Discuss the gender issues in A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare.

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, "gender issues" stand out. First, when Hermia resists marrying Lysander (her father's choice), Egeus threatens to punish her, and the Duke, Theseus supports him: they can have her killed. (It is interesting to note that Hippolyta—the leader of the Amazons—and the woman the Duke is wooing, seems unhappy about the way the men push Hermia around—as I've seen it on stage.) If Hermia does not agree, the Duke says she will die or join a convent for good.

It is ironic to watch the way Egeus and Theseus treat Hermia, and then how Theseus does all he can to win Hippolyta's favor, as he tries to woo her. As a "spoil of war," Hippolyta receives more respect from the Duke than a "daughter of Athens."

Another gender issue is seen in the way Lysander treats Helena. Perhaps this is why Egeus wants his daughter to marry Lysander—for in the younger man, the father has found a kindred spirit. The men care nothing for the feelings of the women whose lives they are involved in. Lysander cannot possibly love Hermia: there has been no time as he has been having a relationship with Helena and has just recently thrown her aside to marry Hermia—who loves Demetrius. Lysander has shown Helena disrespect and disregard in acting like such a "cad."

Helena, however, is not without her own ire, and when both young Athenian men "fall in love with her" (because of a magic potion placed on them), Helena is full of fire and scolding, believing that they are simply making fun at her expense.

The other relationship that provides gender issues appear between Oberon and his wife Titania, the King and Queen of the fairies. Oberon wants the changeling child that Titania has adopted as his page, but she refuses to comply. There is much fighting about it; Oberon even approves of some "magic warfare" directed at his wife when—under a spell—she falls in love with a human who has been given the head of an ass (donkey). Oberon wants his own way, though Titania stands up to him for all she's worth.

However, at the end, as the conflicts resolve themselves, the men still seem to have the upper-hand. When Titania realizes that Oberon has played a trick on her, she accepts it with good humor, and ultimately lets her husband have the young boy.

Hermia is allowed to marry Demetrius only because (still under a magic spell) Lysander now loves Helena. Justice has not been served—but without the groom's interest, the problem no longer exists. And even Hippolyta comes around by the end, satisfied with the way things have worked out with the young people, and gracious enough to take Theseus' victory on the field of battle with a certain stoicism. Depending upon how the play is enacted, I have seen Hippolyta portrayed as a woman willing to give her captor the opportunity to be a good husband.

At the end, all is resolved, but only because Oberon gets his way with Titania, and he has also guarantees that Lysander will love the woman who dotes on him. Fair play is not a focal point in the story. There still seems to be a great deal of control exerted upon the women in this male-dominated setting of Athens, written in the same kind of a cultural setting in Elizabethan England.

As mentioned by Helena, love does not reign here really, as it should.

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind.


Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question