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 more serious consequences than her father’s wrath, however. When Hermia states tha...
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...magic flower] in her eyes: / The next thing then she waking looks upon… / She shall pursue it with the soul of love” (II.i.178-182). This quote explains how the duo meddle with love. They cannot help but notice how unhappy a certain mortal named Helena is. She has been chasing Demetrius through the woods in despair: "Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex: / We cannot fight for love, as men may do; / We should be wooed and were not made to woo" (II.i.240-243). Her words voice a deep rooted difference between men and women in the Renaissance era. Men were thought to be adventurous, chivalrous and powerful, while women were expected to be subservient and gentle. Thankfully, women are now breaking free of their confinement, all these centuries later.
Despite himself, Oberon pities the human, and works with Puck to charm Demetrius in her favor. Puck ruins the plan,
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