In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare portrays the plays female characters in two different lights. While late 16th century English women were expected to become wives and mothers, A Midsummer Night’s Dream does not adhere to the set gender roles of the time. This can be seen through the character of Hermia who is a daring and strong willed female that transcends established norms. On the other, the character Helena represents desperate and submissive females, which were more commonplace than daring ones. William Shakespeare’s sovereign at the time, Elizabeth I, is given a positive critique by the playwright evident throughout the text.
Beginning the in the first act gender roles are defined by Thesues, Duke of Athens. As the play unravels it becomes evident that Hermia has no interest in wedding with her arraigned suitor, Demetrius. When Egeus complains to the Duke of Athens about his daughters reluctance to obey, the Duke responds:
What say you, Hermia? Be advised fair maid.
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. (1.1.46-51).
This excerpt shows that women lack power and are the possessions of their fathers. Hermia must obey her father and refrain from relishing out against him. In Hermia’s case she has far too much courage to obey her fathers orders. Hermia’s strength is shown yet again in act one she inquires into the consequences of not listening to her father. Theseus states, “either to die the death, or to abjure for ever the society of men” (1.1.65-66). Hermia must listen to these orders or suffer the consequences of death or permanent chastity. Despite these consequences, Hermia protests:
So I will grow, so live, so die, my lord
Ere I will yield my virgin patent up
Unto his lordship whose unwished yoke
My soul consents not to give sovereignty (1.1.79-82)....
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