There is and continues to be many issues in relation to gender and power in Shakespeare’s dramas a discussed by many critics. Such issues which is highlighted throughout this essay is the conflicts that occur between the opposite sexes throughout both plays. In Shakespeare’s plays it should be noted that gender identity is usually portrayed by the male character which in return means that women are seen as archetypal. As part of this answer it will be discussed how Shakespeare tends to portray his female characters and how in that previous society how gender was commodified in both plays “A Midsummer Nights Dream” and “Twelfth Night”.
In any relationship of any sort one person always comes across as more dominant than the other making them control all the power. Also, in this essay to be discussed is the different varieties of power that we can see in both plays, some off which includes male and female power domination, power of love and the love of power and lastly the power of magic.
It is through three individual women, Hippolyta, Helena and Hermia that we can see that female gender be defied by societies treatment of women back in this particular time period. Despite the limitations and laws that their society has imposed on them they find themselves going against such unwanted behaviour to assert societies behaviour. Some would argue that the way that Shakespeare has wrote and displayed his plays to us is his way of showing us how he feels women in this time frame should be treated just as equally as the male specie.
But we don’t know this for sure as Shakespeare comes from an era the Elizabethan time which would mean that it is difficult to distinguish his mindset on feminism and the issues associated with it. For example, in A Midsummer Nights Dream one way in which women should be allowed to have their opinions and the rights to these to be recognized by men is to have the characters in this play engage in some sort of power struggle or a reversal of roles. This can be first seen in the play by Egeus/ Theseus and Hermia. We are introduced to Hermia in the first act when she refuses to let Egeus maker her marry Lysander rather than her wish to marry Demetrius. Some people like Egeus would say that Hermia has a stubborn harshness mindset about herself just for the sole fact that she refuses to marry Demetrius. She goes and ignores the ancient traditions of where the father has the power to choose who his daughter is to marry with no say of hers being involved. Fast forward Hermia takes a stand and runs away with Lysander ensuring that she is control of her own rights to freedom which in this case means that her father does not control who she is so settle with.
Over countless centuries centuries women have been oppressed which has resulted in them being treated as if they are second class citizens. In recent years women have found a way to change this so that they can be given rights and have been recognized as an equal to the opposite gender. The male characters in A Midsummer Night’s dream tend to be very dominating and very selfless when it comes to a woman’s opinion. Take Theseus for a prime example. He has himself convinced that Hippolyta loves him just as much as she loves her. “Four days will quickly become immersed in night; four nights will quickly dream away the time to think about the marriage. Hippolyta is his prized possession that he is in control off due to the battle he has won. Hippolyta was a queen a ruler of her own life and in a blink of an eye has everything taken away from her and has no say of her own power, her meaning to life is worthless for many years to come. Even though she did have her own power it has all been taken away and she is now someone’s ‘possession’. The possession of a man that can do what her likes to her and when he likes.
In a Midsummer Night’s Dream, we know that there are two different types of power, male domination power and the power of magic. Magic if it were real could be very powerful and useful along with being many other things and if put into the correct hands it can be a wonderful tool. In this particular play it is real but the problem is that when it put into the wrong hands some of the more dangerous characters find it very easy to abuse the real meaning of magic. A main culprit of a character abusing his magical power is Oberon. His actions line out the main plot for this play and it is clear that it impacts it immensely. The meaning of this is that the ways of his actions have a way of affecting not only his life but the lives of the others around him. Magic being an ultimate supernatural power is known to be unpredictable taking some characters by surprise including the person in charge of producing the power. Power being the main plot of the play can go one of two ways, it can make a problem disappear but just as quick it can create a drastic problem.
Similar to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night presents us with three main female characters that play a crucial role in creating the plot of this play, these characters being Olivia, Viola and Maria. These three females have a higher status then Shakespeare’s typical characters as they all come from the same social class. The only difference with these two plays is that the male characters don’t come across at dominant as suppose too other plays presented to us by Shakespeare. When first introduced to Olivia we learn the passing of her brother ‘A brothers dead love’ and previous to this her father has passed away and because of this we learn that she is in complete control of her own life and whom she vows to marry. She shows a power that in this particular time period did not seem to be spoken off. She shows us that she too has a power of rebellion which is evident when she states that she would rather marry a man of a lower social class to somewhat prove to others that she does not need a man to control her in order for her to show her survival.
Gender roles and gender relations appear throughout Twelfth Night. Gender identity plays a crucial role within the character of Viola. This is proven to us when Viola disguises herself of the opposite sex and under the new name of Cesario. The reason for her cross dressing of another character was because in the Elizabethan time period as a woman on her own with no father or brother would be impossible for her to find a job her order for her to able to survive. The idea of gender relations in Shakespeare’s play is presented to us through his characters within his plot of his play. Viola being a female had given us the perception that if she wanted to make something of her life, she had to have a new male identity. Taking on this new identity of Cesario just goes to show how men and women were treated very differently in relation to the working environment. The men were the bread winners and the women had been given the role to be slaves for their husbands. Men were entitled to all the freedom they wanted which meant any job or woman they wanted had their name on it.
The gender roles are complicated in Twelfth Night which can be seen through the relationship that is developing between Olivia and Viola whom we all know by now is disguised as the male character of Cesario. Her being given the task to play the role of two characters means that her identity is sometimes ‘double-gendered and the romantic confusion and frustration that appears with this as the female she is had led for her to develop feelings for Orsino. At the same time as being a male, she continues to show a lot of respect for the friendship that has being created with Olivia but unfortunately for her has meant that Olivia sees Cesario to be her admirer, the person she wants to marry. With all this in mind it has become evident that Cesario is Orsino’s opposite to Olivia’s eyes. By making the male suitor play a more feminine role has meant that Shakespeare has allowed the woman to become the more dominant character in the relationship. The fact that Olivia’s particular movements in the courting of Cesario would traditionally have subverted the typical gender framework if Cesario was actually a make but because he is not has meant that Olivia’s assertiveness has become less provocative and more comic as her characters learns to develop as the play progresses.
In the Elizabethan era, even the slight thought of women like Viola, Olivia and Maria having any sort of power would be considered ridiculous and frowned upon. Women at this time had no voce to discuss their own matters and therefore were thought to be still considered to be lower class citizens. Orsino gives a speech to Cesario convincing him that women don’t feel the same love that men do, ‘no woman’s heart so big’. In act two he felt as if women had no emotions for expression unlike like the male population. This shows one-way women were treated as lower class citizens with little level of humanity allowed to be shown. Duke Orsino was contradicted by Cesario, a woman in disguise when she said that women do in fact feel every emotion that a man was able to feel when it came to love and as a result of this it meant that it has shown a power in Shakespearean comedy which is in contrast the Elizabethan era.
A Midsummer Nights Dream features several female characters but as previously discussed they don’t portray the same level of equality as that of the other sex. This play shows many examples of women not being equal to men. Women were only to be the property of men. And because of this woman in this society were restricted to their own rights which would backfire on the males because the two main couples of this particular play has led to them having misadventures in the fairy forest. From the start women are placed in a lower class and problems escalate for both Hermia and Helena were there role is to be faithful to a man’s order. A woman is like Hippolyta, a Queen is considered property when a man speaks in a disrespectful tone about her. ‘I wooed thee with my sword’, by him saying that he ‘captured’ her makes her come across as property. Men in this play have no idea how to go about and treat a woman. Helena is not offered the same consideration as she once was given by Demetrius as he is not in love with her anymore. When Demetrius gives up on his love for, she acts all love sick and head over heels for him without actually considering her well-being making her look like a fool to be actually considered as a lower -class lady who can’t live without a man’s attention and has no morals.
Therefore, to conclude this essay, Shakespeare’s play ‘Twelfth Night’ has shown us two women holding their power within a realm. He shows that power might not be in the correct hands and that Olivia whom had no real visible power and vice versa for Viola meant that power isn’t always deemed to be where you’d originally where you’d think it is to be at first. At the end of this play and shown in this essay we can see the movement of power through the different social classes and sexes, which is how it is in today’s world