The Masculine and Feminine in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Since time immemorial, men and women struggle against each other because of the issue on power, control and domination. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream similarly depicts men and women who are at odds due to their differing beliefs and values.
Through the characters of Theseus, Hippolyta, Oberon, Titania, Egeus, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena, Shakespeare represents that the feminine is struggling against the authority and domination of the masculine and the masculine is maintaining its authority and domination over the feminine. This essay attempts to explain how Shakespeare accomplishes to characterize the feminine and the masculine through the men and women in the play.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream illustrates that women attempt to go against male domination in the story but they are almost always controlled by men. Examples of feminine disobedience to the patriarchal rule are demonstrated by Hermia, Titania, Helena and Hippolyta.
At the start of the story, Hermia does not follow his father Egeus’ decision for her to marry Demetrius. Instead, she chooses Lysander because she loves him. She resists his father’s right to decide whom to choose for her future husband. She would rather choose to live as a nun or to even die for breaking the Athenian law than to be married to Demetrius. When she was brought by her father into the presence of Theseus, she speaks these words:
So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,/ Ere I will yield my virgin patent up/ Unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke/ My soul consents not to give sovereignty. (I.i. 79-82)
These words reveal the beliefs of the feminine that they would rather choose other options like being a nun or being sentenced to death than to suffer being with a man they do not love. It also expresses the belief that the woman alone has the right to decide whom to allow dominion over her.
Similarly, Titania queen of the Faeries does not yield to her husband’s wish to make a “changeling boy” who was given to her by an Indian King to be his page. Titania stands by what she wants and she resolves that she will take care of the boy especially that the boy’s mother who is already was her loyal follower.
So she tells her husband Oberon, “And for her sake I rear up the boy, / And for her sake I will not part with him” (II.i. 136-137) and she defies the masculine authority of Oberon. Titania’s decision and actions relate that even if a woman is married to a man, it does not mean the wife will submit to everything the husband wants.
On the other hand, Helena complains on the limitations of women, “We cannot fight for love, as men may do; / We should be woo’d and were not made to woo./ I’ll follow thee and make a heaven of hell,/ To die upon the hand I love so well” (II.i. 241-244).
She resists moral conventions that only men can pursue after the women. She follows Demetrius even if he drives him away from him. She bluntly tells Demetrius: The more you beat me, I will fawn on you./ Use me but as your piel, spurn me, strike me,/ Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave/, Unworthy as I am, to follow you. (II.i. 204-207).
Helena and her actions exemplify women who are liberated and who wants to be equal with men in terms of expressing their feelings to the one they love.
Lastly, Hippolyta is a symbol of a woman who fought against male aggression but was conquered. In Act I Scene 1 of the play, Theseus, Duke of Athens, mentions about winning over Hippolyta’s love with his “sword” and by inflicting her with “injuries” which could mean that Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons has been defiant against the masculine authority of Theseus before he became triumphant.
And even though she is already betrothed to Theseus and does not say anything more about the wedding, it is uncertain if she heartily agrees to it. Despite of this, Hippolyta is an example of a woman who is courageous to fight. Unfortunately, she is also an example of the feminine that is usually defeated by the masculine. Her fate is also what happens to Titania.