A Character Analysis of Helena and Demetrius

Helena

When first introduced, Helena demonstrates the insecurities she has about her looks and her jealousy towards her friend Hermia who has unwittingly stolen the affections of Demetrius from her.

Helena wants to be more like her friend in order to win back Demetrius’ heart. Hers is the harder love story to swallow, as Demetrius is in effect drugged to be in love with her, but she accepts it all the same.

Her insecurity leads her to accuse her friend of mocking her when the two men are in love with her:

Lo, she is one of this confederacy. Now I perceive they have conjoined all three To fashion this false sport in spite of me. Injurious Hermia, most ungrateful maid, Have you conspired, have you with these contrived to bait me with foul derision.
(Act 3 Scene 2)

Helena demeans herself in chasing after Demetrius even when he scorns her but this demonstrates her constant love for him. It also allows the audience to accept the idea of that Demetrius was drugged in order to be in love with her. We are more amenable to the idea that she would be happy just to have the chance to be together with him, whatever the circumstances. However, when Demetrius does say he loves her, she understandably thinks he is mocking her; he has fallen out of love with her once before so there is a risk this could happen again.

But the story ends happily with Demetrius and Helena in love and the audience is asked to be happy with that.

We are urged by Puck to consider the play as a dream, and in a dream we don’t consider the whys and wherefores of what happens after. Similarly, the audience can accept that all of the characters are happy at the end of the story.

Demetrius

Demetrius is Egeus’ chosen suitor for his daughter Hermia. Demetrius loves Hermia but Hermia is not interested in him. He used to be betrothed to Hermia’s best friend Helena who still loves him. When Helena tells Demetrius that the woman he loves has eloped with Lysander, he decides to follow her into the forest. He intends to kill Lysander but how this will encourage Hermia to love him is unclear: “Where is Lysander, and fair Hermia? The one I’ll slay, the other slayeth me.” (Act 2 Scene 1, Line 189-190)

Demetrius’ treatment of Helena is very harsh; he is quite rude to her and leaves her in no doubt that he is no longer interested in her: “I am sick when I do look on thee.” (Act 2 Scene 1, Line 212)

However, there is a veiled threat that he might take advantage of her while she is alone with him in the forest and he urges her to have more self-respect:

You do impeach your modesty too much, To leave the city and commit yourself Into the hands of one that loves you not; to trust the opportunity of night, And the ill counsel of a desert place, With the rich worth of your virginity.
(Act 2 Scene 1)

Helena says that she trusts him and knows that he is virtuous and he would not take advantage.

Unfortunately, Demetrius is willing to leave Helena to the “wild beasts” rather than protect her in order to achieve his own ends. This does not demonstrate his best qualities and as a result, his fate is more palatable to us as an audience as he succumbs to the influence of magic and made to love someone he's not interested in.

When under the influence of Puck’s magic, Demetrius pursues Helena saying:

Lysander, keep thy Hermia. I will none. If e’er I loved her, all that love is gone. My heart to her but as guestwise sojourned And now Helen is it home returned, There to remain.
(Act 3 Scene 2)

As an audience, we have to hope that these words are genuine and we can revel in the couple’s happiness ever after.