Shakespeare’s Bridget Jones

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Despite being written hundreds of years ago, Shakespeare’s plays and the characters within these are still easy for many of us to identify with. To demonstrate this, I am going to look at Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Helena is a character who I think most girls can relate to due to the fact that because of her unrequited love for a man, she acts as though she is completely bonkers; something a lot of we girls do. Helena reminds me of Helen Fielding’s character Bridget Jones; a woman who likes a ‘bad boy’, but tries to make a relationship with him work despite him not treating her at all well.

In the play, Helena is a girl who likes a guy and has to watch while the aforementioned guy tries to hook up with her friend.

Hermia: that typical friend who is prettier than us, and who the guy we like decides he likes more than us. Annoyingly, this friend is also a lovely girl, so we are unable to hate her for this, and so instead must focus our emotional suffering on the object of our affection.

Demetrius: definitely a bad boy. He liked Helena once, and then casts her aside in order to pursue a relationship with her friend Hermia. Moreover, he does not care how Hermia feels about this, and continuously attempts to block her relationship with Lysander. Poor Helena is totally smitten, and because he liked her once, who can blame her for thinking there is a chance he’ll like her again? If she had any decent friends they’d be rallying around her with chocolates and alcohol, and telling her that she could do better.

Helena is the Bridget Jone’s Diary singleton. She deals with her trauma by effectively stalking Demetrius, perhaps thinking that she can annoy him into liking her again: it doesn’t work. Fortunately, Shakespeare is on hand with fairies, who intervene by giving Demetrius a love potion, allowing the play to resolve with Helena and Demetrius getting married.

Sadly, in the real world, we don’t have any fairies and so must forget about our Demetrius and find someone a little more consistent who does not chat up our friends. This is where I wonder if A Midsummer Night’s Dream really does have a happy ending; is Helena the lucky one, marrying a man under enchantment, or am I the lucky one as I feel safe assuming that a man who likes me is in his own mind? Bridget Jones left Daniel Cleaver when she realised he, like Demetrius, was not a good guy, and ends the novel in a happy relationship with Mark Darcy. Would I want fairies interfering in my love life, even if it did give me what I wanted, or thought I wanted?

We do not know if Helena and Demetrius will have a happy marriage; we are perhaps concerned that this marriage will be like that of Bertram and Helena of All’s Well that Ends Well, or Angelo and Mariana of Measure for Measure. In all three plays mentioned, it is the woman who we assume to be happy as she is married, despite the man she marries leaving a lot to be desired.

If I re-wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’d give Helena the line ‘Will you shog off’ (Nym in Henry V) and have her leave the stage with the confidence she lacks throughout the play.

Another worrying thought: in the Harry Potter series, Voldemort’s mother marries a man under enchantment. Clearly no good can come of marriages involving love potions.

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Liz Rogers is currently in the third year of her PhD in English at the University of Dundee, working towards a thesis entitled 'Drama as History in the works of William Shakespeare and his Contemporaries'. Other research interests include the origin of the history play, performance, and the issue of genre in the comedies and ‘problem’ plays. She completed her undergraduate degree in English at Dundee in 2009, and began her PhD later that year.

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