In Their Relationships Essay, Research Paper
How Two Shakespearean Couples Resolve the Conflict in Their Relationships
In Shakespeare’s comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It, the playwright deals with love, relationships, and how couples come to terms with their problems and resolve the conflicts within themselves and with those around them. Both of the plays point out that when individuals look within themselves and face the issues that are keeping them apart from the one they love, they can begin to heal the relationship. Helena and Demetrius from A Midsummer Night’s Dream go to the forest to run away from their problems while Rosalind and Orlando from As You Like It are forced to flee to the forest because they are no longer welcomed in their homes. Both couples find the forest to be a place of refuge and are able to resolve their conflicts and come together in the end of their respective plays to be married.
Helena and Rosalind both are in love with a man that they cannot have until the conflict is resolved. Helena has been rejected by Demetrius, who now says he is in love with Hermia, Helena’s best friend. Helena is devastated and asks Hermia to help her regain Demetrius’ love and attention by teaching Helena how to be more like Hermia:
The rest I’ll give to be to you translated.
O, teach me how you look, and with what art You sway the motion of Demetrius’ heart.
Helena suffers from a low self-esteem and cannot accept Demetrius’ rejection of her. Helena is described as the “ideal woman” of the time in that she is tall, blond, and fair skinned, whereas Hermia is shorter, dark haired, and olive-skinned. In spite of their appearances, Helena is jealous of Hermia because Demetrius is now in love with her:
Demetrius loves your fair, O happy fair!
You eyes are lodestars, and your tongue’s sweet air
More tuneable than lark to shepherd’s ear
Helena cannot understand why Demetrius cannot see in her what the rest of the world sees.
Helena refuses to give up on Demetrius because they were engaged, and at that time, an engagement was a promise to marry. Helena wants Demetrius to honor his promise to marry her and will do anything to make that happen. If they do not get married, she could be publicly humiliated and she desperately wants to avoid that. Therefore she decides to tell Demetrius of Lysander’s and Hermia’s plans to meet in the forest and elope because Helena knows that Demetrius will go after them. When Demetrius goes to the forest, Helena can shamelessly pursue him, hidden from the rest of society where she would be limited by the rules that society places on women and how she would be expected to behave:
I will go tell him of fair Hermia’s flight;
Then to the wood will be to-morrow night
Pursue her; and for this intelligence
If I have thanks, it is a dear expense.
But herein mean I to enrich my pain,
To have his sight thither and back again.
While in the forest, Demetrius treats her very badly, but she continues to plead with him to come back to her. Instead of getting angry at him for treating her so poorly, she cowers and basically asks for more: “Use me but as your spaniel; spurn me, strike me, / Neglect me, lose me” (2.1.205-206). Helena’s actions are quite childish and immature. With these two personality traits, she will not be able to have any kind of relationship with Demetrius. She needs to gain some emotional stability before she can begin to reconcile with Demetrius.
In Act 3 when Helena believes that Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius are playing a joke on her, she is finally able to get angry. This is Helena’s turning point which finally allows her to give up on Demetrius and gain some of the emotional maturity that she was lacking:
And now, so you will let me quiet go,
To Athens will I bear my folly back,
And follow you no further. Let me go.
It is at this point that she is able to love Demetrius in a manner befitting mature adults. Helena becomes willing to change herself rather than Demetrius. Her journey into the forest enabled her to gain the qualities she lacked in order to have a relationship with the man she loved.
Rosalind, unlike Helena, is very confident and takes matters into her own hands. Her conflicts are more external, rather than the internal conflicts of Helena’s. Rosalind has to deal with Orlando’s idealization of her and his inability to speak when she is around. She takes the responsibility of finding a way to make things work with Orlando. She (as Ganymede) tells him that she (he) will cure him of his lovesickness. Rosalind’s plan is to show Orlando that she is an ordinary woman with some of the same faults as every other woman. Rosalind’s maturity and self-confidence allows her to focus on her plan to show Orlando that she is not perfect: “would now like him, now loathe him; then entertain him, then forswear him; now weep for him, then spit at him” (3.2.415-417). Ganymede explains how Rosalind will behave:
I will be more jealous of thee than a Barbary cockpigeon over his hen, more clamorous than a parrot against rain, more new-fangled than an ape, more giddy in my desires than a monkey. I will weep for nothing, like Diana in the fountain, and I will do that when you are dispos’d to be merry. I will laugh like a hyen, and that when thou art inclin’d to sleep.
We see here, that Rosalind knows herself quite well, whereas Helena did not. Helena needed to journey through the forest and experience some changes before she knew what she had to do. Rosalind seems to be able to rise above the failings of fate by using her resourceful, realistic understanding of the world around her. Because of this she is admired by others: “…the people praise her for her virtues” (1.2.280). Rosalind falls in love with Orlando when she watches him wrestle and impulsively (or bravely?) she declares her feelings by giving him her necklace and confessing “Sir, you have wrastled well, and overthrown \ More than your enemies” (1.2.253-254). When she realizes that Orlando idealizes her, Rosalind knows what she has to do. As fate would have it, she just happens to be in the forest at the right time. In order for her to work things out with Orlando, she would have had to be in the forest and being banished was just one way of getting her there. It was Celia’s idea to go to the Forest of Arden when her father banished Rosalind who agrees because she knows that the forest will be the place where she can work things out with Orlando.
Demetrius and Orlando have an internal conflict to resolve. They love women they cannot have until some changes are made. Demetrius is running away from Helena because he is afraid of love. He only thinks that he is in love with Hermia because he knows that he is safe with her. She will not return his love, therefore, he does not have to make a commitment to her. This is evidenced by Lysander’s comment in the first act that Demetrius was engaged to Helena before he decided that he was in love with Hermia:
Demetrius, I’ll avouch it to his head,
Made love to Nedar’s daughter, Helena,
And won her soul;
In the forest, Oberon notices that Helena needs some assistance with Demetrius, so he decides to put some of the fairy-juice in his eyes, and orders Puck to do it. Unfortunately, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and the result is “Some true love turn’d, and not a false turn’d true.” (3.2.91). Had Puck put the juice in Demetrius’ eyes in the first place, Helena would have gotten what she wanted a lot sooner. If, however, that had happened, she would have not gone through the emotional struggles that helped her reach the turning point that opened her eyes as to what was best for her and helped her become a mature woman. She would have gotten Demetrius before she was emotionally ready to deal with a real relationship with him and she would have still been that immature girl that shamelessly pursued him into the forest.
Orlando is a good man who is held back by his brother. He falls in love with Rosalind, a daughter of a Duke, and becomes speechless: “What passion hangs these weights upon my tongue? / I cannot speak to her, yet she urg’d conference” (1.2.257-258). His problem is that he idealizes Rosalind and cannot see her as a “regular” person. Because he has not been brought up properly, he thinks that he has nothing to bring to the relationship. Orlando escapes to the Forest of Arden to get away from his brother; but, like Rosalind, that is not the only reason he is in the forest. He is there to explore love and to find out more about it. He learns that he must be willing to take risks to get what he wants. He tells Ganymede that he would die without Rosalind, but Ganymede reassures him that he will not die from love: “No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died…in a love-cause…men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love” (4.1.94-97, 106-108). When Orlando sees that Rosalind is not perfect, he is able to relax around her and realizes that they can have a relationship after all. In the end, he and Rosalind and Helena and Demetrius work out all their problems and are married and we get the impression that they all will live “happily ever after.”
Shakespeare teaches us some things that we all can learn about love, life, and relationships. One lesson teaches us that we cannot take love for granted. It requires a lot of hard work, devotion, and a mutual understanding that things are rarely as they seem to be. We must be honest about our feelings and do what is best for ourselves. We learned from Helena and Demetrius that we cannot run from love or chase after it. We must be patient and when we are ready, it will come to us. We learned from Rosalind and Orlando that we must be willing to take risks and believe that both partners can bring something to the relationship. Shakespeare wrote about these things several hundred years ago, but they are still true today. His lessons are timeless and we all should read a little more Shakespeare and learn a few things about love and life.
Shakespear, Wm. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Shakespear, Wm. “As You Like It”