A Midsummer Night's Dream

by

William Shakespeare

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A Midsummer Night's Dream: Hyperbole 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Hyperbole
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations intended to emphasize a point... read full definition
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations... read full definition
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements... read full definition
Act 2, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Ugly as a Bear:

In Act 2, Scene 2, Helena and Demetrius are seen running through the forest. Demetrius is in pursuit of Hermia, and Helena is following him. However, he soon abandons her, and she uses a hyperbole to express the effect of his rejection. She exaggerates by saying that her sense of self is suffering because of Demetrius’s disinterest in her. Dejectedly, she decides not to follow him because she believes herself to be a hopeless cause. To herself, she says: 

No, no, I am as ugly as a bear, 
For beasts that meet me run away for fear. 
Therefore no marvel though Demetrius 
Do as a monster fly my presence thus.

Helena compares herself to a bear and a monster, exaggerating her brutality and ugliness in order to reckon with the fact that Demetrius keeps running away from her. It is important for the audience to understand how Helena sees herself, because as Lysander and Demetrius's feelings are magically transformed (a manipulation that leads them both to love her over Hermia) she finds it impossible to believe that they are not mocking her. In order to set up this later conflict, the audience is given access to Helena’s image of herself in this private moment. She does not feel lovable and therefore uses hyperbole to communicate the depth of her emotions: her pain and revulsion are channeled into her speech. Though she is not really a monster or a beast, the pain of her situation has led her to believe these things about herself.