A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Hel-en-a Woman

In William Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, Hermia seems to be the strong woman, while Helena is seen as weak and easily dominated. In Gohlke's article, for example, she describes the "exaggerated submission of Helena to Demetrius" (151), thereby voicing an opinion that is common throughout literary criticism. My concern, however, is with the opposite side of the coin; Helena is actually a far stronger woman than she seems upon initial observation.

Our first introduction to Helena, the pale, tall, and slender maiden, is quite in keeping with "the traditional emblem of forlorn maiden love" (Charlton 115) as she laments over Demetrius, her lost love. We quickly discover that Demetrius has begun to fancy himself in love with Hermia, Helena's best friend, a situation which brings much woe unto Helena's heart, as is evident when she begs of Hermia, "O, teach me how you look; and with what art/ You sway the motion of Demetrius' heart" (155, Act I, Scene I). The extremely desperate lover is played very convincingly here, but Helena's character comes into question before the scene is over. As Loeff puts it, "she [Helena] does show some measure of initiative when she...

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