Male Dominance And Female Oppression in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Male Dominance And Female Oppression in A Midsummer Night’s Dream The place of Women in society has changed drastically throughout time. Once thought of as possessions, (and in some less developed areas of the world still are) women now hold positions of high power in many parts of the world. Although woman have made great strides in equality, there is still even today a small sense that men are superior to woman in certain areas. In the past, it was believed that woman were completely inferior to men, to the point that woman had no power over men in any circumstance.
In William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we see Shakespeare’s opinion on male dominance over female subjects in many different aspects. With the interactions of Hippolyta and Theseus, Hermia and Egeus, and Helena and Demetrius, Shakespeare shows the interactions of men and women in multiple ways.
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In the past, it would be customary that when a man conquers a people, he would take one of their women as his own, as a sort of symbol of his victory. We see an example of this in the relation ship of Hippolyta and Theseus.
Theseus is depicted as your typical great, strong male leader. Extremely wise and powerful, he is looked up to by all of his subjects. After conquering a new people, probably an amazon tribe, he takes the beautiful Hippolyta, as his wife. Theseus himself claims to be in love with Hippolyta, and because of his large male ego, thinks Hippolyta must be in love with him because of his great power. “Hippolyta I wooed thee with my sword, And won thy love, doing thee injuries; But I will wed thee in another key, With pomp, with triumph, and with reveling. ” (I. i.16-19) What Theseus doesn’t realize is that Hippolyta is a oppressed captive, unhappily but respectively remaining silent in his presence. Theseus’s inability to realize that Hippolyta isn’t happy to be his wife shows the masculine superiority complex that has oppressed woman for years and years, unwilling to take second and think of the possibility that woman may not desire to be controlled by men. Of course, a lot of this comes from the era that Shakespeare was writing in an as Carmen Stephen says; ‘The plays of Shakespeare can be used as a window upon Renaissance society.
While Theseus is very controlling over Hippolyta, he does treat her well in the sense that he gives her a grand wedding and treats her well in light of the fact that she is in some ways a prisoner. Hippolyta does fulfill the role that woman are supposed to follow, in that she completely submits herself to Theseus’ authority. While she is doing this though, she still does respectively disagree with many of the decisions that Theseus makes throughout the play, showing that she is still a very strong woman even in her position of subordinance.
Next we see a new form of male dominance, that of a father over his daughter. Hermia is just your average young girl who has fallen head over heals in love with a boy. This boy, Lysander, has similar feelings to Hermia and they decide that want to get married. Unfortunately, her father Egeus does not approve of this boy. Egeus has already chosen a man named Demetrius whom he wants Hermia to marry. Egeus states that, “As she is mine, I may dispose of her: Which shall be either to this gentleman. Or to her death, according to our law, immediately provided in that case.
Egeus believes that since Hermia is his daughter, he owns her and can make all of her decisions, and if she does not do what he says he will have her put to death. “She is her father’s possession, “a form in wax” and “by him imprinted but within his power”, which means that she is neither allowed to develop her own interests nor to speak her mind. ” (Steppat) In Athenian society, this would be seen as completely normal, and it was actually decreed as official law that daughters must obey all of their father’s commands or face serious punishment.
Even in the face of this however, Hermia decides to speak her mind stating, “So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord, Ere I will my virgin patent up. Unto his lordship,whose unwished yoke, my soul consents not to give sovereignty. ” (I. i. 79-82) “This shows that Hermia is not willing to fulfil her role as the loving daughter who is shaped by her father and follows his orders regardless of their consequences. ” Without this decision, A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be a very short and boring play, as Hermia would marry Lysander, the plot wouldn’t be able to develop, and we would have no more drama to write interesting analysis on.
Although she has the courage to make this extremely drastic decision, she still shows some guilt in her actions, saying, “I do entreat your Grace to pardon me. I know not by what power I am made bold. ” (I. i. 58-61) This shows what effects the masculine dominance that society supports still has on a very strong woman for her time. Although she knows disobeying her father is what will truly make her happy, the pressures of society still leave her with a sense of guilt. Helena is a character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that doesn’t exactly help women’s case for equality.
She is the childhood friend of Hermia, and is also in love with the man that is in love with her friend, Demetrius. Helena is so desperate for Demetrius’ love, she will do anything in her power to get it. Unfortunately for her, Demetrius completely despises her, wanting nothing to do with her at all. Demetrius makes this clear when he tells Helena, “Do I entice you? do I speak you fair? Or, rather, do I not in plainest truth , tell you, I do not nor I cannot love you? ” (II. i. 199-201) Here Demetrius is still remaining calm, but clearly sending her the message that he cannot and will not love her.
Despite this, she continues to implore him, saying, “And even for that do I love you the more. I am your spaniel; and; Demetrius, The more you beat me, I will fawn on you. ” (II. i. 202-204) This shows Helena’s inability to let go, and “how much Helena is ready to submit herself to [Demetrius] and his subordination. ” (Steppat) The male dominance over woman has taken what little self confidence and pride Helena may have had, and belittled her so much in her own head that she thinks it okay to allow Demetrius to “use her as he uses his dog. ” (II. i.
After a few more exchanges Demetrius gets fed up and tells Helena that she should not “trust the opportunity of night and the ill counsel of a desert place with the rich worth of your virginity. ” (II. I. 217-219) This shows how little Demetrius thinks of Helena, saying all of her worth is in her virginity, and that he could easily take if from her if he chose to. This threat is a very serious one, but because of how blinded Helena is by love, and the fact that she has no pride left in her, she shrugs it of saying, “for you in my respect are all the world: Then how can it be said I am alone, when all the world is here to look on me?
Helena has basically made Demetrius the center of her universe, and is completely willing to submit to anything he says to her. Throughout this entire interaction, Helena completely fulfills the role that woman are expected to follow, “subordinating themselves completely to male subordination. ” (Steppat) As we have seen, women have been mistreated by men for ages, and the women of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are no exception.
Through a captured queen, a downtrodden daughter, and a lost lover, we see that women have always tried to create their own path, but some have continued to allow men to walk all over them. Shakespeare makes the case that subjection and insecurity may be adding to the problem women may not be able to solve. Bibliography Steppat, Michael, Dr. “Feminine Identities in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. ” English-literature. uni. N. p. , n. d. Web. 24 Oct. 2013. Lopez, Vicente F. , Dr. “First Paper. ” First Paper. Universitat De Valencia Press, 2006-2007. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.