A Midsummer Night's Dream



Of the characters directly involved in the primary plot of the play, Helena emerges as the most fully developed. Standing just outside of the love triangle formed by the other young Athenians, Helena engages the audience’s sympathy from the beginning. She has been heartlessly jilted by Demetrius, yet remains profoundly, comically devoted to him. She thinks and reflects about herself and about love in general far more than the other characters. Helena’s devotion to Demetrius may appear foolish given the fact that he has rejected her, and she is not oblivious to this fact. Rather, she offers the interesting analysis that “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;/ And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind” (I.i.235). In acknowledging that her feelings for Demetrius overshadow his recognizable faults, Helena displays a degree of self-awareness that we do not see in the other young lovers.

When both Demetrius and Lysander are in love with Helena because of the love potion, she suffers the most, believing herself to be the victim of a very cruel prank devised by the other three. She inspires sympathy, which is the reason Oberon involves himself in her affairs in the first place. Like the audience, the fairy king is in the role of observer when Helena initially follows the unkind Demetrius into the forest. Oberon wants to see her win, to have her fiancé and the affection she deserves restored to her. It is easy for the audience to side with Helena and want a happy resolution for her. In this light, she may be seen as the protagonist of the plot involving the young Athenian lovers.

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