A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by: William Shakespeare

Hermia

Hermia is one of the strongest female characters in the play. She passionately rejects male authority figures in order to make a powerful claim for her own “sovereignty” in the realm of love. Hermia’s strength is most evident in the opening scene, where she faces off with her father, Egeus, in front of Duke Theseus. In the face of these men’s patriarchal attitudes, Hermia handles herself with poise and unflinching directness. For example, she responds to Theseus’s demand for obedience with these uncompromising words: “So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord, / Ere I will yield my virgin patent up / Unto his Lordship” (I.i.). Theseus outlines harsh consequences if Hermia persists in disobeying her father’s authority. Hermia faces a difficult choice: she must either marry Demetrius, or else give up all freedom and become a nun. In order to avoid the awful choice presented to her, Hermia decides to pursue true love by fleeing Athens with Lysander. Hermia’s flight represents her greatest act of defiance against the patriarchal order.

Despite Hermia’s powerful demonstration of autonomy, the chaos that ensues in the forest wears Hermia down. Once Lysander is charmed by Puck and directs his affections toward Helena, Hermia quickly succumbs to anger. In Act III she takes her frustration out on Helena, calling her oldest friend names and saying cruel things. By the middle of the play Hermia no longer seems a paragon of female autonomy. Her animosity fades once morning comes and order is restored; with Lysander at Hermia’s side once again, and with Demetrius at Helena’s side, all quarrels cease. Hermia admits in Act IV that she still feels the residue of the night’s confusion, but she shows no further sign of emotional disturbance. Intriguingly, given her prominent role in the plays first four acts, Hermia has no lines in Act V. Despite being present for the craftsmen’s performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, she effectively disappears from the play. Although there are ultimately no major consequences for Hermia’s defiance earlier in the play, her disappearance may indicate a different kind of punishment: a silencing of her impassioned voice.