By Kalina Ko, Literary Intern
Recently, the Folger Shakespeare Library published a blog post titled “Six things to look for when you watch ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.” For the blog post, I submitted a paragraph of my own thoughts on one aspect of the play that I think is important to look out for. Below is an expanded and more in-depth version of that paragraph. The full blog post is linked at the bottom.
I have always been fascinated by the connection between Helena and Hermia. In a play about love and relationships, I think that the friendship and sisterhood between Hermia and Helena is often overlooked. Textually, their relationship quickly evolves from that of two close childhood friends to bitter enemies. How the actors and the director chose to portray this relationship and rationalize why it so quickly falls apart can be incredibly exciting and interesting.
I understand their relationship in four parts:
1. What was their relationship like growing up?
In the midst of the lovers’ fight in act 3, scene 2, Helena talks directly to Hermia and recalls their childhood days. She talks about how they grew up together “Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,/But yet a union in partition,/Two lovely berries molded on one stem,/So with two seeming bodies, but one heart.” How accurate is that statement? Is Helena embellishing the reality of their relationship for her purposes? Were they actually so close growing up? Furthermore, how does Hermia react to this appeal to their childhood?
2. What is their relationship like prior to the events in the forest?
The very first topic that Helena talks about in the play is Demetrius. He is the very first topic that we are able to see Helena and Hermia talk about and discuss. That initial scene is so crucial in defining their relationship and in defining Helena’s character. Is Helena intentionally seeking Hermia to talk about her love for Demetrius? How jealous is she of the attention Hermia receives?
I am also curious about how Helena reacts to finding out that Hermia is leaving Athens. Considering the circumstances, it’s likely that Helena will never see Hermia again once she runs away. How does Helena feel about that?
3. How did the forest impact their relationship?
Helena and Hermia may not be directly under the influence of the magic flower but I believe that they experience the effects of it. They turn on each other so quickly and abruptly. Is some part of that because of the magic of the forest? How do the actors and the director rationalize the quickly degradation of a relationship between two long-time childhood friends?
4. What happens after the play?
The two said some cruel and terrible words to each other in the forest. What happens after that night? How do they reconcile? Do they reconcile at all? In our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia and Helena are played by two wonderful actresses who chose to create two close, childhood friends who frequently share their romantic relationship difficulties with each other. By the end of the play they choose to reconcile while also recognizing and acknowledging the turmoil of the night before.
These are all questions that we addressed and discussed thoroughly in rehearsal. By exploring the relationship between Helena and Hermia, we have been able to better understand and develop each individual character.
To read the full article, go to: https://shakespeareandbeyond.folger.edu/2018/07/06/five-things-midsummer-shakespeare/