Character Analysis Helena


Obsessed over Demetrius, Helena's character emphasizes the capriciousness of love and its excesses. Even though she knows she is making a fool of herself by pursuing Demetrius, Helena cannot stop the chase. She reminds us that love is blind, declaring that she is as beautiful as Hermia, so there is no logical explanation for Demetrius' sudden shift in affection. This point is further emphasized by the two men's love potion-induced attraction for her. Through these interactions, we learn that love is blind, illogical, seemingly produced by magic's sleight-of-hand, rather than reason's honesty. Like a child, lovers are often beguiled by trivial trinkets rather than deep character traits. This message is further heightened by the blandness of Lysander and Demetrius. As Lysander makes clear in his conversation with Egeus in Act I, no noticeable differences exist between the two men, so Helena could just as easily love one as the other.

Besides emphasizing love's arbitrary nature, Helena also highlights the gender differences that vex women. Unlike men who can woo whomever they please, women are not allowed to fight for love; instead, they must passively wait for the man of their dreams to notice them. In chasing Demetrius through the woods, Helena is breaking the rules of her sex, becoming the pursuer rather than the pursued. She likens herself to Apollo who chased the unwilling huntress Daphne through the woods. Helena's choice of examples is significant because it emphasizes the violence men (or gods in this case) have often perpetrated against women: Apollo wanted not only to capture Daphne, but to rape her. In chasing Demetrius, Helena claims to have appropriated Apollo's role, yet Demetrius is still the one who threatens violence when he vows to "do [her] mischief in the wood" if she doesn't stop following him. Not only must woman patiently wait for her chosen lover to call, but she is also constantly threatened by male sexual violence if she resists unwanted male attentions.

What recourse do women have? Banding together. Thus, Helena is upset when she believes Hermia has betrayed her by joining Demetrius and Lysander. Childhood friendships between women should be stronger than the fickle love of men. Her comments make us question the position of all women in the play. For example, what is the source of Hippolyta's passivity in the play? Like Daphne, she has been captured and ravished by a male warrior. Did she lose her power when she lost the society of other women? And what about Titania? Why isn't she angry upon discovering that Oberon has charmed her and stolen her precious Indian boy? By focusing on these instances of male violence, the play implicitly suggests that women should become more active. Notice that Helena, who has actively pursued Demetrius, is rewarded for her proactive pursuit.