Re-reading Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(1) Why does Helena rat Hermia out? Her competition for Demetrius is leaving Athens to get married! Let her go! But no:

I will go tell him of fair Hermia’s flight:
Then to the wood will he, tomorrow night,
Pursue her; and for this intelligence
If I have thanks, it is a dear expense.
But herein mean I to enrich my pain,
To have his sight thither and back again.

The “dear expense” is an ironic compensation. She’s betraying her friend to him for nothing but the bit of grudging attention she will receive. But it puts her in an even worse position than before.

I guess she’s one of those women, happy to be Demetrius’s dog.

I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you.
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love —
And yet a place of high respect with me —
Than to be used as you use your dog?

Argh! They’ve always been with us.

(2) It’s often been remarked how the diminishment of one sense enhances another. Hermia expands on this when she follows the sound of Lysander’s voice in the dark:

Dark night, that from the eye his function takes,
The more quick of apprehension makes;
Wherein it doth impair the seeing sense,
It pays the hearing double recompense.

But is this true? Do we hear better at night? I think the science is still shaky, but it’s interesting that as folk wisdom the idea has such a long history.

(3) Near the end of Theseus’s “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet” speech he offers this up:

Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy

This strikes me as one of those profound human truths Shakespeare is always tossing out, but I wonder why it’s expressed in such clunky lines. They’re hard enough to read much less speak aloud. Was that intentional?

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