In this essay I will be discussing and exploring Act Two Scene One in one of William Shakespeare’s plays ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. I will be focusing on how Demetrius treats Helena throughout the scene and analyzing how an Elizabethan audience would react differently to a modern audience. Considering the play was written in the 1590’s and set in Legendary Athens William Shakespeare had to be wary about the language he used about love and marriage in the Elizabethan era. In Act One Scene One, Egeus underlines the fact that he “consents” for his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius.
Even with knowing Hermia and Lysander had fallen for each other, this was going against the Elizabethan law. Egeus is “full of vexation” over this, this outlines the fact of Egeus power over Hermia. An audience within the Elizabethan era would find this perfectly acceptable behavior, as Egeus being a male has a higher status than Hermia being a woman. Where as a modern audience within today’s society would find this completely unacceptable and disagree with what Egeus was doing.
Furthermore Lysander states his background and wealth is equal to Demetrius’ “My fortunes every way as fairly ranked”, Egeus still persists on Demetrius to wed Hermia “I do estate unto Demetrius”. In the Elizabethan era, Women were treated by husbands and family as possessions and used for ‘financial gain’ to give the family a higher status in society. After being potentially sentenced to death by her own father, Hermia meets with Lysander as they agree to runaway into the woods together, where “… he sharp Athenian law cannot pursue us”. Lysander enforces this by telling Hermia that if she runs away with him, the law that her father has threatened her with will not matter. This explores the fact that Lysander’s love for Hermia is true, and that he is willing to take the risk just for her. Hermia decides to tell Helena about the plan of her and Lysander running of into the woods together. Helena gets the wrong impression and feels that by telling Demetrius about this, Demetrius may fall for her and love her because of this.
However this gives Demetrius the wrong impression and he decides to go into the woods to find Hermia, as he feels she is already his possession, referring to her as “my Hermia” whilst Helena trails behind. An Elizabethan audience would be shocked that Helena is so keen to follow him. Yet a modern audience wouldn’t be “shocked” we would perceive this as Helena being desperate and very unusual that she is persistent to give up. Demetrius adds to the drama for the audience when he breaks the silence and exclaims “I love thee not, therefore pursue me not.
This clarifies to the audience that he has no feelings for Helena at all. Moreover this suggests to the audience Egeus has most likely offered Demetrius a large dowry if he marries Hermia this has most probably had an effect on Demetrius’ feelings towards Helena, and be the reason he is being so bland with her. Throughout all this Helena makes it clear that no matter what she will always love Demetrius. Love and marriage in the 16th century wasn’t even comparable to marriage in modern day’s society.
Elizabethan views were that a daughter, in this case Hermia, would be ruled in love and marriage by her Family. She would definitely not be free to make her own choices and decisions, she would be expected to act, and be treated like property rather than an own individual with her own thoughts, feelings and opinions. An Elizabethan audience would find this perfectly acceptable. Shakespeare clearly didn’t agree with this because in the majority of his plays he displays how women should be given a voice.
His point of view resembles our point of view, as today’s society would be very much against this. Modern views would be that no one should be the property of another, and she should be allowed to fall in love and have her own views and feelings which then allow her to make her own decisions. Throughout the play there is a theme of unrequited love, which helps form the main theme of ‘True love never did run smooth’. Demetrius makes it ever so clear he has no love for Helena at all.
Helena pleads with Demetrius to love her “I am your spaniel” she is desperately asking him to treat her like a dog, she is saying that no matter how badly he treats her she will still feel the same love for him. Whilst she pleads with Demetrius, he is extremely offensive in his language towards Helena “for I am sick when I do look on thee” much the same as the modern expression “you make me sick”. Helena on the other hand feels sick when she cannot look upon Demetrius “sick when I look not on you. ” Still she is persistent and won’t give up, she feels that she can win over Demetrius.
In the eyes of a modern audience the way Demetrius speaks to Helena is perceived as outrageous. Contrastingly an Elizabethan audience would find this acceptable and would have no problem what so ever with this. Women in the 1590’s were seen as second best to men, being less important. We have to take into account that this was Centuries before women were allowed to vote, let alone have any equality to men. Demetrius reminds Helena that he is in love with Hermia but still Helena persists in her pursuit to gain the love of Demetrius. However Demetrius has other plans, “Where is Lysander and fair Hermia.
The one I’ll slay the other slayeth me. ” By this he explains that he will kill Lysander if he needs to get to Hermia’s heart, yet he feels like Helena is killing his heart. This highlights to Helena he has no love for her at all. Throughout all this Helena still carries on, “spurn me, strike me, neglect me, lose me”. This implies that Demetrius can do what ever he pleases with Helena, but Helena will still love him. This is most likely a unwise suggestion from Helena but it still does suggest that she will love Demetrius no matter what.
We get the impression that Helena has a low opinion of her self, “Only give me leave, Unworthy as I am to follow you”. This underlines this as Demetrius could do what he wants with her but she would still feel that she is not worthy of him, and doesn’t deserve him, although we have to take into account that no woman in the Elizabethan era would believe she is equal to a man apart from the Queen herself Elizabeth. People of the modern era would not agree with this, women and men should be equals in the modern age.
However it should be remembered that some men of the modern society still treat women as second class citizens. Remember that in the Elizabethan society the male was dominant, and it would be classed as perfectly acceptable for Demetrius to speak to Helena the way he does. For example Demetrius says, “I’ll run from thee and hide me in the brakes, and leave thee to the mercy of wild beasts. ” This quotation shows Demetrius’s views as a dominant male, suggesting that he can leave her behind and what ever happens to her doesn’t matter to him.
A modern audience would be outraged to hear this, although an Elizabethan audience would find it acceptable to speak to a Woman like that. Even though he is suggesting that he would abandon her to “wild beasts” she replies that “The wildest hath not such a heart as you. ” Suggesting that even the most terrible of wild beasts is still no match for the heart of Demetrius. She still sees him as someone that she loves and will pursue despite all that he says to her. Throughout the whole of this argument, Oberon, the King of the fairies was listening in.
He would have heard how much Helena loved Demetrius and how much Demetrius doesn’t care. He calls upon “Puck” the hob goblin, who is shown as a mischievous character. Oberon tells Puck to drop “love potion” on Demetrius eyes whilst he sleeps, so that he will awaken and fall in love with Helena. Unfortunately, Puck puts the potion in Lysander’s eyes as well, causing Lysander to fall in love with Helena as well as Demetrius. An Elizabethan audience would find this comical, as the Woman who loves but has no love in return now has more love than she can handle.
However a more contemporary audience may start to wonder if Shakespeare’s authorial voice is coming through and suggesting that love may not be as complex as we all may think, instead love can be shown as an object. Because Demetrius falls madly in love with Helena all because of a few drops of love potion, their love is portrayed as a possible illusion. Shakespeare never really details this potion, so audiences are left wondering whether Demetrius’ love for Helena is merely lust.
In conclusion both audiences at the end of the play would probably have the same attitude to wanting the play to conclude with a happy ending. The main theme of the play is “The course of true love never did run smoothly”. All of the conflict in the play leads back to the troubles of romance. This may be a big reason why this play is still remembered today, even though modern audiences have different views to an Elizabethan audience, people still believe the saying of “The course of true love never did run smoothly” and the fact that we can relate back to how Helena must feel during the play.
Throughout the play a modern audience would be shocked to see Helena being so submissive where as an Elizabethan audience would find that to be normal. We as a modern audience would find Demetrius’ treatment towards Helena appalling, yet a man of our society or Elizabethan would find her actions very annoying. During the play I felt Helena portrayed herself as a very weak individual, but realized that in the setting of the play that would not be seen as abnormal. Although Demetrius’ was very insensitive to Helena it is understandable that he found her constant need for love and approval irritating.