The Women of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Essay
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William Shakespeare’s plays often pitted men against their women in order to move the action of his plays. Strong women, however, often seemed to move against each other, as well as moving against the their male relatives and the current or future mates. The women in Shakespeare’s plays were not afraid to compete for knowledge, power, men, or any or all of the three. Both Titania’s persistence and the competition between Hermia and Helena are evidence of how the so-called weaker sex is actually the controlling sex in Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It Hermia’s own series of choices that lead to the four lovers being present in the woods. Demetrius, Egeus, and Theseus might believe that they are in control of her future when they sequester themselves to converse, their control over her ends the moment that they leave. The contrast between Hermia and the men is evident, even in that scene; although she is willful, the older men are guided only by laws, Demetrius is arrogant and willing to see her put to death if he defies her, and Lysander is weak-willed.
Although his idea is that which is implemented as the resolution to Hermia’s problem, it is he who laments all of the difficulties that come with love, while Hermia is the one who points out that it is necessary to persevere (1.1.132–134). It is also Hermia’s willingness to pass her plan on to her former friend, Helena, that encourages Helena to develop a plan of her own, with Demetrius being none the wiser over being manipulated.
The women’s power may extend, at least somewhat, from loyalty. When Hermia and Helena were friends they had a strong union, sharing everything. Shakespeare describes them as unified, “Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion, Both warbling of one song, both in one key,” (3.2.205-206). Maturity, however, changes this relationship as sexual politics takes the place of their original loyalty. The bond between dissolves when a man, Demetrius, comes between them. Without this loyalty, the women lose much of their power. When Helena makes plans to manipulate Demetrius without concern over Hermia’s safety it is then that events put into play by Oberon’s machinations, overwhelm them.
Similarly, Oberon perceives Tatiana’s strength as coming from the loyalty to a woman, the Indian prince’s mother, who was a worshipper of hers. When she refuses to give Oberon the child to be his knight, Oberon plans to take the child by force. As with Demetrius, Egeus, and Theseus in the beginning, Oberon wishes to seize loyalty through force. Oberon’s decision has far-reaching and chaotic effects, just as Helena’s plan to force affection does. Interestingly, although love moves the action of the play it is manipulation that eventually brings the events to a close. Lysander’s plan to manipulate the law, Helena’s plan to manipulate Demetrius, and Oberon’s plan to manipulate Titania all succeed, while the original bonds of loyalty are lost in the chaos that takes place in Act 3.
Ultimately, this play shows that loyalty can shift; however, the individuals are stronger when they are loyal to someone than when they are not. Helena and Hermia, once so close are now completely at odds. Hermia has not only attacked Helena over her loss of Lysander, but she also mocks Helena’s desire to repair their relationship (3.2.317). Because of Oberon’s successful manipulation, Titania’s loyalty to the child is also severed. However, it is only after this destruction that new–or renewed–bonds of loyalty are forged.
The four lovers are successfully paired with their “correct” mate. Titania is no longer at odds with Oberon. The only thing that remains lost, however, is the loyalty between women. Having lost that bond, all three of the women, strong at the beginning of this play, find themselves under the control of their husbands. Love, loyalty, and feminine strength are apparently only part of a dream, which, as Shakespeare has demonstrated, is not always a pleasant dream.