Discuss the Shakespearean portrayal of women in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is very interesting that this is one of Shakespeare's plays where the presentation of women is not too flattering, compared to other Shakespearean heroines such as Portia or Rosalind, who clearly have a valid and vibrant existence of their own dependent of men and are praised by feminists for the kind of powerful female role model they present. In this play, women are presented in a more traditional and conventional fashion, highlighting their dependence upon men. There is no one strong female figure that stands out from the rest, and women are presented as rather being in the shadow of men. Even Titania and Hippolyta, who are often played by the same character, and at the beginning of the play seem to defy the patriarchal power of their husbands, by the end of the play are conventional female figures, loving and submissive wives.

Helena and Hermia are definitely no better, both of them presented as almost being slaves to the love they have for the objects of their affection. Nowhere more strongly is this shown than in Helena's misguided love for Demetrius as expressed in Act II scene 1 when Helena describes herself and her unfailing devotion to Demetrius in the following way:

I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,

The more you beat me, I will fawn on you.

Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,

Neglect me, lose me...

This is a very unflattering presentation of the lengths that women will go to to abase themselves in their relationships with the men they love. Although this is a very extreme example, it points towards the way in which men in this play have absolute power and control, and women are just mere shadows that walk in their wake.

mahmood786 | Student

Shakespeare sees women as very dependant people.  He portrays them to be nothing without their male counter-part .
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream,   Hermia and Helena are chasing Lysander and Demetrius throughout the entire play.  Right away you can see how Shakespeare must have viewed women.  He obviously viewed them as people of society whose existence was only relevant to that of a man.

In his plays the women are almost laughed at as well.  There is a cruel sense of insecurity that lies in Helena throughout A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that even when Lysander falls for her because of the love potion, she won’t believe it.  She feels as though Lysander and Demetrius are mocking her and she becomes even more embarrassed about the situation.  During the play-within-a-play, when Pyramus commits suicide because he thinks he has lost Thysbe.  As a result, Thysbe finds her Pyramus dead and wastes no time at all committing suicide herself.  These are all signs that the women are very dependant on the men, and some may argue that the men are just as dependant on the women.

Throughout Shakespeare’s works, women are portrayed as very vital to the success of the play.  He portrays them in such a way that they seem weak, but at the same time they make the men crazy, and act in very outrageous manners. 

Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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