Treatment of Women in a Midsummer Night’s Dream
The general treatment of women in ancient times such as the Elizabethan and the Ancient Greek era varied in great degrees from the treatment of women in the contemporary twenty-first century. In more ancient eras, women were generally viewed as men’s property and not as individual human beings. Women were not even allowed to choose their spouse. It was common that this type of arrangement was made by their family, and the determining factors were usually age, social status and wealth. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Hermia jeopardizes the future of her entire family with the refusal of marriage to Demetrius and also goes drastically against the ruling society of her time. It was unthinkable for a woman to make such a choice by herself, especially for such a trivial reason as love. Yet Queen Elizabeth’s refusal to marriage lead to the “acceptance” of certain things; thus in the end, Hermia becomes married to the man of her choice instead of the man her family chose). In Act I, Scene I Theseus tells Hermia to treat her father as a God:
“Scornful Lysander, true, he hath my love,
And what is mine my love shall render him; And she is mine, and all my right of her I do estate unto Demetrius” (Shakespeare, 4). In this paragraph Egeus expresses a sense of ownership towards his daughter, which is an accurate portrayal of the general attitude towards females during that time period. In the play Theseus gives Hermia three options. She can die, go into a nunnery, or she can marry Demetrius. This scene represents the basic treatment of women up until this era. Women were not given a variety of choices, since no sane human being would choose death, women were given two choices: They either had to become a nun or spend the remainder of their life with a man that had been chosen for them. Even if this meant an abusive relationship that could continue on for decades. “Lysander: The course of true love never did run smooth” (Shakespeare, 5). This line is perhaps the most famous line in the entire play and is backed up by the relationships in this piece of literature. Starting with Theseus and Hippolyta we are shown the principle of love never going just quite how one plans it. Theseus wins Hippolyta in a glorious battle, yet she is repelled by the idea of marriage to someone she has no choice over. After finding out about this, Theseus decides to host a party in the hopes of wooing her. During a conversation with Hippolyta, he tries to charm her, yet he does not achieve the desired effect, because Egeus interrupts him with his insubordinate daughter Hermia. Hermia refused to wed with Demetrius, her father’s choice, due to the fact that she is in love with Lysander. Lysander and Hermia plan to elope, and reveal this plan to Helena. After their departure, she devises a plot to seduce Demetrius. Helena plans to inform Demetrius of “fair Hermia’s flight” (Shakespeare, 8), which she hopes will result in Demetrius being appreciative and paying more attention to her. The entangled plot unfolds the following night when the two lovers escape into the woods and Demetrius followed by Helena chase after them. In this scene Shakespeare gives the reader insight in the love relationships of the play. Oberon takes pity on Helena because he observes Demetrius denying her. He instructs Puck to find the flower which was shot by Cupid’s arrow and put the flower’s juice on Demetrius’ sleeping eyes, so that after his awakening he shall fall in love with the first thing he sets his eyes on. However, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, which causes Lysander to fall in love with Helena. This upsets Helena because she thinks that he is playing a prank on her. Once Puck realizes his error he applies the juice to Demetrius’ eyes, thereby causing both of them to fall in love with Helena and upset her even further. In the end puck applies the...
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