Strange Magic: The Importance of Love and Gender in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare was a theatrical genius; bewitching audiences everywhere with his artful language.
Even his lightest plays have serious undertones to them. Each one depicts life as it once was, complete with the rules and expectations which were common at the time. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare reflects society’s views on love and gender, both in his own time and in ancient Athens.
The play opens with a conversation between Theseus and his fiancée, queen Hippolyta. Both of them are important mythological figures. According to Athenian legend, Theseus seized the Amazonian queen with the help of Heracles: "I wooed thee with my sword / And won thy love doing thee injuries" (I.i.18-19). Theseus had a history of violence towards women, having raped Perigouna in the past. Although Amazonian women are very strong and independent, Hippolyta seems perfectly content with settling down and marrying her abductor. Theseus is a typical “masculine” hero, winning his way in life through violence, brute force, and cunning. As the duke, it is his obligation to uphold the Athenian law. Unfortunately, its terms are incredibly sexist, as Egeus shows when he presents a complaint against his unruly daughter, Hermia.
Upset by her defiance toward him, Hermia 's overbearing father reminds her that he is the one who ultimately decides whom she will marry. Theseus supports his argument, saying: “Be advised, fair maid / To you your father shall be as a god: / One that composed your beauties; yea, and one / To whom you are but as a form in wax / By him imprinted; and within his power / To leave the figure, or disfigure it” (I.i.48-53). Hermia faces much m...
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...y. Once Demetrius shows up with Helena, the duke no longer objects to Lysander. It seems
that men were not questioned on motives whatsoever. If a man suddenly found another woman, it was
simply accepted. They were the leaders, after all. If a women attempted to control a situation, she was
seen as a vicious manipulator, indicating a double standard that is still present today.
Elizabethan culture placed strict rules on women. Some of these restrictions applied to their virginity,
loyalty, and motherhood. As Oberon brings Titania back to her senses, he ponders the influence of
virginity on love: “Dian’s bud o’er Cupid’s flower hath such force and blessed power” (IV.i.73).
Women were treated as possessions, and virginity made them much more valuable. Along with the
expectations of virginity before marriage, women were expected to be caring mothers.
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