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A Midsummer Night's Dream" is compositionally one of Shakespeare's most complex works, and the attitude of different literary critics towards its key elements is far from univocal. Sir Roy Strong calls the lovers in the play "cardboard characters, silly and headstrong, no more than convenient vehicles whereby to send up the conventional love etiquette of the day"…
And while the unnatural attachment of beautiful Queen Titania to monstrous ass-headed Bottom is perhaps the most striking variety of love of all found here, it is the inexplicable, hopeless love of Helena that is the deepest and most intricate emotion on display.
That Shakespeare intended to make Helena something greater than just a comedy character is shown even by the name he has chosen for her. "Helena" instantly brings to mind Helen the Fair of Homer. The similarity is emphasized by the Greek setting. Homer used his Helen as a symbol of love and beauty.
In "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Helena/Helen is still beautiful ("Through Athens I am thought as fair as she", I.I. 227), but unhappy in love. This toes the line with the general idea of the strangeness of the love's ways: "And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind. Nor hath Love's mind of any judgment taste" (I.I. 235-6)
The little change of adding a feminine -a inflexion to her name serves the obvious purpose of matching it to the name of her friend and rival, Hermia. And once again, the resemblance in names is employed to set off their different luck in love.
Helena is also the one whose mouth Shakespeare uses to voice hi ...
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