“And in the wood where often you and I
Upon faint primrose beds were wont to lie,
Emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet,
There my Lysander and myself shall meet,
And thence from Athens turn away our eyes,
To seek new friends and stranger companies.
Farewell, sweet playfellow. Pray thou for us (1.1.214-220)
When an individual ties their personal desires to their own will to live, the consequences of non conformity in the pursuit of those desires no longer holds any importance. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia’s decision to elope despite the consequences illustrates her pursuit of love despite the threat of death. In this, we see her make decisions and judgements that may seem questionable, however, given her own circumstances and the consequences that would come about if she did indeed conform, we can see the value in carving out a path for oneself and living life as they see best for themselves and not according to others. Her choice to elope would have been looked down upon by the “gods” in her life who would have been King Theseus and her father Egeus. The men make themselves appear as idols that Hermia must obey and be completely dependent upon to make decisions for her life. The conventional belief of male dominance is the basis of why these two men feel that Hermia must comply with their demands and expectations. She was unable to live with these constraints as she desires something that these two men did not give her – the freedom of choice. There was an accumulating desire inside Hermia to gain the freedom to control her own life by pursuing her own personal desires. Lysander was the light that made Hermia aware of the opportunity she had to take control of her life and attain what she desired – him. The act of eloping in itself goes against the conventional belief of this time period that the parents’ decision for their children is final. Shakespeare’s repeated use of defiance against these societal norms in this play shines a light on how only through the pursuit of one’s personal desires can one by content with their life. To be restrained from doing so would be the same as not living at all because conformity forces individuals to be indifferent to the life that they are living which is the same consequence that Hermia would have had to face if she married Demetrius. Hermia’s willingness to risk her own security to pursue her personal desires is a key factor in deciding whether she is capable of taking control over her own life. After all, it must be considered how salient a desire must be to warrant the effort inherent to non-conformity, and resistance to the status quo. Although conformity is easier than pursuing one’s own desires, the latter option is the only way to find fulfillment and, therefore, happiness.
This image represents Hermia’s desire of wanting to be with her lover Lysander and the sacrifices she must make in order to do so. The bench could be symbolic of the comfort and security that Hermia has at her home in Athens. In her effort to pursue her personal desire of being with Lysander, she must sacrifice this stability that she could have had as seen through the quote: “And thence from Athens turn away our eyes / To seek new friends and stranger companies…”(1.1.218-219). She is fine with dealing with the uncertainties of a new life if it means that she will finally get to pursue what she wants – a risky decision. Therefore, by taking this action Hermia is finally taking control over her own life requiring her to be independent when making decisions. Independence is what Hermia wishes to attain because she had previously been reliant upon her father Egeus and King Theseus to make decisions for her. Even the smaller details in the image such as how her hair is blowing in the wind illustrates the freedom that Hermia will find when she listens to her own heart. The butterfly that rests on the bench is symbolic of rebirth and life which serves to further emphasize how Hermia has a chance to change and transform her life at this moment if she is willing to take it. Furthermore, the choice of the colour purple serves to symbolize Hermia’s ambition in wanting to be with Lysander and not Demetrius. Since Hermia is in a state of longing, she satisfies it by eloping with Lysander and, consequently, breaking free from the expectations that were forced upon her. This all leaves her capable of making decisions for herself, ultimately, giving her happiness at the end of the book.
The discussion we had on happiness and how it is simply whether one feels content or not kept coming to mind with Hermia. At the end of the novel, she is fulfilled because she was able to attain what she wanted without having to conform to the expectations of King Theseus and Egeus.
Down in that darkness,
Down in that tomb.
In that forsaken place,
Where few kinds of men loom .
The devil took unto him ,
And spoke in softest tune :
‘My dear child,
From what cavern or crevice hath birthed such ire?
And what order of misfortune has barred thee from desire?’
And the man shielded his head from gaze.
His eyes bearing the heat of misplaced sun rays,
And spoke at last with quivering lips
His hands steadfast on his weakening hips,
‘It is them that have kept me from my God-given right,
Who have scorned me and cursed me to this pitiful blight
They took both my feet and my forefingers too
And starved me of all that I love, and leu,
For they want me never to move freely again
And they tease me with madness as though I would descend!
And they have-‘
The devil raised a finger.
‘Hush my child and listen close,
A love with no respite
Is like a heart with no soul
Devoid of the love they have neglected you so,
Can all be restored with a requittance of hope’
But the man lowered his head and scoffed at the creature
The pain in his spirit taking light to his features
‘How is it possible, the things that you say,
My heart feels no love, and my soul knows only hate!’
‘Yes my child, you understand your disposition,
The hate in your soul fuels your inhibition,
Here I offer your respite, pledge yours to me,
I will ensure you are free.’
‘Yes, my lord, I see it now!
I want nothing more now than to be rid of this feeling,
All my worthless and hopeless fleeting,
I pledge to your my pitiful soul for my freedom.’
And the devil smiled as he granted the man
A new pair of legs,
And saw with a wish as he sent him away,
Away from that dark and devilish place,
To somewhere much worse,
Where the man would carry with him a most foul curse:
The love of others, he could never return.
This poem is an allegory for a man whose personal desires are to conform to a world in which nobody wants him. He would rather afford the cost of his own soul, or sacrifice a degree of unknown pain in exchange for a guarantee of fulfillment. We can see this similar (and contrary) sort of behaviour exhibited by Hermia in A Midsummer Nights Dream, how she refuses to yield to her fathers wishes in order to confound herself to her own desires, and we can see how this desire for love outweighs the risk of death that she so immediately and guilelessly takes. She does not want to conform to her father for she would be forced to become a nun, or subject herself to a loveless marriage. In this light, we can see this act of conforming to her father as akin to the act of selling ones soul to the Devil, as both trade certainty of fulfillment for certainty of self, only one does so in a desire to conform, and the other does so to subvert that conformity. Although A Midsummer Nights Dream presents itself as a comedy, it does not fail to explore within that disposition the more darker and grounded aspects of the human condition, of which this poem was written to highlight. Like in the poem, Hermia’s refusal to conform to her father makes her a danger to herself, as she is unwilling to take into account the consequences of that insubordination, just as the man in the poem is unable to deal with the reality of those around him rejecting him, and because of this, both Hermia and the man in the poem face stagnation in the face of conformity, symbolized by the man’s losing of his feet. This stagnation is representative of the obstacle that the need to conform serves as to those pursuing personal desires, and in A Midsummer Nights Dream, presents itself as Hermia’s only two options: marry Demetrius or become a nun. Her third option is to elope, pursue her personal desire, and risk death. In this sense, Hermia has lost her feet, her ability to remove herself from the situation and find a more appealing third option. The juxtaposition between becoming a nun, and selling your soul to the devil, both means of conforming in these different circumstances, represents the two extremes of this catch-22 of decision making, and how somewhere in the middle lies a realistic medium that many people experience in real life. Choices are difficult, especially when you have a vested interest in your own personal desires that happen to be, and quite often are, in direct opposition to what is easy or what is considered normal. Another key aspect of Hermia’s character is her ability to love, and how that is the primary motivator in her pursuit of personal desire – her wanting to love Lysander. Take this in contrast to the man in the poem, who wishes only to be loved by the society that scorned him and banished him, the society that was devoid of love and that filled his own heart with hatred. Hermia is described and characterized as a very hopeful and light hearted spirit, as demonstrated in the lines “Heavens shield Lysander if they mean a fray” (Act 3, Scene 3), as in this scene, Lysander is made to no longer love Hermia, and despite this, Hermia still pledges herself to Lysander. This all serves again to illustrate the realistic middle ground in between these two extremes. Ultimately, when the man gives his soul to the devil, that is full of hatred, he also gives away his ability to love others, in which we can see the true cost of conformity, which is high in both instances. If Hermia were to conform, she would be forced to live her life as a nun, or marry a man she did not love. A miserable disposition. The man in the poem wants only to be loved, to conform, and in doing so, costs himself his own ability to love. In both these instances, we can see how conformity is never the answer, and how taking control of ones life themselves and carving their own paths, despite the risk, is always optimal.
To understand a conflict between such subjective things as personal desire and conformity, perspective plays a large role. The actions taken by Hermia to escape conformity may seem drastic on their own; however, in light of the threats held against her by her own father, along with the complete lack of compromise of any sense, Hermia’s desire to leave entirely can be understood. Along with having lived a life under such men, such people who so easily apply threats to others in hopes of persuading them to conformity – Hermia was aware of the life Demetrius would have promised her. Hermia is an individual who is well aware of and intends to nurture her own happiness, regardless if others attempt to suppress it. Personal desires equate with happiness – an individual whose happiness is not accounted for in when making decisions is rightfully able to take matters into their own hands. However, in the present world, many individuals fail to recognize this as their right. Oftentimes, individuals faced with the conflict of personal desires and conformity are unable to recognize that the conflict is in their choice; these individuals have their choices made for them, and can be seen suffering throughout their life.
Often such issues are not always considered by those who have not personally dealt with it and this is not entirely their fault. Humans have a tendency to primarily fight for issues that relate to themselves in some way because of our selfishness. Without this experience, I may not have felt as passionate about this issue as I am now.
The conflict that exists between pursuing one’s desires and conforming to societal expectations, such as (in a woman’s case) being obedient to any male figure, is quite prevalent in many places of the world. The issue surrounding the roles of women and the level of independence that they have when choosing what they want to do for a career has become less serious; however, there are some developing countries where women are still being forced to follow certain expectations that are decided by the men of the family. India is an example of such a country where this oppression takes place and my friend’s mother is still being held to these expectations against her will. When I do meet up with her, usually over the span of many years, she doesn’t seem fulfilled or content with her day-to-day life. It is quite painful for my whole family when we meet her because we can see her restlessness like a shadow following her wherever she goes. Her inability to pursue her personal desires and the expectations of her having to be a housewife has been wearing her away to a point where she has become indifferent to her duties. Her potential is not being seen by her husband or her son which is why no one has given her the opportunity to even think about what she personally wants. We have made attempts to help her, but due to repetition she no longer wishes to pursue anything beyond just her own family’s welfare. The universality of Hermia’s conflict can be seen through the women like my friend’s mother who are still being made to follow the conventional role of a “housewife”. The battle for female empowerment is ongoing and has become a topic of concern for many which parallels Hermia’s situation. When an individual is forced to meet the expectations created by others, they will lose the freedom to pursue their own desires, therefore, remaining unfulfilled. However, once individuals take the opportunities that they are given to pursue their own personal desires, they will find this fulfillment because they are willfully doing what they desire. As mentioned before, my friend’s mother always appears unhappy because she feels unfulfilled as the men in her life are restricting her from pursuing what she truly desires. Such women are unfortunately not being given this opportunity to break away from the expectations placed on them and, thus, are left unable to find this feeling of fulfillment and happiness.
Parenthood marks the beginning of a time of uncertainty and change and; often, becoming parents aren’t prepared for change and cannot withstand uncertainty at such a crucial time. As a safeguard, such people may set boundaries for their young, regulating their control. Naturally speaking, while young these limits don’t seem to hinder us – we are occupied in learning the world which we have been brought into. As we grow, our wandering leads us to certain ideas which have been prohibited by our caretakers. We are given a choice, in this moment – to pursue personal desires and walk past the boundaries, potentially harming our relationship with our parents; or conforming, remaining within the confines of their restrictions, never fully learning the wonders of the world through our own eyes. In Hermia’s case, marrying Lysander would completely tarnish her relationship with her father, and although she doesn’t mind that as much, the punishment for disobedience in that setting is death. In today’s world, disobedience is seen as strength for some, while disrespect for others. As children born to and/or raised by our parents, there lies a certain sense of morality which comes in the form of respect. What often gets misinterpreted is, however, who this respect must be coming from. And since children are unable to make a stand on their own, it is seen as their duty to be the respectful ones. This perspective is giving parents a command over their kids, without paying their due respect in return. Parents are also expected to remain respectful to their children – regardless of their child’s beliefs, values, etc. This section of the relationship is often hidden behind the gauze of the parent fulfilling basic needs, needs which they promised to fulfill in deciding to have a child. There may be a lack of understanding between the parent and child, and will hence cause a drift. This is evident in Hermia’s action of running away with Lysander in an act of complete rebellion. Hermia rightfully felt entitled to her desires, as there was no reason behind her father’s position besides the fact that he desired it to be so. This is a fact which is largely overlooked by children. We become so invested in the conflict between pursuing our dreams and changing our ways for our parents, we fail to notice that we are our parents’ dreams. That what we consider conforming our parents see as them pursuing their personal desires. They are also in the conflict between pursuing personal desires and conforming to us, children. Pride may also play a role in their determination towards their personal desires, however, it is our duty as children to recognize this conflict in our parents; the same way it is our parents’ duty to recognize this conflict within us. The conflict between pursuing personal desires and choosing to conform is essentially, at a ground-level basis, a conflict between two individuals – each of whom consider the others’ personal desire a conformity. This lack of understanding is exemplified in the relationship between Egeus and Hermia – however, the time period allowing Egeus to become dominant, the consequences for Hermia’s pursuit become dire, and she is forced with an ultimatum. Her decision to run away displays that, when reconciliation between choosing a personal desire and conformity is no longer an option, an individual is forced to take drastic measures if pursuing their desires – measures which often result in a complete change of life. Through Hermia’s decision to run away from her father and the conformity of her land, Shakespeare is making a point about self worth – in the situation where one’s happiness is ignored as a necessity, it becomes paramount that an individual prioritizes it, regardless if it tears familial relationships. Everyone deserves happiness – even if it takes drastic measures to achieve it.
Although conformity is easier than pursuing one’s own desires, the latter option is the only way to find fulfillment and, therefore, happiness. Ultimately, Hermia was a character who took control over her own life and her happiness was derived from her ability to gain a sense of independence and freedom that previously didn’t exist. Even countries like India today still have women that are being oppressed by the men in their lives to meet certain expectations while discouraging any pursuits for personal desires. Women like Hermia, however, are becoming more apparent as the battle for women empowerment becomes more evident. Egeus is seen as attempting to assert his control over Hermia because he is afraid of losing the place that he has in her life, but what Egeus doesn’t realize is that by placing these constraints on his daughter, he is only further distancing himself from her. Her father’s attempts to manipulate her decisions to his will are seen in the threats he poses against her life; this only spurs Hermia to take the situation into her own hands, ignoring the consequences. This goes as proof towards the notion that, when reconciliation is no longer an option, the conflict of choosing between personal desires and choosing to conform can only be resolved in complying wholeheartedly with either. Furthermore, we can see how when one chooses to comply to one, their disposition towards life adapts to match that choice. When one chooses to conform they become ill content with their life and often make compromises that sacrifice their happiness and personal desires; however, when one chooses to refuse conformity they face the risk of losing something that they hold valuable, like their freedom or even their life. In the end this choice between complacency and fulfillment comes down to one thing: how much one is willing to risk their security, and as Hermia’s journey and struggles represent, that can go a long way in determining one’s destiny.
Abhay: Some of the Opening, Creative(1), Creative(1) explanation, Personal Connection, Conclusion
Liam: Opening, Creative(2), Creative(2) explanation, Conclusion
Muhammad: Insight Paragraph, Transition Paragraph, Help with Personal Connection, Conclusion