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A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

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Can you contrast Athens' patriarchal order with the forest's disorder in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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This question can be situated within two theoretical frameworks, feminism and ecocriticism. Ecocritics would be interested in the contrast of nature with civilization in the play and would ask how the human constructedness of the city would affect not only the land and ecosystem but the moral and social nature of the people living and acting therein.

Feminist litersary critics would look at the relationships between civilization and patriarchal power and nature and feminine power. Theseus' Amazon queen was a ruler in her own land but is subordinate in Athens. Do Titania and the two girls have power rooted in a forest whoich is by its nature disruptive and chaotic, inherently resisting imposition of patriarchal structures? Do Shakespeare's sources reflect an earlier matriarchal religious and social order that is associated with the forest as an emblem of social structures existing before the development of urban patriarchal cvilization?

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In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Athens has "a hierarchical patriarchal order" while the forest seems to be "a place of disorder." Discuss this idea.

The hierarchical laws of Athens surely support a patriarchal order in which a father may have his daughter severely punished for marrying against his wishes. Shakespeare undercuts this hierarchical patriarchal order in A Midsummer Night's Dream by rendering Athenian law subject to the influence of the moon and fairies.

In contrast to Athens, the woods is where fairies gather, lovers conspire, actors rehearse, spells are cast, manipulations backfire and reconciliations begin. Shakespeare uses the anarchy and the associated fairy monarchy of the woods to illustrate a new proposition for the balance of power between anarchy and hierarchy.

Hierarchy is defined by Random House Dictionary at Dictionary.com as any system of persons or things ranked one above another, and patriarchy is defined by the same source as the male head of a family or tribal line.

The town representative of hierarchy and traditional patriarchal governance is Theseus. Throughout A Midsummer Night Dream, the moon is equated with love and marriage. Theseus is waiting for his marriage that will take place according to the moon's governance at the phase of the New Moon. Furthermore, wedded fairies Oberon and Titania have flown in with their retinue from India to give their blessing to the government representative Theseus's wedding to Hyppolyta. While Theseus upholds order in Athens, he also undercuts the order by revealing the ruling influence of other powers that sway the realm of order.

In the woods, trickery, magic and anarchical schemes give the rule of order--or rather, the rule of anarchy--while people try to manipulate each other into what they want for their own (often selfish) reasons. Shakespeare reveals in this that anarchy and hierarchy share the feature of manipulation of others' lives in common with each other. Shakespeare uses this and Theseus's wedding to suggest a true balance between the the rule of order and the rule of the more mysterious forces of the world to achieve a state where individuals are honored and respected instead of manipulated.

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In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Athens has "a hierarchical patriarchal order" while the forest seems to be "a place of disorder." Discuss this idea.

This statement makes a lot of sense.  Just look at how things are in this play.

When we are in Athens, we see Egeus being able to completely control Hermia's life, at least legally.  Theseus and Egeus are men who get to dominate the lives of women.  Therefore, it is a hierarchical, patriarchal order.

Out in the forest, in the meantime, there is no such order.  Although he is king, Oberon cannot order Titania to give him the changeling -- this shows a lack of patriarchy and hierarchy.  Disorder can be seen in all the shenanigans that happen with Puck and the love potion.

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Athens has a "hierarchical order" while the forest seems to be "a place of disorder." Discuss.

I think that this statement definitely makes sense.  I would agree with it completely.

You can see how hierarchical Athens is at the start of the play.  Egeus has the power to tell Hermia what to do and who to marry.  Theseus has the power to order Hermia to obey or be banished to a convent (or be killed).

By contrast, Oberon cannot really control anyone.  He can't make Titania give him the changeling.  He can tell Puck what to do, but those plans go awry.  Everything that happens in the forest tends to bring chaos.

It is worth noting that this theme can be seen by the fact that Theseus only appears in Act I and Act IV -- in both cases in the daytime when things are orderly.  While he is offstage, it is night and things are chaotic.

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In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Athens has a "hierarchal, patriarchal order," while the forest seems to be "a place of disorder." Please support.

To best address the "hierarchal, patriarchal" order in Athens, it is best to look at what these terms mean. "Hierarchal" means:

...a person having high position or considerable authority

"Patriarchal" is defined as:

...of or pertaining to a patriarch, the male head of a family, tribe, community, church, order, etc.

This is seen in the beginning of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, when Egeus, Hermia's father, drags his daughter in front of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, invoking his right under the law to force his daughter Hermia to marry Egeus' choice, Demetrius, or be put to death.

Be it so she will not here before your Grace

Consent to marry with Demetrius,

I beg the ancient privilege of Athens:

As she is mine, I may dispose of her;

Which shall be either to this gentleman

Or to her death, according to our law (I.i.40-45)

"Hierarchal" is reflected in Theseus' position as the one who is not only familiar with Athenian law, but has the power to carry it out. 

"Patriarchal" is reflected in society's expectation (as well as power granted by the law) that Hermia must follow the dictates of her father's will rather than her own—as Theseus explains.

Because the law is clear and Hermia has little choice but to comply with her father's demands if she is to live—or live in Athens—she and Lysander (the man she truly loves) plot to meet in the forest and flee Athens and the reach of not only the "patriarchal" influence of Egeus, but also the "hierarchal" laws of Athens, by living in another town where Athenian law cannot touch them.

In addressing the "hierarchal" and "patriarchal," Shakespeare introduces the initial conflict in his play. However, it is the lack of such control in the forest—a place of disorder—that creates the humor of the story. For in the forest, there is one important element that exists, which steps out of the realm of Athenian and parental control—that is the supernatural: the fairy realm. 

The fairy realm is not without its own laws, which are hierarchal and patriarchal as well: Oberon is the king of the fairy world (hierarchal); the word of the male carries more weight (patriarchal), as it does in the human world. However, where magic and mischief are present— and on a plane of existence that has its own variety of rules—chaos quickly ensues.

Elizabethans believed that after dark, fairies ruled the forest. The pandemonium is a result of humans in the woods after the sun goes down: both with the lovers, and with Bottom and the players. The disorder is not the result of Athenian law, but is caused by the supernatural (things that take place beyond what is natural or normal). Disorder is brought about by the behavior of the members of the fairy world—by Oberon, his henchman Puck, and Titania, the queen of the fairies. The mayhem is the result first from the antics of Puck, having fun at the expense of humans—

Lord, what fools these mortals be! (III.ii.115)

Secondly, more trouble comes because of Oberon's desire to see Helena happily married to Demetrius. Puck changes Bottom's head into that of a donkey and puts "love juice" on Titania's eyes so she falls in love with Bottom. Oberon directs Puck to use the same potion on Demetrius so he falls in love with Helena, but Puck uses it on Lysander by mistake.

Finally, Oberon steps in. When the lovers "wake," all is as it should be, even to the satisfaction of Athenian law. Love triumphs, and order is restored.

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