For ere Demetrius looked on Hermia’s eyne,
He hailed down oaths that he was only mine;
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolved, and showers of oaths did melt. (I.i.)
After Hermia and Lysander depart Athens for the forest, Helena expresses her jealousy of the lovers’ happiness and particularly of Hermia’s beauty. These lines come late in Helena’s speech, and they serve at once to reiterate her jealousy of Hermia and to demonstrate the pain she feels at having lost the affections of Demetrius, the man who had promised himself to her and whom she still loves. Helena’s language is suggestive. Her mention of heat and melting invokes the heat of both attraction and anger, yet her emphasis on eyes and showers also conjures figurative tears of pain.
How canst thou thus for shame, Titania,
Glance at my credit with Hippolyta,
Knowing I know thy love to Theseus? (II.i.)
Oberon speaks these words to Titania after she has just implied that he wastes his time writing pointless poems and chasing after women. In particular, she mentions Oberon’s lust for Hippolyta, whom Titania refers to as “the bouncing Amazon, / Your buskined mistress and your warrior love” (II.i.). Titania clearly feels jealous, and Oberon’s touchy response in these lines shows that he is equally jealous of Titania, who has a thing for Theseus. Despite the undertone of jealousy, Oberon’s point here is that Titania has no right to dishonor him by complaining about his actions when she is guilty of the same.
What wicked and dissembling glass of mine
Made me compare with Hermia’s sphery eyne? (II.ii.)
Once again, Helena dwells on her jealousy of Hermia’s beauty. Unlike her previous expressions of jealousy, however, here Helena turns her focus beck on herself. She does this through her rhetorical question. By asking what “wicked” mirror compelled her to compare herself to Hermia, Helena is effectively inquiring, “Why am I so obsessed with comparing myself to Hermia?” Although Helena does not have time to reflect further before she stumbles upon a sleeping Lysander, her moment of self-questioning is important because it resists the logic of female conflict over men.
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