In Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has many comedic moments and the acting is quite humorous. There is also plenty of chaos ( love and hate relationship) between lovers that is resolved by the end, resulting in marriage. However, as a reader, I find that whole idea about women is not so humorous when you look at a plot closely. Throughout the play, women are constantly involved in severe mental suffering due to complex of love with male characters. Furthermore, women are subjected to harsh treatment of men which ending in their death. Though A Midsummer Night’s Dream appears to be a romantic love comedy. But the truth behind the comedy is Shakespeare is actually making fun of women’s right in a male dominated society.
I am from South Korea which is a nation known to be male dominated society. As a korean woman, we taught to be respect men as they are head of household. However, I see a different perspective of wrongly understood women in Shakespeare’s play such as he uses women as an object for physical or emotional satisfaction of male’s ego. Author Muhammad Ayub Jajja concludes that Shakespeare’s comedies “reinforce the patriarchy and all the major patriarchal ideas and ideals” (118). However, he stated “It presents men as strong, decisive, rational, capable and competent beings” (113) which seems contradicting himself by overlooking Shakespeare’s feminist perspective.
In the very first scene, Theseus and Hippolyta are talking about their future wedding ceremony. In regards to the theme of Shakespeare’s play, the male dominated society rule, it was perfect in regards to choice of character in the play. In the myth, when Hippolyta refuses marry Theseus, he kidnaps her from the Amazons and forcing her to marry him and then abandons her with all other his women. In response to her abandonment, Hippolyta returns with her troops to Amazon and storms the wedding of Theseus and Phaedra to revenge him but her and her army defeated greatly by Theseus. In regards to Theseus dealings with Hippolyta’s disobedient, represents the torment that men put women through, as Louis Adrian Montrose, in his article “‘Shaping Fantasies,” explains that, “Theseus habitual victimization of women, the chronicle of his rapes and disastrous marriages, is a discourse of anxious misogyny which persists as an echo within Shakespeare’s text” (75). He recognized Theseus himself as a total asshole who has no hesitation in use of force to gain love from women and even harming Hippolyta physically. This gives audience a big messages through Shakespeare’s play is about men ruling authority over women is suffer greatly resulting tragic end for women, under the patriarchal rule men.
The story continues with horrendous treatment of women. Shakespeare represent opening scene with a mythological character, Egeus, father of Hermia. He wants her to marry a guy who he think perfect for her regardless of her opinion. But Hermia disagrees her father because she believes Demetrius is the one for her to marry with. The father, Egeus becomes so furious over her disagreement, he irrationally react only to preserve his dominance over his daughter even if that means threatening of her well being. In her article, “Law of the Father,” Stephanie Chamberlain supports Egeus’ lack of concern for his daughter, writing that, “What apparently motivates Egeus to disregard a daughter’s wishes is neither concern for her happiness nor her future economic or social well-being; it is rather the ‘ancient privilege of Athens,’ the law of the father that forces this confrontation before the court of the Duke” (34). In this scene Shakespeare is not only mocking the irrational behavior of Egeus, but also taking a women as they can be harmed by the laws of a patriarchal system of extreme parenting.
The Shakespeare’s play turns from comedy to serious matter when the father, Egeus decided to use dominance over his daughter even though it means harming her. This can compare 17th century parenting style from Stephanie Chamberlain which she describes the “extraordinary measures” one father took to bring a disobedient daughter under control:
Coke purportedly broke into a kinsman’s house where his daughter Frances was hiding with her mother, Lady Elizabeth Hatton. Frances was subsequently imprisoned where she was verbally and physically assaulted until she agreed to marry the suitor Coke had selected for her. Coke’s abuse, while no doubt extreme, does illustrate the measure at least one early modern parent undertook to force obedience to patriarchal authority. (33)
Although Egeus has a different approach than Sir Edward Coke to his daughter, Shakespeare still has Egeus act just as irrationally to maintain his authority over Hermia, going as far as threatening death if she does not comply. Even though extreme parenting means to show their love for children however, it is a bit crossing the line in regards to father’s selfishness and considering his opinion comes first before his daughter’s wellbeing. Both Egeus and Coke’s extreme parenting act demonstrate how absurd men can be in their treatment of women, especially when it comes to their own authority. Shakespeare’s play shows great deal of men ruling over women and yet it is humorous as if it is mocking this serious matter.
It even shows in the play among fairies when conflict begins between Oberon and Titania. TItania challenges Oberon’s authority to claim a changeling boy. Shakespeare writes:
“A lovely boy, stolen from an Indian king;
She never had so sweet a changeling;
And jealous Oberon would have the child
Knight of his train, to trace the forests wild;
But she perforce withholds the loved boy,
Crowns him with flowers and makes him all her joy”
Oberon telling her that the boy is his because he is not “thy Lord?” (Shakespeare 2.1. 63). In response, Titania argue that the boy was born to a friend who died at childbirth, so it is her responsibility to raise the boy(Shakespeare 2.1. 128-137). In the result, Oberon gets agitated by her disobedience(Shakespeare 2.1. 147). While Shakespeare has switched from the natural to supernatural world, the rule of patriarchy remains. The result is the same as before-while Oberon mirroring Egeus, Shakespeare once again shows suffering women under the rule of a patriarchal man.
There are countless scenes where women falling in love with the ignorant men has to pay the price. Though, Shakespeare continues to represent women weaker than men emotionally and physically which in reality, it is not all true. It is humorous play when you look at how love can lead human’s life miserable but it is not so humorous in regards of idea in superior men authority ruling society perspective. Comedian George Carlin once said, “Here’s all you have to know about men and women: women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid.” Shakespeare would agree and yet Shakespeare’s play seems constant mistreatment of women throughout. It is tragic that parallel the hardships suffered by Helena and Hermia while Shakespeare remains to reinforce patriarchy and mocking men’s authority. In my opinion, it remains disgusting taste in my tongue at the end of play. We should acknowledge women’s suffering is tragic history and yet Shakespeare’s play has sarcastic tone throughout in comedic play of Midsummer Night’s Dream.
- Chamberlain, Stephanie. “The Law of the Father: Patriarchal Economy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Journal of the Wooden O Symposium 11 (2011): 28-40. Print.
- Jajja, Muhammad Ayub. “Women in Shakespearean Comedies: A Feminist Perspective.”
- Journal of Educational Research 16.1 (2013): 112-119. Print.
- Montrose, Louis Adrian. “‘Shaping Fantasies’: Figurations of Gender and Power in Elizabethan Culture.” Representations 2 (Spring 1983): 61-94. Print.
- Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ed. Wolfgang Clemen. New York: Signet Classics, 1998. Print.