Gender

When we think about the conflict between men and women in the play, we need to remember that contextually women were not as equal as they are today and their were expectations that they would be passive or subservient to men both in Ancient Greece (the play’s setting) and sixteenth-seventeenth century England (where Shakespeare was writing).

Let’s consider the relationships:

Egeus and Hermia – dad wants daughter killed for refusing to obey his rules; daughter willing to die rather than obey dad.
Theseus and Hippolyta – getting married because he conquered her tribe of amazons.
Helena and Demetrius – he’s used her, but she becomes a pathetic begging mess in an attempt to get him to love her; he threatens her in all sorts of unpleasant ways.
Hermia and Lysander – okay, it starts rosy, but he’s a bit of a pig to her when he’s under a spell.
Oberon and Titania –  arguing over an Indian boy/changeling who by all rights should be in Titania’s retinue; Oberon makes her fall in love with a donkey and then gets his own way. Nice!

Shakespeare challenges some of the stereotypes of gender in that we don’t have a cast of passive women, but don’t go so far as to think he is some kind of early feminist.

Questions – have a think yourself first before clicking on the spoilers to see my analysis.

1) Why does Egeus want Hermia killed? What does this suggest about his attitude towards women?

Answer

2) [Helena] “Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex:/We cannot fight for love, as men may do;/We should be wooed and were not made to woo.” Is this true in the play?

Answer

3) Oberon and Titania are engaged in a ‘battle of the sexes’,  but is the conflict a result of gender tensions or not?

Answer

4) Examine the relationship between Theseus and Hippolyta. What is it based on?

Answer

5) Is the gender tension or conflict in the play ever resolved?

Answer

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

3 thoughts on “Gender”

  1. So you are trying to say that Hippolyta doesn’t love Theseus in any way and it is only the power factor which is keeping the two together. It sort of appeared in the story that after being conquered she also started loving him. :/

    1. Well, we kind of have to read between the lines because we never really see anything of their relationship. She could love him, but there is no evidence for it, she is basically subservient throughout after being captured and her people conquered by him.

      1. Right thanks. I will go through it once again and look for any such evidence rather carefully this time.

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