The Malleability of Gender Roles in A Midsummer Night's Dream
Gender roles and relationships have been among the most commonly explored themes in literature for several centuries. William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of the earlier examples of this, exploring the malleable nature of these roles and relationships. The play starts in ancient Athens which represents a perfect example of a patriarchal society. However, shortly afterwards, the action is moved to the forest where fairies and magic begin to interfere in the traditional order of Athenian society. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the attempts of men to control women drive the action of the play and gender roles and relationships are changed as magic becomes involved. Furthermore, the dreamlike feeling of the main action of the play is enhanced by a lack of permanent change in the status quo.
When the story begins in Athens, the state of gender relations within the society is made very clear in the conversations between the characters and the specific language directed toward female characters. An example of this is present when Theseus asks Hermia to explain the situation between her, Demetrius, and Lysander. Prior to allowing her to speak, he warns her, "To you your father should 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." (1.1.46-50) By likening Egeus's authority over Hermia to that of a God, it is established that Hermia has no rights outside of those given to her by her father's authority. In addition to this, the analogy describing Hermia as a wax statue further extrapolates the sub-human recognition that women are given in this society. Hermia, on the other hand, refuses to submit to her father's will, claiming that she would sooner become a nun than sleep with a man whom she doesn't love. This departure from the cultural norm serves as a catalyst...
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