"Some believe that Midsummer has strong female characters who make their own decisions and stand up for themselves. Others believe that the play simply reinforces negative stereotypes about women that were prominent in the society during the time period in which the play was written. Choose one side of this debate and comment on how female characters in this play are portrayed."   Answer the prompt to the side that the play reinforces negative stereotypes about women. 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The play does not merely reinforce stereotypes. It shows how women can break through stereotypes. I would caution, however, against the false dichotomy of either so-called strong females characters or a sexist narrative. Women in real life are neither strong nor weak in every cause, just as men in real life are neither strong nor weak. Humans have both good and bad qualities and there are some people who are stronger than others. Shakespeare presents a realistic cast of characters with a different array of realistic strengths and weaknesses. I would argue this is actually more of a break from convention than simply preventing a series of women who confirm to the strong/weak binary.

The fairy queen, for instance, is generally a very strong character. She is in a position of power and she disobeys her husband. She becomes a fool, however, when the love spell enamors her with Bottom. This is not a reinforcement of stereotypes. She is still a powerful and strong woman. Shakespeare is merely demonstrating how strong people are often foolish in the face of love, even when that love that is fading and superficial. This is realistic of human beings, whether these humans are male or female. Note that the male characters of the play are also swayed by the spell. No character is immune from the charms of love.

Shakespeare presents many kinds of women: Helena, who has a stereotypical pining for her lover, Titania, a powerful woman in conflict with her husband, Hippolyta, a strong, free woman in love with a man of order, etc... This depiction of women as human beings, with the same flaws and strength as men, is the very sort of force that breaks stereotypes in literature. Strong female characters alone are often as foolish as weak characters alone; both demonstrate that women exist on a binary, unlike the more complex male characters. Complexity breaks convention, not strength.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial