Illustration of a donkey-headed musician in between two white trees

A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

Start Free Trial

To what extent do you agree that A Midsummer Night’s Dream shows submission to patriarchal rule as necessary to social harmony?

A Midsummer Night's Dream does not show that submission to patriarchal rule is necessary to social harmony, though it may look that way on the surface. Instead, the plays shows that social order prevails when women get their way in love.

Expert Answers

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

On the surface it might look like Shakespeare is supporting the idea that submission to patriarchy is necessary to social harmony.

Yes, Hipployta, who doesn't have much choice, has caved on the idea of wedding Theseus in a gracious way, and, likewise, order is seemingly restored in the fairy kingdom when Titania gives up the Indian boy to Oberon. Her capitulation, we can rest assured, will end the weather problems that are plaguing the human world.

But the more important message is that patriarchal order is restored when women are allowed to love the one they want: if patriarchs want order, they need to give women their own way.

Order in Athens is threatened when Hermia and Lysander defy Theseus's decree that Hermia marry Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander flee to the forest, en route to Lysander's aunt (notably a woman, who will help them defy patriarchy). Demetrius follows. Another representative of patriarchy, he is determined to ensure the rules prevail so that he can marry Hermia. However, his patriarchal desires are undermined not only by Hermia's complete disinterest in what he wants, but by Helena's unwanted pursuit. In this plot line, order only prevails after both women get their way, helped along by some magic.

A happy ending to the play ensues only after Theseus agrees (i.e., capitulates) to Hermia and Lysander's marriage and when a love potion helps Demetrius come to his senses and realize what Helena has known all along—that she knows best and is the woman for him.

Likewise, as long as Titania can be with the one she loves, she is willing to give Oberon what he wants. Her desire might have been manipulated by Oberon and the love object might be Bottom with an ass's head, but the wise Oberon knew when he gave her the potion that romantic love would be stronger than asserting his patriarchal dominion, which was clearly getting him nowhere.

One way of reading the play—consistent with Shakespeare's tendency across his oeuvre to show that women are smarter and more capable than Renaissance society gave them credit for—is to interpret it as Shakespeare's way of illustrating it is best for social harmony if women get what they want, especially in love. Do that, and they will allow patriarchal order to prevail. Don't, and trouble follows.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team