In Williams Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” many of the play’s female characters have strong similarities and differences among one another. Although many of the main female characters in the play come from dissimilar backgrounds, their similarities are brought together by common problems associated with society and love. Of the four main female characters, Hippolyta, Titania, Helena, and Hermia, both Hippolyta and Titania are royalty while Helena and Hermia are commoners.
However, a common theme associated with Hippolyta, Titania, Helena, and Hermia, regardless of their social caste, is their similarities and differences in dealing with love in a patriarchal society. Nevertheless, the patriarchal society in which Hippolyta, Titania, Helena, and Hermia live in struggles to hinder the feelings and attitudes which provide them with a distinct conception for love in a male dominated society. Hippolyta is a strong yet silent amazonian beauty who is the love of Theseus, Duke of Athens.
Although Hippolyta is largely silent in her dealings with love in the patriarchal society, her physical presence speaks for the untold voice she might profit from. Of the four main female characters Hippolyta is the more silent of the four. However, since Hippolyta is the maiden of Theseus she bears heavy in the decisions Theseus makes about the love quarrels within the play. From the words of Theseus the reader can associate that Hippolyta has a strong impact on the actions he takes when dealing with love and marriage: For you, fair Hermia, look you arm yourself To fit your fancies to your father’s will,
Or else the law of Athens yeilds you up-… To death or to vow of a single life. Come, my Hippolyta. What cheer my love? I must employ you in some business Against our nuptial, and confer with you Of something nearly that concerns yourselves. (1. 1. 117-127) Although Hippolyta has few lines in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” the expressions and reactions the reader gets from Theseus tell how Hippolyta is able to persuade the actions Theseus takes, as in the quote above. The main difference between Hippolyta and the other three female characters is her ability to speak with her actions instead of her words.
Although Hippolyta shares similarities with Hermia and Helena, the association with royalty connects Titania and Hippolyta on a closer level. Titania is a strong willed fairy who is dedicated to herself rather than her lover Oberon. However, Tatiania is more outspoken about the wrongs a patriarchal society has on love. Titania is royalty, therefore, being royalty helps to insure a greater influence toward a less patriarchal society and movement toward a society in which love is governed by a couples choice rather than a man’s choice.
Unlike Hippolyta, Titania is more verbally outspoken to her husband, taking the role of a present day feminist: Oberon. Why should Titania cross her Oberon? I do but beg a little changeling boy His mother was a vot’ress of my order,… But she, being mortal, of that boy did die; And for her sake do I rear up her boy, And for her sake I will not part with him. Titania. Not for thy fairy kingdom. (2. 1. 119-144) The way Titania handles Oberon is very dissimilar from the way Hippolyta handles differences with Theseus.
Although both women sway the actions their men take, Titania is more direct in her course than is Hippolyta. Hermia and Helena, however, act different in the way they approach love’s gridlock within the patriarchal society. Hermia, the true love of Lysander, is an outspoken rebel against the marriage law’s of the patriarchal society of Athens. However, Hermia is very vocal, like Titania, when it comes to sharing her opinion of love in a patriarchal society. Hermia expresses her opinion of marriage in a vocal manner to Theseus:
Theseus. What you say, Hermia? Be advised, fair maid. To you your father should be as a god-… I do entreat Your Grace to pardon me…. The worst that may befall me in this case Theseus. Either to die the death or to abjure Hermia. So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord, Ere I will yield my virgin patent up (1. 1. 46-80) Hermia is genteel when it comes to asserting her opinion of Athen’s marriage laws. The patriarchal society which has made Hermia unable to marry Lysander only makes Hermia fight more for her right to free love.
The obvious differences between Hermia and Helena do not prevent them from defying the patriarchal law’s of Athens. The similarities between Helena and Hermia are only conveyed by the extreme discrepancies they possess within their personalities. Both Hermia and Helena want what is best for true love to flourish within the constraints of a patriarchal society. Both women feel it is the women’s right to choice her opinion for the man she will love in marriage Helena, the shunned lover of Demetrius, is a quiet, forgiving, and wholehearted young women.
Helena is assertive at opposing marriage laws, which govern love in Athens, yet in a modest and uncommon manner for 16th century Athens. Instead of verbalizing her opinion of love constraints the Athenian laws dictate, Helena’s actions of female wooing provide her with the defiance a patriarchal society places on women. Helena is in love with Demetrius, however, Demetrius wants nothing to do with Hermia. Therefore, Hermia defies the role of a female in 16th century Athens and tries to romance her love, knowing Demetrius will never court her himself.
Helena tries to win Demetrius’s love: Demetrius: Do I entice you? Do I speak you fair? Or rather do I not in plainest truth Tell you I do not nor I cannot love you the? Helena. And even for that do I love you the more. I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius, The more you beat me I will fawn on you. (2. 2. 199-204) Although Helena fails at wooing Demetrius, the fight for Demetrius’s love is not hidden behind the patriarchal community of Athen’s. Both Hippolyta and Titania, as well as Hermia and Helena, share common interest in defying the laws of a patriarchal society.
The foremost problem associated with a male dominated society in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was love. Therefore, a common focus associated with Hippolyta, Titania, Helena, and Hermia, in spite of their social standing, is their likenesses and contrasts in handling the idea of love in a patriarchal society. Still, the patriarchal society in which Hippolyta, Titania, Helena, and Hermia reside in strives to impede the feelings and attitudes which make up their idea of what love should become in a patriarchal society.