Literary Analysis – Ovid & Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, a 17th century poet, recreated “Phoebus and Daphne” by Ovid into his own story by changing a few details. Some of the details Shakespeare modified include gender role reversal, changing metaphors, and the manner of pursuit of love.

The first way Shakespeare transformed “Phoebus and Daphne” was changing the gender roles in his story. Instead of the story being male chasing female (Phoebus changing Daphne), the roles are swapped and it becomes female chasing male (Helena chases Demetrius). “But the young god… urged on by Amor… full speed.” (Ovid, Paragraph 6) shows that Phoebus is chasing after Daphne in “Phoebus and Daphne”. “I love thee not; therefore pursue me not.” (Shakespeare, 195) shows that Helena is following Demetrius and does not wish to be with Helena.

The second transformation is the change of metaphors in A Midsummer Night’s Dream from “Phoebus and Daphne”. Shakespeare changed the metaphors by switching the roles/positions of prey versus predator- vice versa. From “This is the way a sheep runs from the wolf, a deer from the mountain lion, and a dove with fluttering wings flies from the eagle…” (Ovid, Paragraph 5) to “Apollo flies and Daphne hold the chase; The dove pursues the griffin; the mild hind Makes speed to catch the tiger. Bootless speed when cowardice pursues and valor flies!” (Shakespeare, 238-241).

The third transformation is the manner of pursuit in love. Shakespeare changed the reason why the follower is pursing the person fleeing. In “Phoebus and Daphne”, Phoebus chases Daphne because Cupid hit him with a love arrow and Daphne was hit with an arrow of lead (apathy arrow); “He spoke… marrow of his bones.” (Ovid, Paragraph 2). The nature of that chase is an unnatural chase caused by a third party (Cupid). In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the nature of the chase is more of a pet-like relationship. Helena wants to be with Demetrius simply because he makes her happy and joyful even if she gets abused like a dog would. “I am your spaniel, and, Demetrius, The more you beat me I will fawn on you.” (Shakespeare, 210-211). Even so, Demetrius continues to flee from Helena because he likes Hermia. In “Phoebus and Daphne”, Daphne didn’t like anyone else; she only wished to be with nature and “…be a virgin forever!” (Ovid, Paragraph 3).

In conclusion, Shakespeare shaped “Phoebus and Daphne” into a different story by switching the role of genders, changing metaphors, and changing the way love was being pursued.


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