Throughout A Midsummer Night’s Dream, gender stereotypes prevail as a main source of comedy. As the audience, we notice this common theme between character relationships in certain scenes and events that occur within the play and the many film adaptations. It ultimately provides this idea of men having more control and greater power over women. More specifically, the relationship between Helena and Demetrius. In his writing, Shakespeare depicts some women to be submissive and dependent on the men in their surroundings, and this can be especially seen within Helena’s character. Through Helena’s desperation and willingness to humiliate herself for Demetrius, she encapsulates one role women are expected to play.
Looking at Demetrius and Helena’s relationship in Act 2 scene 1, Shakespeare illustrates a perfect example of how gender stereotypes are meant to be used as a source of comedy. In this scene, it is evident that Demetrius does not want anything to do with Helena in which he says, “I love thee not; therefore pursue me not” (2.1.195). However, instead of hearing this, Helena is depicted to have very little understanding of this and continues to follow him around. As the scene progresses, it becomes evident that she has very little self-confidence and that she would do anything for Demetrius. Helena then begins to compare herself to a dog and even claims, “Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave/(Unworthy as I am) to follow you” (2.1.213-214). This mentality provided by Helena, embodies a great sense of little respect and humiliation. Shakspeare uses this scene as a form of comedy to emphasize how little pride she has left and her willingness to obtain the slightest bit of attention from him.
In Michael Hoffman’s 1999 film adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the same scene between Helena and Demetrius is depicted in screen images to further the point of gender portrayal in Shakespeare’s writing. This scene begins with Helena behind Demetrius as they have stopped in the forest (0:33:54). Then as the scene progresses, Hoffman creates a comedic scene out of Helena’s foolishness. One example is when Helena honks the bike horn of Demetrius’ bike and begins to giggle while Demetrius tries to fix his bike. This scene depicts Helena to act in a child-like manner as well as having Demetrius speak to her like a child (0:34:07). To emphasize this childish manner, Hoffman zooms in to Oberon’s face as he watches over them. This so-called “reaction shot” of Oberon’s face in confusion allows the viewers to see another reaction to Helena’s behavior.
Another moment in this scene shown in Hoffman’s film used character placement and movement to further the element of gender dominance. Following Oberon’s reaction shot, Hoffman returns back to Helena and Demetrius. As their conversation continues, the shot focusses on Helena as she says, “I am your spaniel, and, Demetrius. The more you beat me I will fawn on you. Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave (Unworthy as I am) to follow you” (0.34.28-45). In this scene, the shot is in full view of her face. The use of the camera allows the audience to see what the director wants us to see. In this case, we watch as Helena begs Demetrius to treat her like a dog as she positions herself in a lower position than when she had started speaking. This movement made by Helena emphasizes her vulnerability to Demetrius. Following those lines, there is another “reaction shot” of Oberon in which he presents a look of pity for her. This reaction emphasizes how the audience should feel sympathetic for Helena as she makes a fool out of herself to gain attention. Directly after, the camera shows Demetrius walking away as Helena chases after him (0:34:53). This choice to show Demetrius walking away with Helena blurred in the shot, highlights the male dominance in the relationship in which he leaves her there to be fully dependent on him as she chases after him.
In conclusion, the 1999 Hoffman film fully emphasizes this role of gender dominance in addition to the play itself. Within Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the readers can take apart the textual evidence to see how gender plays a role in relationships, such as Helena and Demetrius’. This idea of having certain women play a role in which they submit themselves to the male roles, proves how little power women have and how they are seen to be fully dependent on men. This theme is undoubtedly recognized in the Hoffman film as well. As the viewers take a closer look at the director’s choices in the film, we recognize these same themes through the many elements of a shot. For example, movement, character placement, and staging position. To conclude, both the film and play accentuate, not only male dominance, but also Helena’s character as a woman and the measures she would take in order to subject herself to Demetrius.