William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the best comedy ever written by Shakespeare. He mixes love, mythology, the mischievous Puck and many others in an intertwining plot of love made up of mad and loud standards. William Shakespeare gives insight into the treatment of women during Greek and Elizabethan times and also opens our minds to love relationships.
William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, a small town about 100 miles from London, England. Shakespeare was the third born of eight children, yet he was first to survive childhood. At the age of eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. She gave birth to three children, including one set of twins. Shakespeare often wrote sonnets to a woman whose identity was never revealed. Throughout history she was commonly known as “The Dark Lady”. He is also rumored to have kept an ongoing relationship with a young boy. Between 1585 and 1592 Shakespeare moved to London to pursue a career in the world of theatre. His first theatrical production was entitled Henry VI. After this breakthrough, Shakespeare continued to write and went on to publish numerous other famous plays and sonnets. The plays Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth are among his most famous works, and are still being performed and acclaimed all over the world to this present day. Although his plays went on to take the world, most of them had their premiere at the world renowned Globe Theatre in London. Shakespeare passed away on his 52nd birthday in 1616, yet in his life he still mastered the task of creating over a hundred sonnets and almost forty plays. He was buried in his hometown Stratford-upon-Avon. In the year 1632, seven years within Shakespeare’s death the first complete volume of his works was published. It was dedicated to his dear friends, the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery. Throughout the entire eighteenth century a new, revised edition of his complete works appeared. At least one every decade. Today many theatre companies have taken on his plays, some even produce his complete works, such as the Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged. Shakespeare is also the most filmed playwright in world history.
The general treatment of women in ancient times such as the Elizabethan and the Ancient Greek era varied in great degrees from the treatment of women in the contemporary twenty-first century. In more ancient eras, women were generally viewed as men’s property and not as individual human beings. Women were not even allowed to choose their spouse. It was common that this type of arrangement was made by their family, and the determining factors were usually age, social status and wealth. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Hermia jeopardizes the future of her entire family with the refusal of marriage to Demetrius and also goes drastically against the ruling society of her time. It was unthinkable for a woman to make such a choice by herself, especially for such a trivial reason as love. Yet Queen Elizabeth’s refusal to marriage lead to the “acceptance” of certain things; thus in the end, Hermia becomes married to the man of her choice instead of the man her family chose (Moss, 264). In Act I, Scene I Theseus tells Hermia to treat her father as a God:
“Scornful Lysander, true, he hath my love,
And what is mine my love shall render him;
And she is mine, and all my right of her
I do estate unto Demetrius” (Shakespeare, 4).
In this paragraph Egeus expresses a sense of ownership towards his daughter, which is an accurate portrayal of the general attitude towards females during that time period. In the play Theseus gives Hermia three options. She can die, go into a nunnery, or she can marry Demetrius. This scene represents the basic treatment of women up until this era. Women were not given a variety of choices, since no sane human being would choose death, women were given two choices: They either had to become a nun or spend the remainder of their life with a man that had been chosen for them. Even if this meant an abusive relationship that could continue on for decades.
“Lysander: The course of true love never did run smooth” (Shakespeare, 5). This line is perhaps the most famous line in the entire play and is backed up by the relationships in this piece of literature. Starting with Theseus and Hippolyta we are shown the principle of love never going just quite how one plans it. Theseus wins Hippolyta in a glorious battle, yet she is repelled by the idea of marriage to someone she has no choice over. After finding out about this, Theseus decides to host a party in the hopes of wooing her. During a conversation with Hippolyta, he tries to charm her, yet he does not achieve the desired effect, because Egeus interrupts him with his insubordinate daughter Hermia. Hermia refused to wed with Demetrius, her father’s choice, due to the fact that she is in love with Lysander. Lysander and Hermia plan to elope, and reveal this plan to Helena. After their departure, she devises a plot to seduce Demetrius. Helena plans to inform Demetrius of “fair Hermia’s flight” (Shakespeare, 8), which she hopes will result in Demetrius being appreciative and paying more attention to her. The entangled plot unfolds the following night when the two lovers escape into the woods and Demetrius followed by Helena chase after them. In this scene Shakespeare gives the reader insight in the love relationships of the play. Oberon takes pity on Helena because he observes Demetrius denying her. He instructs Puck to find the flower which was shot by Cupid’s arrow and put the flower’s juice on Demetrius’ sleeping eyes, so that after his awakening he shall fall in love with the first thing he sets his eyes on. However, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, which causes Lysander to fall in love with Helena. This upsets Helena because she thinks that he is playing a prank on her. Once Puck realizes his error he applies the juice to Demetrius’ eyes, thereby causing both of them to fall in love with Helena and upset her even further. In the end puck applies the remedy to Lysander’s eyes and everyone lives happily ever after.
In the meantime Oberon is upset with Titania because she refuses to hand over a boy whom Oberon wishes to train and make a hunter. Titania objects due to personal connections to the boy. This results in Oberon applying the juice to Titania’s eyes and hoping that the first thing she sees will be an abomination. Coincidently, there is a troop of actors in the area hoping to perform for a wedding. The play is entitled Pyramus and Thisbe, which is basically the ancient Greece version of Romeo and Juliet. During a scene Nick, the thespian portraying Pyramus, is waiting for his entrance. As Puck discovers this, he uses his powers to put an ass’ head on him. Coincidently the first thing she sees is a man with an ass’ head; Nick. The effect of the juice has it that she falls in love with him. Thus in the end, Oberon steals the child while she is doting over the ass head, yet in the end he supplies her with the antidote, which results in her believing that she dreamt the experience. In the end, she gives in to Oberon. With her first act Titania goes directly against Elizabethan society and refuses her husband’s demand; however, in the end she changes and fits back into the role which society during that time created for women. Queen Elizabeth began to bring about the reversal of the patriarchal society of her time by directly refusing the demand to marry.
William Shakespeare gives insight into the treatment of Women during Greek and Elizabethan times in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and also opens our minds to love relationships. Ever since the revolutionary actions taken by Queen Elizabeth by her refusal to marry, things have been in a constant state of change for the female society of the Western civilized world. The relationship issues Shakespeare pointed out in his ingenious play have and always will exist. History has proven throughout time that certain social traits of mankind, such as the desire for equality, just simply can not be suppressed