How does the quote, "Love is of man's life a thing apart/ 'Tis woman's whole existence," reflect the asymmetrical nature of man's love and woman's love that we see in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream ?
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Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream certainly does portray the nature of man's love and woman's love as asymmetrical. In fact, as literary critic Shirley Nelson Garner states, Shakespeare portrays the male-dominant society prevalent in the Elizabethan era, thereby characterizing the asymmetry of love even further.
We see one example of the asymmetrical nature of love with respect to Helena's pursuit of Demetrius. We see Helena abandon everything for the sake of Demetrius's love, including her dignity, self-respect, and even virtue. She betrays her best friend by disclosing Hermia and Lysander's secret of steeling away into the woods to escape Athens, just for the chance that Demetrius might gratify her by thanking her. Also, she begs Demetrius to handle her in any way possible, even to abuse her. She refers to herself as his spaniel and begs him to treat her in any way he will, just so long as he allows her to follow him, as we see in her lines:
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; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you. (II.i.207-211)
Since Helena is giving up her entire rational self for the mere sake of just being near Demetrius, we see that, for her, love is her entire nature.
In contrast, once the men have married their desired brides, they continue on with life as normal. In fact, critic Garner points out that interestingly, in the final act after the couples have been married, the two young women fall completely silent. Garner asserts that their silence "suggests that in their new roles as wives they will be obedient, allowing their husbands dominance" ("Gender and Sex Roles"). In contrast, both Lysander and Demetrius continue speaking, enjoying themselves by commenting on the ridiculousness of the mechanicals' play, and generally still participating in the world around them. The women's silence in contrast with the men's comments shows us that, for the women, love is their entire being; it is their new occupation as silent, obedient wives. On the other hand, the fact that the men remain speaking in the final act shows us that they will continue to have their own dominant roles outside of love.
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