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To What Extent Does A Midsummer Night's Dream Endorse Male Superiority?

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To what extent does A Midsummer Night’s Dream endorse male superiority? A Midsummer Night’s Dream amplifies gender tensions that derive from problematic family and romantic relationships. When the play begins, a young woman squabbles with her father for the right to choose her own husband, the duke is set to marry a woman he overthrew in battle, and the King and Queen of Fairies are fighting with each other, executing a battle of the sexes so intense it rattles the natural world. My main aim is to fathom throughout this play to what extent male superiority is endorsed. When it comes to romance throughout the play, traditional gender roles stereotypes are questioned. For example, while men are usually expected to be hostile and assertive, a woman is expected to remain quiet and meek.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream shows us this is not automatically the case, especially when magic love juice is involved. There are components of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream that for a contemporary reader instantaneously seem to echo inequality and endorse male superiority. Given the position of women in society in the sixteenth century, it is hardly shocking. Furthermore, the play is written by a male author and in the original production, the female roles would have been played by men. To get an accurate view of what’s happening in the play, some historical context is required. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written in the late 16th century and set in the time of Ancient Greece. In Ancient Greece, equality did not exist. Men had a higher status while women and slaves were accepted as having a lower status. In Shakespeare’s England, unless they were royalty, women still had little to no status. There’s a passage in Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay “A Room of One’s Own” that refers to an imaginary sister of William’s who yearned to be a writer but had no opportunity to do so. Shakespeare’s writing undoubtedly mirrors how women were looked upon in that age whether it is through words, actions or treatment from others.

The play endorses male superiority to a certain extent as Shakespeare depict many women, such as Helena, Hermia, Hippolyta, as conforming to the typical gender standards and societal principals of their time period. There is a level of authority contained in the ruling class. Theseus, as king, has control over all of his subjects. The controversy at the start of the comedy is that Egeus’ daughter Hermia refuses to marry the man her father has chosen for her, Demetrius. She prefers Lysander, who is also in love with her. In one pivotal scene, the king declares that Hermia is her father’s property and he can do whatever he wants with her. Modern readers say the play endorses male superiority, asking why on earth Hermia should follow his rules. However, she doesn’t intend to, as she and Lysander arrange to run into the forest to escape the Athenian law. Next, there is the affair between King and Queen of the fairy realm, Oberon and Titania. Oberon manages to get revenge at Titania showing once again that male is the superior gender. Oberon and Titania are omnipotent creatures ostensibly involved in a continual power contest. And what about the marriage between Theseus and Hippolyta, the former queen of the Amazons? The play endorses male superiority as in Greek mythology, Hippolyta is recognized as the symbol for strong, independent women.

Yet, in Shakespeare’s play, Theseus’ army has crushed her female warriors, and in result won Hippolyta’s hand in marriage. The message seems that men will always win and that women will eventually be happy to be won. Male superiority also appears as Hermia and Helena attain the husbands they desire only because the authority of Oberon and Theseus that overrules that of Egeus. It is interesting to note that once Hermia and Helena are married and in their role as wives, they cease to contribute any dialogue. In keeping with this emphasis on male authority and superiority, acknowledgment is made of the young woman’s fathers, Egeus and Nedar, but not their mothers. The only mother referred to in the whole play is the “votress” whose name is not even mentioned. Male and female are so opposed in the play that even the tale of the ‘changeling boy’ are biased by gender, Robin articulating that the child was stolen from an Indian king.

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Titania that his mother died in childbirth leaving him an orphan. It is thought-provoking that the life of a newly born male was chosen over that of an older female with friends and connections, a female died in giving life to a male. This could be perceived that Shakespeare’s view is that males come first and are the superior gender. It is also curious that Titania’s attachment to the boy seems more propelled by the love for his late mother than for her affection of the boy himself. She declares how the two women shared the experience of the votress’s pregnancy and mocked the merchant ships, the symbol of male authority. The ‘changeling boy’ is that of a memento to Titania of her time with the ‘votress.’ Such all female groupings are portrayed as happy ones, but not allowed to persist. Hippolyta has to leave her fellow Amazons, and although Helena reminds Hermia of their loving girlhood together, her nostalgic picture of their pre-adolescent happiness is soon dispelled by their quarrels over men. Helena has to chase after Demetrius: “Apollo flies, and Daphne holds the chase/ The dove pursues the griffin, the mild hind/ Makes speed to catch the tiger” (Act 2 Scene 1 Line 231-3.) Probable analysis of these lines is that Helena says for a woman to chase a man is unnatural as for a victim to chase a predator. She sees women as passive victims and herself as a humiliated exception. Helena’s extravagant behavior makes her sympathetic as well as laughable. Male superiority is displayed here as Demetrius has a choice to not love/be with Helena where if it was the other way round, Helena would be forced into a marriage/relationship.

To some degree, the play seems to be an assertion of male authority. Robin Goodfellow intends to reassure us when he says; “Jack shall have Jill; Naught shall go ill. The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well.” (Act 3 Scene 2 Line 461-3) Modern day, however, to compare a woman to an animal is more likely to give offense than comfort. Worse still, the playwright puts analogous attitudes into the mouth of Helena, who correlates herself and Hermia to a spaniel (Act 2 Scene 1 Line 203), a bear (Act 2 Scene 2 Line 100) and a vixen (Act 3 Scene 2 Line 324.) As plentiful as the plays gender bias is, we should not inflate it. The play does not celebrate male dominance, but marriage, even if the male is perceived as the superior partner. Hermia’s rebellion against her father is interpreted sympathetically, as is Titania’s rebellion against her husband. When Theseus tells Hermia “To you, your father should be as a god” (Act 1 Scene 1 Line 47), the audience is improbable to share his opinion. The play contains heaps of citations of laughable behavior by male figures, including Oberon. Oberon’s own allusion to Queen Elizabeth I (Act 2 Scene 1 Line 158) recalls to us that this widely male-dominated society was ruled by an authoritative and admired queen.

Although it is true that the play paints male superiority as more ‘natural’ than female superiority, it also provides us a lot of female viewpoints and shows males and females interacting with each other in a variety of ways, with the females often highly sympathetic and decisive. We could argue the marriage in the play is illustrated not as there’s a right way and a wrong way, but as a relationship which is always developing and has constantly to be worked on. Integral approaches in recent decades have gravitated to target attitudes within the play, such as those towards gender. Regina Buccola’s “Fairies, Fractious Women and the Old Faith” (2006) accentuates the play’s empathy for rebellious women. Louis Adrian Montrose’s “Shaping Fantasies” (1983 ed. New Casebooks: A Midsummer Night’s Dream) reveals the portrayal of women to Elizabethan men’s anxieties about female power while Shirley Nelson Garner in “Jack shall have Jill;/Nought shall go ill” (1981) depicts the play as a male-female power combat.

To conclude, I think male superiority is shown and the views at the time are reflected within. However, it is important as a reader to not inflate the subject matter to more than it is. Despite rebellion and power females, they are still conducted by the men at the end of the play. Helena welcomes Demetrius, Titania is governed by Oberon, Hermia returns to Lysander after he desired another woman and Hippolyta still marries Theseus. These women are forced to conform to the status quo surrounding gender stereotypes as they are living in a man’s world. The play itself made Elizabethan women euphoric as they could experience power, dominance, and independence. But in the end, they must return to reality.

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To What Extent Does A Midsummer Night’s Dream Endorse Male Superiority? (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from
“To What Extent Does A Midsummer Night’s Dream Endorse Male Superiority?” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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To What Extent Does A Midsummer Night’s Dream Endorse Male Superiority? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2022 Dec 7]. Available from:
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