseus that Demetrius was at one time in love with Hermia's best friend, Helena, but when Demetrius first saw Hermia, he immediately abandoned Helena.

LYSANDER. Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head,
Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena,
And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,
Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,
Upon this spotted and inconstant man (1.1.108–112).

Later in the scene, Helena supports Lysander's story about Demetrius being a "spotted [morally compromised] and inconstant [unfaithful] man."

HELENA. For ere Demetrius look'd on Hermia's eyne,
He hail'd down oaths that he was only mine;
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolv'd, and showers of oaths did melt (1.1.247–250).

Theseus orders Hermia to marry Demetrius, and Hermia and Lysander decide to run away to be married outside Theseus's jurisdiction and beyond Egeus's influence. They agree to meet in the woods outside Athens the next day. Lysander and Hermia confide their plan to Helena, who then tells the plan to Demetrius, hoping that she can prevail on Demetrius to love her instead of Hermia.

Demetrius follows Hermia into the woods, where he reveals another unpleasant side of his personality. Helena follows Demetrius into the woods, and when they meet, Demetrius is verbally abusive to her and threatens to abandon her to the wild animals in the woods, or do worse to her.

DEMETRIUS. I love thee not, therefore pursue me not....

Hence, get thee gone, and follow me no more. ...

Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit;
For I am sick when I do look on thee....

I'll run from thee and hide me in the brakes,
And leave thee to the mercy of wild beasts. ...

Or, if thou follow me, do not believe
But I shall do thee mischief in the wood. (2.1.192, 198, 215–216, 231–232, 240–241)

Oberon, the king of the fairies, secretly observes the way that Demetrius treats Helena, and finds him "a disdainful youth" (2.1.266). These are strong words from Oberon, who is no paragon of sensitivity himself.

Oberon tells Puck to take some of the love potion that he intends to use on Titania, the queen of the fairies, find Demetrius, and "anoint his [Demetrius's] eyes" with it, so that " he may prove / More fond on her than she upon her love" (2.1.270–271).

Puck does as he's told, and with the help of the love potion, Demetrius falls hopelessly in love with Helena and now disdains Hermia.

After some further merry mix-ups with the love potion and much running around in the woods, Lysander, Hermia, Helena, and Demetrius eventually find love with the right person, the couples are married, and they all live happily ever after.

What remains to be seen is whether Demetrius remains true to Helena as he promises or returns to his "spotted and inconstant" ways.

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Demetrius is a character who is fickle, very selfish, and insensitive.

The fickleness of Demetrius is demonstrated with his switching of his affections from Helena to Hermia. His insistent and selfish pursuit of Hermia for no other reason than his agreement with Egeus also upsets the balance among the four Athenian youths in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Certainly, Demetrius's conduct underscores Lysander's observation that "the course of true love never did run smooth" (1.1.134). For he first loves Helena, then switches to Hermia.

Demetrius is also cruel. When Helena pursues him, he tells her,

I love thee not, therefore pursue me not . . . .
And here am I, and wood within this wood,
Because I cannot meet my Hermia.
Hence, get thee gone, and follow me no more. (2.1.193-198)

Then, when Helena insists that she loves him, and she begs permission to follow him, Demetrius replies cruelly,

Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit
For I am sick when I do look upon thee. (2.1.214-215)

Demetrius then rushes away, leaving Helena to the "mercy of wild beasts" (2.1.232).

It would seem that even Oberon is disgusted with Demetrius after watching Helena's pathetic display. By sending Puck to right things, he ensures that before these Athenians leave the forest, their roles will be reversed.

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Demetrius shows insensitivity to other people's needs, doggedness in pursuing his desires, and a tendency to flip-flop in love.

As the play opens, Demetrius has prevailed upon Hermia's father to force Hermia to marry him. He loves her, or so he says, but seems insensitive to her love for Lysander. If he really loved her, one might think, he would let her go, but he seems more focused on his own desires than hers. Demetrius is also insensitive to Helena, who follows him to the forest out of love. He tells her to get lost and hopes wild beasts will devour her.

Demetrius is determined and dogged in his pursuit of Hermia as long as she is the chief object of his desire. Not only does he try to force her to marry him, he pursues her and Lysander into the woods. He doesn't give up easily.

Demetrius had been in love with Helena, but changed his mind. He may love intensely, but that love might not last. As critics like Rene Girard contend, the love potions only reveal tendencies in characters that were already there. It's not terribly surprising given his past that Demetrius flip-flops from one woman to the other.

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