PS Comedy: Variations of a Genre Prof. Dr. Michael Steppat Feminine Identities in A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1. Introduction “Woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man.” This statement by the Scottish protestant leader John Knox in The First Blast of the Trumpet shows the role that Elizabethan women were expected to fulfil. Women in the Elizabethan era and therefore in the time when Shakespeare wrote his plays were subservient to men and had no will and choice of their own. As they were not allowed to go to school and enter university, they remained completely dependent on their male relatives, believing that they were inferior to them and thus following their will. This ...view middle of the document...
This statement by Theseus shows that women have no rights at all in the male world of Athens. She is her father’s possession, “a form in wax” and “by him imprinted but within his power”, which means that she is neither allowed to develop her own interests nor to speak her mind. Instead, she has to obey her father, who “should be as a God” to her. Egeus emphasises this statement: “And she is mine, and all my right of her / I do estate unto Demetrius” (1.1.97-98). Hermia is therefore perceived as her father’s possession rather than an individual with free choice and will, and is thus not allowed to choose the one she loves
but has to follow her father’s choice -- which is not Lysander but Demetrius. If she followed her father’s will, though, a A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be a fairly short play, as Hermia would marry Demetrius and the whole plot would not be able to develop. Therefore, Hermia must have a will of her own and also the courage to disobey her father. This becomes obvious in 1.1.52-53:
Theseus: Hermia: […] Demetrius is a worthy gentleman. So is Lysander.
In this passage, Hermia contradicts the Duke of Athens, shows that she has her own will and is ready to fight for Lysander. In the following speech, she even dares to speak her mind in front of Theseus:
Hermia: I do entreat your Grace to pardon me. I know not by what power I am made bold, Nor how it may concern my modesty, In such a presence here to plead my thoughts. (1.1.58-61)
Hermia seems to know what is expected from her, that means obeying her father’s will and not speaking her mind, yet she dares to refuse and “plead[s] [her] thoughts.” This shows that Hermia is not willing to fulfil her role as the loving daughter who is shaped by her father and follows his orders regardless of their consequences. One has to be aware of the fact, though, that the statement above also shows that Hermia seems to have a bad conscience and feeling of guilt, as she does not know “by what power [she is] made bold” to speak her mind, especially in front of such a powerful man as Theseus. Hermia is thus able to contradict her father and the manly world, but seems still dominated by it. Yet her love for Lysander is stronger than her subordination to her father and this is why she agrees to run away with him and marry him secretly:
Lysander: A good persuasion, therefore, hear me, Hermia. I have a widow aunt, a dowager […] From Athens is her house remote seven leagues; […] There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee; […] My good Lysander! I swear to thee, by Cupid’s strongest bow, […] In that same place thou hast appointed me, To-morrow truly will I meet with thee. (1.1.156-57, 159, 161, 168-69, 177-78)
This interaction between Hermia and Lysander clearly shows that Hermia is strong enough to run away with Lysander without a slight feeling of hesitation. However, it is well worth considering that Hermia, although she disobeys her father’s will and escapes subordination and...