Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the conflict between pursuing a personal desire and choosing to conform. (January 2011)
The wildest hath not such a heart as you,
Run when you will, the story shall be changed:
Apollo flies, and Daphne holds the chase;
The dove pursues the griffin; the mild hind
Makes speed to catch the tiger; bootless speed,
When cowardice pursues, and valor flies (2.i.229-234, pg 25)
Helena – a name so exquisitely luminous, transcending the halls of time with an aura of burning flames and rekindled passions, a beauty so fair as to wage wars of ownership, a bright torch, an illuminating light… if only it weren’t so oft extinguished by the torrents in her eyes, and the sighs of her laments. How strange a thing is love in that it both replenishes and depletes, creates and destroys – a vicious cycle between what it is you desire, and what it is you can’t have. It is thought that there is no sweeter surrender than submitting to one’s honeyed musings of love, nothing more beautiful than pursuing such a passion, so long as it finds its roots in the fertile, abundant soils of conformity. What, then, becomes of a love that has bloomed against the tides of the norm, a love that tilts the very aim of Cupid’s arrow itself? What happens when she who was defined by her love – attributed all her virtues as a result of it – has been stripped of the very essence that once encapsulated her maidenhood? Such is the predicament in which Helena finds herself; upon being deprived of Demetrius’ love, she spirals into chaos and insecurity. The comfort of her femininity – her virtue, her beauty – are now fruitless for her, for they were unable to provide her security. In order to reconcile her departure from the conformity of love with the pursuit of her personal desire – her love, Demetrius – Helena is willing to renounce her womanhood, becoming the wooer instead of the wooed. She chases Demetrius relentlessly, much as he chases Hermia, but the more she revokes her femininity, the more he is repulsed. The return to convention she so desires will only come to fruit when, through regaining Demetrius’ love, she is once again able to secure her femininity. Through the character of Helena in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it becomes evident that when an individual is deprived of desired love – love that defines their adherence to societal convention – they are dispossessed of the comfort of conformity, and therefore thrown into chaos. In seeking to reconcile the conflict apparent between both the pursuit of their desired love and conformity, said individual will fully forgo the comfort of their conventions, utilizing this chaos as a means through which to restore order. However, when said individual encounters uncertainty in regards to the extent of the chaos, they will sacrifice all means of remaining convention by harnessing the chaos to regain the love they so desire, resulting in the individual’s acceptance of subsequent love to remedy displacement from society.
Creative Piece #1
(Click image to see clearer version)
A continuous spiral down the bottomless void of seeking love and attaining genuine appreciation in return – an archetypal conflict encountered by characters such as Helena.
For the first creative piece, an origami mobile in the form of a descending spiral was chosen to depict Helena’s endless battle to balance her desire of love and the need to conform to the ways of being feminine in ancient Athens. For this mobile, doves and fairies were chosen as alternating pieces, hung to symbolize the simultaneous conflict between order and chaos. Helena’s initial choice to defy the societal bounds of sanity to pursue her love for Demetrius depict her need to reject conformity to attain the love that defined her as feminine; this would allow her to fit in with her understanding of societal expectations. Within the initial duration of this pursuit, Helena vowed to twist convention by using her chaos to obtain her sense of order, as does “The dove pursue[s] the griffin.” Likewise, when Helena states how, “You both are rivals, and love Hermia; and now both rivals to mock Helena,” (III.ii.155-156), one can imply that the rejection of her desires by the creation of chaos beyond her threshold causes Helena to experience an uncertainty regarding her initial desire, as her inability to earnestly attain the love she thought would bring order resulted in her harness of the extended chaos and sacrifice of all means of convention to obsessively obtain order. By announcing how “Our sex, as well as I, may chide you for it,” Helena envelopes the chaos and uses it to target Hermia to restore her order, as she manipulates convention to target whoever hinders the fulfillment of her desire. The final questioning of the validity of the love she obtains through the interference of the supernatural depicts her awareness of the discrepancy between the truthfulness of the love and the appearance of love, as shown through the line, “I have found Demetrius like a jewel, mine own, and not mine own,” yet satisfaction in fulfillment of desire, as her receival of artificial love suits her purpose in restoring her femininity in society.
In its entirety, Helena’s pursuit of her desire starts and ends at the imbalance between order and chaos; this ongoing imbalance is represented through the use of doves and faires, as the spiral serves the purpose of increasing visual empathy and understanding from the viewer by depicting this underlying conflict that founds the actions of Helena. The doves represent a sense of order due to their literary connection to marriage – that is, an eternal moniker of stability and content. In this play, the concept of marriage is depicted as one that restores order and certainty along with being a desire of characters such as Helena. The fairies, and the intentional use of vibrant colours, symbolizes a deviation from the then conventional role of marriage as a means through which women are made subservient to men to the replacement of women as the pursuers of men – the transformation of convention into the defiance of societal expectations, namely being chaos.
Doves = marriage, Hermia and Lysander, symbol of order and desire
Fairies = chaos, mystical, external forces that create uncertainty in reality, symbolic of transformation of convention to chaos
Spiral = confusion, ongoing imbalance between order and chaos
Creative Piece #2
has this strange tendency
to swallow you
you might mistake it for a caress –
the hail of his oaths,
the torrents of his words,
that all but
when they face a little duress,
a heat to which they so blissfully
you’re on the outside looking
drenched to the soul in the rain
his everything, surrounded by
and nothing more.
you glance at your reflection,
eyes of muddy crystal,
without his stormy words
thundering through your mind,
trickling lightning down your spine,
your eyes will never be lodestars,
your looks will never be fair
your voice never sweet enough air
for of what worth is a woman
without the pretty words
that bejewel her maidenhood?
Woman you were,
when he claimed it was so –
when you were pursued
(not the pursuer),
(not the chaser),
(not the hunter),
Woman you were
when you were wanted;
how cheap you are
now that you’re not:
so willing to be a spaniel –
spurned, beaten, struck –
in the numbness of your
for the cold of his gaze
is your virtue.
It is not night when I do see your face –
will you so willingly
leave me in the dark?
my eyes are lodestars no longer
after your cruelty denied their brightness.
to any act of devotion
that is not yours;
my only guide
are the tears in my eyes –
the only way my eyes may brighten
intrinsically intertwined with
i’ve made chaos
of a maiden’s
when I glance into the
in muddied crystal eyes
Woman, i was
Monster, i am
To desire, and to be desired – two of life’s greatest pleasures, and its simultaneous pains. In Helena, the balance apparent between the dual nature of these passions is disrupted; as in losing Demetrius’ love results in her being overcome with desires, she does not know how to relinquish – the instigator to her spiral into chaos, her descent into insanity. Helena is overwhelmed by her need to regain security through Demetrius; her dependency leaves her insecure. In a time period where a maiden’s desires and passions were stifled under the command of the law, their fathers, or past lovers, this wanting, this endangering of her virtue and virginity, paints Helena as a fool, and an unchaste woman – she must pretend she never did love, that she never was hurt, that she never wanted, in order to maintain some shred of maiden dignity, and lessen the sting of the fact that she was deemed unfit for this facet of convention, and everyone knows it.
Through her loving, she is disgraced and left to pick up what shards remain of her dignity – imagine being unable to pursue what it is you love most; if my pencil insulted me everytime I tried to pick it up to write with, I would be pretty upset, too.
Is it any wonder that Helena balances so precariously on the brink of insanity? She is attributed worth through the love she gains from the men around her, and when this love is taken away from her, she feels devalued, cheapened. However, she must not pursue her personal love – she must wait for him to once again return, and attribute her value. She’s left hanging, expecting mercy from the hands of one who would without qualm leave her in the darkness of the forest, at the mercy of the beasts – fie, Demetrius! This idea of being attributed femininity is one played upon in my poem, as Helena realizes that she was considered womanly only when she was pursued – a prize, if you will – and that in trusting others to define what her sex entails, she is reduced to a handful of values and empty praises, to be taken away from her at any given moment. Another continuous theme in the poem is that of water and tears – Helena describes how Demetrius once hailed his oaths of love upon her, but that they evaporated the second he saw Hermia. His oaths are the vitality, the life source of which Helena has been deprived, and now she remains with only her tears to sustain her.
The darkness of her life without Demetrius is also emphasized; all her life, Helena has relied upon conformity to show her the way, so when she is left to forge her own path away from conformity – the only thing that grants her value – she becomes distressed, and chooses instead to pursue conventional love at her own expense. Helena also constantly compares her eyes – brightened only with tears – to Hermia’s starry eyes. When Demetrius compliments Helena under the influence of the love potion, he declares that crystal would be muddy when compared to Helena’s eyes. In calling Helena’s eyes “muddied crystal” in the poem, a realization is formed that she held all her beauty, her positive traits, even after Demetrius left her. It was only ever her own insecurity that stopped her from seeing it, resulting in her chaos. The final lines, where Helena realizes that her pursuit of a personal desire transforms her from a woman into a monster, resonate with her person because in her search for love, she is willing to forsake her femininity, her passivity, and actively pursue what it is she wants. Though at times she questions the genuinity of the love between her and Demetrius, her need to return to her place in society overpowers her suspicion. Recognizing this loving, this wanting, as something she can’t live without, and then seeking to reconcile the conflict between her desire for conformity and her need for love –
How monstrous – how womanly – indeed.
“Things base and vile, holding no quantity, love can transpose to form and dignity. Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” (I, i, 233)
In an age where a maiden’s value was inexplicably tied to her virtue and desirability and attributed to her through the love of a man, it becomes apparent that the displacement from such a love – a departure from the comforts of convention – would leave her life wrought in chaos. In order to reconcile the conflict that lies between her desire to pursue Demetrius and her need to return to conformity, Helena discards the femininity that has bound her for so long, making use of her internal chaos in an attempt to restore order. Using both the spiral mobile and the poem, Helena’s inner and external conflict pertaining to her desire of conforming love and the pursuit of chaos to obtain love are depicted, as the mobile presents a physical symbol, whereas the poem provides insight to the emotional motivators of Helena’s actions. In combination, both pieces aim to enhance the reader’s sense of empathy in relation to Helena’s course of action by visually and poetically conveying her appeal towards the harness of chaos to obtain order, specifically her various means to pursue love. This general concept of attaining the love of another is one that holds universal appeal, and thus this pursuit and emotional turmoil are justified through the establishment of empathy between the audience and character through a diorama and literary writing – connecting to both one’s pathos and logos.
Furthermore, when one empathetically understands the motivations founding the actions of a character, the fluidity in connecting reasoning to action is enhanced, as a character is then no longer perceived as one of aimless intention. When one analyzes the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a common overlaying misconception is that Helena is simply a perplexed lover that gets caught in the web of naturally and supernaturally occurring chaos; however, after analyzing Helena, her pursuit of love and the desire to conform to her society is no longer regarded as lunacy. Contrarily, it is regarded as wit, as the strategy to envelope the conditions of one’s environment, namely chaos in this play, in order to aid in resolving the conflict between desire and social conformity is perceived as an act of intelligence instead.
“So methinks: and I have found Demetrius like a jewel, mine own, and not mine own.” (IV, i, 193)
There was a time in my life when I was Helena—the lowest time in my life. I was desperate for love, so much so that I removed the friendships that I had with others just to spend more time with someone who never truly loved me back. Two years of my life were spent with this girl, and I lost so many connections with wonderful people for the sake of an unhealthy obsession. I asked her out on a video chat and I remember seeing her face light up from the delight of being asked out by me. The first year was wonderful. I felt for her and I treasured every moment I spent with her. Once a year had passed, she began to change. There was a time when she was severely ill and had to undergo weeks of surgery to recover. That was the last I heard of her for four endless months. In that time, she fell for another man and left me none the wiser. We were no longer together. She came home one day in tears and called me. Her beloved had, in a fit of rage, scolded her for mistreating him and left her without anywhere to go in the middle of a faraway parking lot. I offered to take her back, and she agreed. Only now, I couldn’t see her face, only the reluctant acceptance in her voice. The relationship we once had was gone. In its place, bitter jealousy and unaffectionate lust in the name of recovering what was lost to her mistake. My mistake was trying. It was obsessive in the worst way possible. I spent weeks at a time in the basement on phone calls with her, asking the same thing over and over again expecting a different answer to come out every time.
“Are you faithful to me?” I asked. Again, and again.
I was unforgiving in my daily interrogations, but at night I would tell her I loved and that I trusted her. My love was compulsive and unhealthy. My parents and my friends told me that enough was enough. They tried to tell me this girl was no good, and that I would regret the time I spent with her. I spoke behind them to my beloved and told her they didn’t know better. After another year of pointless phone calls and failed meetings, I finally gained the confidence to tell her I didn’t need her.
Years later, I’ve been given the opportunity to reflect on my mistakes. As much as I wish it never happened, in a bizarre way I’m glad it did. I’ve learned a great deal of how personal desires can skew the logical reasoning the mind does naturally. For instance, staying in a relationship I wasn’t happy with was nothing more than a confidence boost to make myself feel more at ease with how little I’ve accomplished in my own life. However, as she became more and more successful in her life without me, I learned just how incorrectly I had been approaching life. It took me far too long to realize a failure with a girlfriend is still a failure.
Personal desires are lovely in ensuring one feels content in their life; however, they are rather temporary in ensuring long term euphoria. We owe it to ourselves to conform to logic and reason. Sacrificing everything for the purpose of personal desires is as foolish as blindly conforming to a cause you can hardly comprehend. To find that balance between conforming to what is right and graciously pursuing what provides you joy is what will make you happy.
One of the greatest tragedies that exist within a Midsummer Night’s Dream is Helena herself. It’s well known that she lacks any sense of self control, and frequently fumbles her intentions in a humorous way. Her undying love for Demetrius is sweet in its intentions, but utterly selfish in its execution. Readers frequently discuss how Helena is Midsummer’s most selfless character in that everything she does is for someone else. Rarely do we see her not make a fool of herself for Demetrius’ sake. However, one could argue that she is indeed the most selfish, too. She’s a character that voluntarily values her own personal desires above anything else. For instance, she’s quick to abandon her friendship with Hermia when both the Athenian men have fallen for her. To do everything in the name of love cries desperation and foolishness. Love is for the benefit of two people, but when the other does not reciprocate the affection, then it’s simply a matter of chasing something far beyond your reach. It’s pursuing a goal you’ll never achieve, which only provides the façade of purpose. In reality, the individual is as lost as someone who blindly follows.
Following an overlaying, external analysis of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is quite simple to perceive the character, Helena, as a victim of the madness of love; however, when her active choice to utilize chaos as a mode of pursuit for her desire to conform is truly investigated, the madness is contrarily transformed into an act of intelligent creativity. Through this play, playwright William Shakespeare crafts the character of Helena to highlight how an individual’s desire to adhere to the appealing bounds of societal acceptance while pursuing a previously rejected love prompts one to adopt a chaotic course of action, where chaos is used as a tool to restore the order of balance between the pursuit of desire and societal conformity, and tradition abandoned. Oftentimes, when the actions of individuals in reality are observed, it is common to see individuals craving both a balance between fitting in with their current environment whilst simultaneously chasing their desires. As often depicted in the genres of science-fiction and fantasy, individuals in reality do not solely choose to divergently fulfill a desire or solely conform to the norms of society; instead, the desires possessed are often to fit in by melding their understanding of personal desire and conformity. Likewise, this behaviour is conveyed through Helena, as her personal desire is defined by her want to seamlessly melt into the standards of femininity in ancient Athens and consequently disregards and sacrifices the genuinity of the love she receives for the sake of remedying her displacement from society.
Helena – a woman who is willing to trade her femininity for the sake of the love she so desires, a girl willing to rewrite the stories of the ages – Daphne pursuing Apollo – in order to seek once again the comfort of convention she so desires.
Helena – a maiden-turned-monster who basks in the warmth of her own flame.
Opening Paragraph: Hijab
Creative Piece #1: Preet
Explanatory C#1: Preet
Creative Piece #2: Hijab
Explanatory C#2: Hijab
Personal Connection: Tim
Conclusion: Hijab and Preet
- Featured Image: “She’s Got Stars in Her Blood and the Night Sky in Her Eyes | Story Book in 2018 | Pinterest | Moon Goddess, Moon and Eyes.” Pinterest – Images, 11 Oct. 2018, www.pinterest.ca/pin/397935317059874074/?lp=true.
- Hijab’s Poem Image: “Unrequited Love | Art in 2018 | Pinterest | Art, Deep Meaning and Deep Art.” Pinterest, 3 Sept. 2018, www.pinterest.ca/pin/558727897496410779/?lp=true.
- Final Image: “Unrequited Love Paintings.” Contemporary Realism Paintings, www.artranked.com/topic/Unrequited Love.