A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Hermia Character Analysis

The daughter of Egeus and the beloved of Lysander and Demetrius (at least at the beginning of the play). She is strong-willed, believes in her right to choose her husband based on love, and is fiercely loyal. When crossed, Hermia can become a downright vixen. Hermia is beautiful and has dark hair, though she's small in stature and somewhat sensitive about it.

Hermia Quotes in A Midsummer Night's Dream

The A Midsummer Night's Dream quotes below are all either spoken by Hermia or refer to Hermia. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream published in 2004.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
But earthlier happy is the rose distilled
Than that which, withering on the virgin thorn,
Grows, lives, and dies in single blessedness. (76)
Related Characters: Theseus (speaker), Hermia
Page Number: 1.1.78-80
Explanation and Analysis:

Hermia asks Theseus what her options will be if she does not marry Demetrius. He explains that the only alternatives are to become a nun or to be put to death but recommends that she elect marriage.

This quote displays the high value in the play placed on romantic love and on marriage. Theseus uses the image of “the rose” to stand for Hermia, and more generally for young women. To be “distilled” may mean literally to be purified and condensed into a single essence, but symbolically it means for her to select a single lover on whom to bestow her love. In this metaphor, “withering on the virgin thorn” means to remain celibate as she would in a convent. In that case, her life would be reduced to the simple progression of “Grows, lives, and dies” because it would be unmarked by significant amorous events. Thus life could be deemed a “single blessedness” because it would involve no meaningful shifts. Theseus recommends against such celibate monotony and encourages Hermia to instead marry Demetrius.

By couching his advice in the metaphor of the rose, however, Theseus makes a comment not just on Hermia, but rather more broadly on womanhood and romantic relationships. His justification, intriguingly, comes from whether one will be “earthlier happy” rather than from any religious or legal framework. Theseus thus shows himself to be acting not only out of deference to Athenian laws, but also out of a personal belief in the merit of romantic love. Shakespeare thus establishes the centrality of romance to the way these characters will act and find meaning in the world.

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Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so.
He will not know what all but he do know.
And as he errs, doting on Hermia's eyes,
So I, admiring of his qualities.
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. (227)
Related Characters: Helena (speaker), Hermia, Demetrius
Page Number: 1.1.233-241
Explanation and Analysis:

After Hermia and Lysander leave to elope, Helena gives this moving soliloquy. She notes that love causes people to see incorrectly and act irrationally.

To make this point, Helena first compares two supposedly objective features: her beauty and Hermia’s. She reasons that if so many people “thought [her] as fair” as Hermia, then Demetrius’ perspective must be warped. He “errs” because he incorrectly favors Hermia though nothing about her would seem superior to Helena. Helena then applies the same type of criticism back on herself: Just as Demetrius’ assessment of Hermia’s physical beauty is marred by his love, so is Helena’s assessment of Demtrius’ character. What is “base and vile” becomes “form and dignity.” Intriguingly, in this speech Helena shows herself capable of recognizing her limitations. She observes how warped her perspective has become. Yet, even as she is aware how love has affected her, she is unable to escape its power and continues to see Demetrius as all "form and dignity."

Helena’s use of imagery pertaining to eyes here is worth noting. She references how Demetrius focuses on “Hermia’s eyes” as the basis for his love, yet observes that “Love looks not with the eyes”—for it does not correctly visually interpret the world. As a result, Cupid is “painted blind” because he represents a force that acts based on emotion rather than vision. Later in the play, however, the characters will fall in love when a potion is applied to their eyes—which will make them enamored with the first person they see. Helena’s claim that vision is unimportant is thus both accurate and ironic, for Shakespeare will make literal sight the basis for love’s metaphorical blindness.

Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
Lord, what fools these mortals be! (117)
Related Characters: Robin Goodfellow (Puck) (speaker), Hermia, Helena, Lysander, Demetrius
Page Number: 3.2.117
Explanation and Analysis:

Puck has just seen Helena being pursued by Lysander—and both are about to enter the stage with Demetrius. He correctly expects that the two will compete for her love and looks forward to the show.

This line corroborates the way Puck sees himself as a theater director for the events that transpire—as opposed to a character directly involved in the narrative. Describing the other characters as “mortals” sets up a clear divide between the supernatural forest creatures and the normal humans. And considering them to be “fools” places them in a position of subservience: They are following the pre-designed games of Oberon and Puck rather than acting of their own independent accord. As a result, Puck is able to look on the behavior of Helena and her two new lover’s with pure whimsy, for their issues exist in a distanced and, for him, meaningless realm. Shakespeare thus shows that adopting a removed perspective allows one to aestheticize and find humorous what might otherwise be a dramatic or painful series of events. And, of course, the audience of the play gets an extra thrill of delight as they – the ultimate viewers with a removed perspective – watch Puck watching the "mortals."

O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment:
If you we re civil and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?
If you were men, as men you are in show,
You would not use a gentle lady so;
To vow, and swear, and superpraise my parts,
When I am sure you hate me with your hearts.
You both are rivals, and love Hermia;
And now both rivals, to mock Helena:
A trim exploit, a manly enterprise,
To conjure tears up in a poor maid's eyes
With your derision! none of noble sort
Would so offend a virgin, and extort
A poor soul's patience, all to make you sport. (147)
Related Characters: Helena (speaker), Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius
Page Number: 3.2.148-164
Explanation and Analysis:

Helena is now being pursued by Lysander and Demetrius after they have both been bewitched by the love potion. Believing that they are making fun of her, Helena spurns their advances and scolds them for this behavior.

This soliloquy makes a sharp distinction between courteous and uncourteous forms of behavior. Helena considers Lysander and Demetrius’ actions to do her “injury” and “mock” her because, she believes, their behaviors do not accurately represent how they feel. To support this point, Shakespeare uses the language of performance and play: The men act from “merriment,” they act “in show,” and it is all done “to make you sport.” These descriptions corroborate the way Puck and Oberon have staged their own sport of romance in the play. Helena is correctly able to recognize the falsehood in the mens’ behaviors, but she cannot recognize that they are merely characters acting out their parts. And, meanwhile, the men have become so overwhelmed by their "parts" because of the love potion, that they don't even know that they are in fact playing parts.

Helena's speech also confirms the way she is ever-aware of gender role complexity. She implicitly denies Lysander and Demetrius's manhood by saying they are men “in show” rather than in actuality (which also would have been funny in Shakespeare's time, when women weren't allowed to be actors and so the actor playing Helena would, in fact, have been a man). And calling their behavior “A trim exploit, a manly enterprise” is a sarcastic way of saying that she finds their behavior manipulative and thus un-masculine. Similarly, she takes on the traditional role of “gentle lady” and “poor maid”—surprising considering that Helena had previously bucked gender roles by desiring to be the pursuer or wooer. Her new adherence to a division between manly and unmanly behaviors thus shows how rapidly the supernatural forest environment can shift the characters’ identities. Just as Demetrius and Lysander have been bewitched into love and into the roles of pursuers, Helena has been metaphorically enchanted in this new, more passive position.

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
May all to Athens back again repair
And think no more of this night's accidents
But as the fierce vexation of a dream. (50)
Related Characters: Oberon (speaker), Hermia, Helena, Lysander, Demetrius
Page Number: 4.1.68-70
Explanation and Analysis:

Oberon at last feels pity for the way he has treated Titania and the other characters. He informs Puck to finish undoing his mischief and to allow the characters to depart the forest.

These lines verify the sharp division between the play’s urban and forest settings. Whereas the forest is seen as the place of fantasy and magic, the city promises a return to normalcy. Oberon’s use of the word “repair” stresses how the character's return to Athens will restore order to the broken relations and return to normal any behaviors made strange by the forest. His strict delineation between the two spaces casts the events that have transpired in the forest as whimsical and temporary—and to have little relevance to the rest of the characters’ lives.

Oberon also addresses the importance of dreams in this play. Hoping the other characters will think of the events in the forest as only “the fierce vexation of a dream” means that they will consider them to have been a psychologically real experience but one that has no pragmatic effect on their lives. He thus aligns the forest environment with nighttime and dreams, whereas Athens is associated with daytime and “reality.” These associations further emphasize that the romantic complications that have taken place in the forest are to be taken as illusory, for they should be seen as temporary and unreal.

And yet, as becomes clear just a few lines later, the wild, magical, "unreal" events of the forest have actually untangled the romantic mess of the four lovers in a way that the law of Theseus and Athens never could. 

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Hermia Character Timeline in A Midsummer Night's Dream

The timeline below shows where the character Hermia appears in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 1
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
An angry Athenian nobleman Egeus, enters, with his daughter Hermia and her two suitors Lysander and Demetrius. Egeus explains to Theseus that he wants his... (full context)
Men and Women Theme Icon
Theseus speaks to Hermia, advising her to obey her father, and adding that Demetrius is a worthy man. When... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Hermia wishes her father could look at Lysander through her eyes, but Theseus responds, "Rather your... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Hermia asks what will happen if she refuses to marry Demetrius. Theseus gives the following choices:... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Demetrius asks Hermia to relent and marry him. But Lysander snaps that since Demetrius has Egeus's love, he... (full context)
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...and wealthy as Demetrius. He adds that Demetrius is an inconstant lover: before he met Hermia, Demetrius wooed and won the heart of a woman named Helena. (full context)
Men and Women Theme Icon
...disturbed by these facts, but says he cannot change the laws of Athens. He advises Hermia to obey her father, and tells Egeus and Demetrius to come with him, so he... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Now alone, Lysander and Hermia discuss the troubles lovers of history have had to face, from war and sickness to... (full context)
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Just then, Hermia's childhood friend and Demetrius's former love, Helena, enters. She wishes she had Hermia's beauty so... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...base and vile" to "form and dignity." She notes that she is as beautiful as Hermia, but that Demetrius can't see it. And she adds that love is like an inconstant... (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Lysander and Hermia enter. They've gotten lost, and decide to spend the night where they are. Lysander wants... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Once Hermia and Lysander fall asleep, Puck enters, complaining that he's searched the forest and hasn't found... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
...He curses Demetrius for mistreating her, and regrets all "the tedious minutes" he spent with Hermia now that he loves Helena. Helena thinks Lysander is mocking her. She exits. Lysander tells... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Hermia suddenly wakes from a nightmare in which a serpent was eating her heart while Lysander... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...the Athenian youth and Puck says he used the potion as Oberon asked, Demetrius and Hermia enter, fighting. Hermia suspects Demetrius has harmed Lysander because she doesn't believe he would abandon... (full context)
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Men and Women Theme Icon
...fight and argue over Helena, and each tries to get the other to settle for Hermia. (full context)
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Men and Women Theme Icon
As Demetrius and Lysander argue, Hermia enters. She demands to know why Lysander abandoned her. Lysander tells her it was love... (full context)
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Hermia can't understand why Helena would accuse her of such a thing. She demands Lysander tell... (full context)
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...women alone and go into the woods to duel for Helena's love. Helena, frightened of Hermia, turns and runs. Hermia follows in hot pursuit. (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
Love Theme Icon
Plays Within Plays Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
...at Theseus's castle in honor of Duke Theseus's wedding and the weddings of Lysander and Hermia and Demetrius and Helena. (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
The Supernatural Theme Icon
...peacefully in the same glade. Lysander isn't sure, but explains his plan to elope with Hermia. Egeus wants Lysander and Hermia punished, but Demetrius says that although he followed Hermia into... (full context)