What is the view of women offered in A Midsummer Night's Dream?
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It is hard to escape the impression that women do not fare very well in this Shakespearian comedy. In a play that is all about the changeable emotions of characters and how quickly love can change to hate, the women are left often at the brunt of the more fickle and inconstant emotions of their male admirers. This is of course sadly the tragic position that Helena finds herself in at the beginning of the play. Even after, thanks to Puck's magic, she finds herself in the position that Hermia once occupied, with both male characters loving her, this is no source of consolation to her. In Act III scene 2 for example, she is deeply suspicious rather than joyful at the exchange of the men's affections from Hermia to her. Note how she suspects Hermia of tricking her:
Lo, she is one of this confederacy.
Now I perceive they have conjoined all three
To fashion this false sport in spite of me.
Even though she ironically has what she envied about Hermia--the undivided attention of both Lysander and Demetrius--this brings her little joy. This highlights the way that women are often presented in this play as disposable individuals, free to be thrown to one side when a man's affections change. Even the stronger female characters such as Hippolyta and Titania seem to have little choice about their affections. The first after all is forced into marriage with Theseus when she and her tribe of amazons are conquered and the second is forced back in to love with Oberon by the magic flower. Women can therefore be viewed as being presented as powerless and subject to the fickle, changing emotions experienced by men.
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