Monday, January 9, 2012

Feminism and Gender Issues in Shakespeare’s A Mid Summer Night’s Dream

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Shakespeare’s play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a feminist’s nightmare. It is full of men trying to dominate women and women falling under their “power”. Each group of lovers is male dominated. In addition to which the father daughter relationship is completely man trying to control women. From fairies to humans, it seems the male sex is always striving to be on top.


Shakespeare is a man. It is seen in his writing that in more then just “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Shakespeare had a very poor view of women. In most of his plays, women either take on the role of temptress, are portrayed as domineering or lower than the men in the play. The women in this play are no different.


In Shakespeare’s days women weren’t allowed to be actors so the men played the women’s parts. There is no wonder why none of the women feel real. Each female character is how a man thinks a woman would act, and react to situations. As an actor, it is a challenge performing any of Shakespeare’s women. The challenge lies in trying to add feminine qualities to the women characters. If you have a strong woman character such as Hermia, finding out how she, a woman, loves Lysander is particularly hard since she is written as such a dominating character. As a female actor, I have to remember how I love someone in order to feminize her. If this is not achieved, Hermia is seen as a woman who will tell her husband what to do and with hold sex whenever she feels necessary. Perhaps Shakespeare is emulating a woman who did this to him.


On the other hand, Hermia’s father is trying to dominate her. He is desperate to get her to marry Demetrius. When she refuses to marry him, Egeus brings her to Theseus, the Duke of Athens with hopes that he will force her to marry Demetrius or if she refuses, she will die. Hermia tries to explain that Helena loves Demetrius and that Demetrius has already had sexual relations with Helena. She talks about how Demetrius and Lysander are of the same status in society. Nevertheless, Theseus rules that either she marries Demetrius or she will be forced to become a nun. This situation is obviously two men trying to control one woman. They are dictating how she is going to live the rest of her life. However, she, being a strong woman, runs away with Lysander, giving up any hope of a comfortable life to be with the man that she loves.


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Next, Helena, who is completely in love with Demetrius, breaks the strong bonds of female friendship with Hermia. She tells Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander have run away together to get married. Demetrius runs off after Hermia with Helena chasing him.


Shakespeare created Helena as the love sick, sex pot female. She is consistently throwing herself at Demetrius and he is consistently refusing her. Reminding her at every advance that he wants Hermia not her. She then throws away all her strong female character traits. She gets on her knees and begs Demetrius to be with her. This suggests that Shakespeare had no respect for women and only sees them as pets or slaves. Through the character of Helena, he tells us that women are lovesick blubbering fools who when are told in plain words that they are not wanted, they continue to follow relentlessly the object of their desire. Helena is a horrible role model for women. Had I a woman friend with Helena’s characteristics, I would suggest to her that she find herself some confidence and a new love interest.


The fairies are no better then the people in this play. Titania, no matter how strong she is portrayed, is absolutely dominated by Oberon. She stands up to him saying that she is keeping the little boy and Oberon can’t handle this. He puts a spell on her, an act of proving his dominating maleness, and she falls in love with Bottom whom Oberon turned into a donkey. Shakespeare’s message here is that all women, no matter what their status is, should be dominated by men. In addition, they need to be punished when they stand up to or disagree with a man.


It is evident from this play that although Shakespeare was a brilliant playwright, his view on woman is anything but brilliant. He fails at writing women how they really are. I feel that this is largely the fault of society at that time. Women were seen as lower citizens. They were not educated or taken seriously. They were basically trained from the beginning of their lives how to be a wife and mother. Although there are strong women in his plays they are continuously being dominated and ruled over by some male figure be it a lover, a father, or a king. Fortunately, women in today’s society are given more chances and maybe we are not understood completely, but its leaps and bounds from Shakespeare’s.





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