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Throughout Act 1 of Midsummer Night’s Dream, the conflicting love interests fuel the dispute between the main characters. The play is a comedy as young adults try to navigate love while facing criticism from society and family. Shakespeare’s use of rhetorical methods and other techniques allow him to portray Helena as a sorrowful heartbroken girl longing after someone who will never truly reciprocate her feelings. This passage immediately follows Egeus’s demands to Theseus as he plans on marrying his daughter Hermia to Helena’s love Demetrius. However, Hermia has other plans and marriage plans and Helena is madly in love with Demetrius. Through an analysis of Helena’s character and opinions on love in one of her narrations further emphasizes the struggles behind love. The use of a variety of literary techniques, unique stylistic methods, and individual characterization further emphasize the overall theme of the difficulties behind and hardships of experiencing an improbable love.
In Act 1, Scene 1 the play begins with a complaint toward young love that went against the father’s wishes and the overall patriarchal order of society at the time. However, as the scene progresses the audience is introduced to Helena, a girl longing for affection from a man who does not reciprocate her love. In Helena’s conversation with Hermia, she exclaims her opinion and portrays her overall pessimistic outlook on love. For example, Helena’s tone becomes surprised as she cannot accept that Hermia believes she is beautiful because she is not loved by Demetrius as she questions, “Call you me fair? that fair again unsay”. In the first two lines of her exclamation in response to Hermia’s compliment, Helena used a rhetorical question to further illustrate her doubt as she is not confident in herself or her looks. Also, the repetition of the word “fair” several times as Helena continues to exclaim “Demetrius loves your fair: O happy fair!” emphasizes the uncertainty behind Helena’s opinion of herself. This illustrates the overall theme of the complex nature of love as Helena refuses to believe that anyone could hold feelings for her when there are many other beautiful women. As Helena progresses through her speech, she uses figurative language to continue her argument of doubt toward her own looks while simultaneously building up Hermia’s aspects.
Continuing through Helena’s narration, the uses of metaphors and descriptive imagery further illustrate her own characteristics in order to demonstrate the negative effects of rejection and love. For example, Helena uses metaphors and sensory images to highlight the good aspects of Hermia while simultaneously belittling herself when she argues, “Your eyes are lode-stars, and your tongue’s sweet air more tuneable than lark to shepherd’s ear”. The metaphor compares Hermia’s eyes to the stars and her voice to the melancholy sound of a lark. This literary device and the descriptive imagery of “when wheat is green when hawthorn buds appear” allows Helena to draw connections between her argument for her lack of beauty to the overall complications and jealousy brought out as side-effects of love. Also, the urgent tone in Helena’s voice and repetitive diction further highlight the consequences of complicated love. Helena is almost frantic as she discusses her profound love for Demetrius and longs for his affection. This is evident when Helena states, “Sickness is catching. Oh were favor so yours would I catch fair Hermia”. Helena is clearly in a state of desperation as she exclaims that she would become Hermia without a second thought. The hopeless tone in Helena’s voice connects to the theme of love ending in tragedy as she once experienced the affection that she craves, but now that she is deprived of love, Helena desires to become another person in order to regain the feeling of being wanted. Throughout the act, love has made several characters, not merely Helena, desperate for the sense of attention and notion of anyone caring about them even if they have to change in order to acquire these feelings.
In addition, Helena’s point of view and narration of her emotions reflects the pain and loss she has experienced when dealing with love. For example toward the end of her explanation, Helena’s narration transforms from her complimenting Hermia to full self-doubt as she states, “My tongue should catch your tongue’s sweet melody”. Helena’s now pessimistic tone toward herself demonstrates her true values as an individual and emphasizes her characteristics as she is willing to change her whole personality and wishes to become someone else all for the idea of love. The underlying theme of complications behind love caused Helena to lose confidence in herself as an individual and completely wished to become a new person. Also, Helena is a young woman with no faith in herself as she is merely living in hopes of eventually gaining the love she craves, which fuels the theme of love destroying people’s happiness. This argument is illustrated when Helena concludes, “Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated, the rest I’d give to be you translated”. Helena’s final statements further support the overall theme of unreciprocated and the unbalanced nature of love as she harbors feeling for Demetrius and would give up anything to be with him, but he loves Hermia who in turn is planning to marry Lysander. Overall, Helena’s character portrays the effects of unreciprocated love as she becomes obsessive and longs for the shared attraction and affection despite the pain that has resulted from love.
In conclusion, Helena’s character and her opinions further support the main theme of the negative effects love imposes on individuals. The work as a whole is centered around comedy as love drives characters apart from society but also their families. The notion of unbalanced feelings forms almost a love triangle between the characters as the majority of them yearn for affection from someone who is not interested in them. The main conflict through the first act is centered around the problems that arise as a result of love as one couple is about to marry, one is planning to run away together, and two individuals are left wanting someone who they cannot be with. The overall theme of love’s impositions is further demonstrated through Helena’s continuous use of rhetorical devices, literary techniques, and individual characterization to further denote that idea that love inevitably results in negative outcomes
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