Love and Desire in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Love and Desire in A Midsummer Night’s Dream


Some of the most prominent themes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are the omnipresence of love and desire and the tendencies of characters to manifest their defining traits. Helena and Hermia are two perfect examples of this. Hermia is the lover, and Helena the desirer, and both thrive off of their obsessions. In fact, both women are so tied to these traits that when they are taken away, their characters deflate and fall static.

From the beginning, Hermia defiantly denies her father’s attempts at an arranged marriage, in favor of her whirlwind romance with and marriage to Lysander. In her defense, she uses words of chastity and moral purity to claim her fidelity and love towards Lysander and inability to wed Demetrius “I know not by what power I am made bold / nor how it may concern my modesty” (pp). The concern, or befitting, of Hermia’s modesty, by not wedding Demetrius, is protecting the very essence of her womanhood from someone whom she feels isn’t worth of the ultimate consummation of love – marriage (and the subsequent sex). This is continued in her next dialogue, where Hermia states that she would rather die “quote” (pp) or become a nun than give up her virgin “privilege” “quote” (pp). Hermia’s claims of “privilege” and “sovereignty” validate her chastity and moral purity as something that should only be shared with Lysander, not Demetrius. However, the sovereignty of Hermia’s claims also fits in with Demetrius’ arguments regarding his rights to Hermia’s hand in marriage: “quote” (pp). Demetrius’ use of “sovereignty” and “right” turns the supposed “love” of Hermia and Demetrius’ arranged marriage into a legal contract, where Hermia is property and social placeholder instead of a loving companion.

Lysander pitches in to support Hermia’s claims of purity “Demetrius, I’ll avouch it to his head..” “quote” (pp). Here, Lysander claims that Demetrius slept with Helena and is therefore a “spoiled and inconstant man” “quote” (pp). OED. EDITORS gloss “spotted” as “morally stained” “quote” (pp). The Oxford English Dictionary also defines “spotted” as “something disgraceful.” This only emphasizes the uncouth premarital and in Hermia’s line of logic, immoral relationship between Demetrius and Hermia. This moral impurity is a compromise to Hermia’s chastity and perpetuates her dedication to love that is already evident in this passage.

Another instance of Hermia’s dedication to her chastity and purity as a demonstration of comes in II.

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ii “quote” (pp). Hermia and Lysander’s sleeping apart from one another increases their love for one another and makes their bond even stronger. Hermia’s fastidious devotion to Lysander and her choice to run away with him demonstrates her embodiment of love: something which possesses her completely.

The reader’s first encounter with Helena is quite the opposite: she is first described as “dotes / devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry upon this spotted and inconstant man” “quote” (pp). Helena is here portrayed as spellbound by Demetrius, eager to fulfill his every whim. The repetition of “dote” three times emphasizes her servitude towards Demetrius. The repetitions of “dote,” done in succession, also build up towards a complete phrase “dotes in idolatry...” this build-up and her “devout” attitude towards idolatry is in great contrast to Hermia’s dedication to purity and chastity. This contrast is what primarily defines Helena as a desirous woman; she favors the physical acts of love, without the dedication of marriage that the sex implicates.

Illustrates Helena’s desire to be loved by Demetrius in the same way that he lusts after Hermia. The sing-song AA BB… meter of her speech shows a kind of delusion, which continues the previous idea of Helena’s being spellbound by Demetrius, and her willingness to do anything he requires, including transforming herself into a desirable person “quote” (pp). Her desires here are so strong, “quote” (pp). Helena would give up everything in the world to be loved by Demetrius; a statement which is usually reserved for those who are caught up by love.

In Act II, Helena continues to portray herself as subservient to Demetrius; this time turning herself into an animal: “quote” (pp). Her repetitions of animals, most notably fawns and spaniels, and her claim that she is both a fawn and a spaniel for Demetrius, puts her at a completely subservient position to him. The animals she uses to describe herself only accentuate this. The use of “fawn” is a play on words. In a straightforward sense, a fawn is a baby animal, but is most associated with a newborn deer. However, the Oxford English Dictionary also defines fawn in a verbal context: “to show delight at the presence of; to lavish caresses on, to caress,” and “To affect a servile fondness; to court favour or notice by an abject demeanor.” Both of these uses apply in this situation: with Helena desperately trying to seem attractive to Demetrius and simultaneously humiliating herself by portraying herself as inhuman and unworthy.


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