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. (Jan 2011)
“Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex:
We cannot fight for love, as men may do;
We should be wooed and were not made to woo.
I’ll follow thee and make a heaven of hell,
To die upon the hand I love so well.”
Opening (Claire ft. Elissa)
Helena. The scorned woman turned blissful bride, introduced as the runner up and not quite good enough for the prize she desperately craves. She is displayed almost comically as the audience watches her chase a man so ignorant of her existence. Helena is too often made fun of, too often ridiculed; however, her position of unrequited love is felt by others globally. Her pain pushes her further from a pressured womanhood. She tears herself away from a soft, docile life to chase a consuming passion. Helena symbolically accepts hedonism and insanity as she runs into woods run by the Fae.
As writers, we wanted to strip away the humour and get to the heart of Helena’s pain, and celebrate her success in ending it. Our intention is empathy and relation, on an analytical, emotional, and creative level; to take on her perspective and speak to universal and personal feelings to it. On a critical plane, we focused on femininity in Helena’s character by recognizing William Shakespeare’s emphasis on the conflict created when an individual persistent in pursuing desires is forced to face reality, resulting in a detachment of oneself from society’s mandate over women in order to fulfill the desire for love.
maenad: wild woman
Look at her:
Red faced and
chasing after bones
Look at her:
Yellow tulips in her hair-
in her heart,
trapped in the chambers of
Look at her:
A magnet drawn
forth by stone,
a practical woman
Look at her:
Biting down on pain,
wagging her tail,
sniffing the air in search of
the broken arrow lodged in another,
while the other half scraps at her senses-
as she yelps for truth
Look at her:
Unable to be sister and
unbreakable persistence makes her
a mockery of men-
Look at her:
incapable to acquiesce to
a woman’s doormat;
An angel frozen in time and
shattered spirit spurring
those whom do not love
Look at her:
long legs leaping into your arms-
For god’s sake,
Look At Her…
before she looks at you.
Explanation of Poem
Liza: I chose to write a poem about the perspective of Helena as a woman once seen as a respectable and reasonable lady transformed into what society may define as a hopeless, love sick puppy: dependant on a man’s approval in order for her to realize her worth. However, in my poem, I twisted this idea of Helena by making her almost animalistic in her intentions.
I compared her to a maenad: the female followers of Dionysus (god of wine, fertility, and ecstasy) who were known to be raving, raging, devoted women who were capable of ripping men apart with their bare hands in their frenzied worship of Dionysus. Helena, much like a maenad, refuses to be held captive by society’s docile depiction of women, explicitly demanding their behaviors to be compliant to men. Even though maenads are completely devout to Dionysus, a male figure, he represents spiritual, emotional, and physical freedom for them. Demetrius is Helena’s Dionysus, for he triggers her release from women’s propriety- causing to break vows with her lifelong friend, Hermia, and sacrifice her dignity.
I attempted to include forest imagery and the fantastical atmosphere of the play, in order to capture the essence of anarchy, despite the control fairies have within the environment of the play. The structure of my poem includes the anaphora “Look at her,” for the purpose of replicating the recurring desperation Helena experiences throughout the story as she strives for Demetrius’ attention. Metaphors alluding to Shakespeare’s comparison of Helena to a spaniel appear, as well as the presence of Cupid as a determining factor of love v.s. indifference.
Explanation of Drawing
Elissa: While Helena was quick to detach herself from society’s mandate over women, her behaviour of chasing after Demetrius all began due to the pain she was not able to overcome emotionally: heartbreak.
The woman seen in the picture is alone with an arrow striking through her heart, only the moon’s light there to wash over her in an attempt of comfort. Blood seeps down the arrow’s shaft like the tears which stream down her cheeks.
She is now alone in her desperate love, left to feel the excruciating pain of Cupid’s arrow which has struck her heart. She feels helpless as her love is no longer, nor will ever be, returned.
But she will become stronger.
Helena once had the joy of being betrothed to Demetrius, but had her love shatter before her eyes when Demetrius chose her best friend over her and left Helena vulnerable. This is why I chose to depict the imagery of Helena consumed by her tears, and with it, incorporated symbols from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The arrow, much like the one described by Shakespeare in his play which struck the flowers, has stricken Helena’s heart by accident. This has left her helpless to the whims of love, and the scene you see in my depiction is when this reality of her desire’s downfall has set in.
In terms of the moon, I felt it was a perfect symbol to connect to my drawing. The symbol was drawn to my attention when in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Theseus blames the moon for the slow passage of time. When one is rejected by someone they love (like Helena was) it is as if the pain is never ending, as if time is not on your side… As if time will not heal your broken heart.
I drew the moon to have a presence which is large and bright, leaving her nowhere to hide but within her own body. The moon is a permanent reminder that the pain in her heart is seemingly endless – Helena too blames the moon on the slow passage of time. It will not leave her alone and instead prolongs night, or the darkness in her heart… but this darkness will only make her stronger. It is what will spur Helena on to fulfill her desire for love.
While Helena desperately chases the man she loves, this drawing is a depiction of the vulnerability inside of her. Despite the vulnerability, she is able to push it aside in order to pursue her desires in Shakespeare’s play.
Within the two creative pieces above, Helena begins to take shape as a stronger woman. A goddess like depiction comes forward, contrasting the insane, jealous wench image conjured by the play.
In Liza’s poem, female names and synonyms are tied back to Helena such as maenad, sister and lover. The comparison to a Maenad leaves behind a particularly feminine image, even if it is not positive. The twisting insanity of Dionysus’s followers entirely designed for woman, and comparing Helena to them cements that break from convention. These women roamed wild and free, doing whatever they so pleased, caring not for female tradition. In her reversed chase of Demetrius, Helena does the same. The poem also pleads her case for her, attempting to create sympathy with whatever man has left her behind. It begs him to take pity, to “Look At Her… before she looks at you.” The third person omniscient narrator lends humanity to our character as it gives her credible witness to her pain. She no longer is shouting into nothing hoping someone will just take her at her word.
The drawing Elissa created provides a witness in a new form. The subjects of art are so often scrutinized, the artist’s every muscle captured, leading to elusive emotions caught right at the moment the last brush stroke hit the canvas. Envision the countless tourists pouring over the “Mona Lisa’s” smile… Giving Helena this treatment gives artistic pity to her plight. Instead of mockery at the hands of Demetrius and the audience, she is a study of beauty. Her emotions are finally given the consideration they deserve, the arrow a physical reminder of the pain so often dismissed and its blood a stark contrast to the tears she consistently sheds.
Elissa: We cannot fight for love, as men do. We, as women, should be swayed in place of being the one to sway… Or so we’re all told.
In today’s society the idea of a female being the first to confess is in many ways an unusual topic. When we discuss with total elatement to our friends the possibility of a person being a possible admirer, we’re told to “go get your man!” or “get the girl!”… but god forbid you show them upfront you are interested! We as women tell other women that we are not meant to woo, but should instead be wooed. If they do not truly want you and are not deserving of your time, they will not make an effort to get your attention. Therefore, test them: if you don’t give them the attention you are looking for yourself, see how they react and this will give you a sense of how they feel…
Today, love is a game – an endless cycle of push and pull to see who will cave first.
The thought process of drawing attention is not deliberate, of course. We do not confide in our friends for advice on how to sway a person, as we are not creatures who prey on those who love us… Rather, we only want to feel wanted by the people we admire: and this feeling dominates the course of our actions, consciously or not. It is not malicious, just merely an attempt to stop feelings from becoming stronger before we are left heartbroken from an unrequited love.
However, there are a few exceptions to this game. Some do not follow it, and instead they’d rather do the opposite.
Like the others, there are some who do the unspeakable… Namely Elissa and Liza, they demolish the game.
Liza: In early 2018, we both decided to stray ourselves away from the idea of seeking the romantic affection of another by waiting for them to make the first move. Instead, we decided to seek it out directly. Our friends whom we confided in had encouraged us to share our feelings with our respective interests, only spurring us both further into the confidence to do so. After weeks of debating the pros and cons, examining mixed messages, and figuring out a proper way of approaching them, we decided that the possibility of achieving our personal desires is worth the possibility of facing rejection. Either option sounded better than restlessly living under the fickle barrier of a ambivalent stalemate; like Helena – we found this pursuit exhilarating since it challenged a female’s role in the dating world, but also incredibly frustrating because of its difficulties concerning the foolish natures of young love.
Contrary to Helena, however, our story ended rather… differently. Instead of attaining our desires and securing a blossoming love affair: our exposed affections were dismissed. Regardless, we find comfort in our efforts and how we refused to allow ourselves squander in the “what ifs” of our circumstances. We did not let fear of judgement or failure stop us from shooting our shot.
And, hey, at the end of the day… it’s their loss.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare exemplifies the conflict created when an individual persistent in pursuing desires is forced to face reality, resulting in a detachment of oneself from society’s mandate over women in attempts to fulfill her desire for love. Due to the play’s comedic nature, Shakespeare paints Helena as a hysteric, desperate damsel – making a mockery of her pains and love, ultimately, causing her to question her own depiction of love as a woman suffering from heartbreak. Before her literal pursuit of Demetrius, she claims he “hailed down oaths that he was only mine (hers).” (1.1), but when the line “this hail some heat from Hermia felt,/So he dissolved, and showers of oaths did melt.” (1.1) is spoken, it reveals the fickle nature of love and how reality rarely coincides with one’s desires. Hermia’s situation has an irony about it because she defies the modern female empowerment mantra, “Women don’t need a man, and it is undignified to chase after one that does not appreciate us,” while simultaneously fulfilling the idea of, “Women do not have to be docile to a man’s inclinations and are capable to take on a more forward position in romantic pursuits.” Regardless, Helena’s actions demonstrate an antique struggle between passionate love and a woman’s role within romance: to sit and wait for prince charming to make all the inclinations.
Finally, empathy is within our power, and we bestow that upon Helena. We tore away the comedic veil mocking a poor woman’s pain, and took up her fight. The desperate woman is so often the butt of a joke. In her madness she is separated from the very thing that began the insanity, thus further pushing away the man she loves. Now, without her object of desire, she is judged for her violation of the traditional role of women in courtship. To ridicule Helena is cruel and denies our own nature. It inhibits the desire to succeed in love at our hands, to make our own decisions and chases and be victorious. Helena is teased so that others do not have to acknowledge their own burgeoning passions, and can continue repressing them. She is a projection of insecurities surrounding rejection. To cope, with personal self doubt, a stand-in punching bag was conjured up.
The standards of gender in courtship are set upon old, outdated ideas. Woman cannot play an equal part in achieving romantic success; they are instead expected to stand idly by and wait for others attention to come to them. Shame is doled out to anyone who strays from this norm. This robs them of their power, creating an inferiority gap. To achieve equality it takes a mass breaking of convention to allow for the freeing of others. In this regard, we praise Helena’s transgressive nature, and no longer condemn it.