The play where this speech comes from, A Mdisummer Night’s Dream, is a very popular comedy. Two lovers Lysander and Hermia wish to be married, but Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius, who was formerly engaged to Helena, who still loves him.
It’s a classic love square, with another comedic plot involving a lover’s quarrel between Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies, and a group of actors who are going to put up a show in front of King Theseus.With the meddling Puck, under Oberon’s orders, things get out of hand. One of the actors develops a donkey head. Titania is hit with a spell and falls in love with him. The four lovers, hiding in the forest, are also enchanted.
Lysander and Demetrius fall in love with Helena, leaving Hermia confused and heart-broken. In the end, though, the spells are lifted, Lysander and Hermia are married. Demetrius and Helena end up together, and the group of poor actors get recognized in the court of King Theseus.
Helena says these lines after Hermia and Lysander confide in her that they plan to elope into the forest. Helena muses how others can be so happy, while others dwell in misery.
How Happy Some Over Others Can Be
Act 1. Scene 1.
How happy some o’er other some can be!
Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so;
He will not know what all but he do know.
And as he errs, doting on Hermia’s eyes,
So I, admiring of his qualities.
Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity:
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgment taste;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste.
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.
As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjured everywhere:
For ere Demetrius looked on Hermia’s eyne
He hailed down oaths that he was only mine.
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolved, and showers of oaths did melt.
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.
For those who want to read modernized texts side-by-side Shakespeare’s writings, you can look up the No Fear, Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In 2001, a film Get Over It featured a musical play on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here’s one hilarious video on Demetrius and Lysander fighting over Hermia (Shane West is hilarious).