Gender Inequality in a Midsummer Night’s Dream
Gender inequality is effectively explored through Shakespeare’s use of comedy because it is conveyed and challenged from the start to the end of the play. In a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare uses comedy to effectively enhance and explore gender inequality in the beginning of the play to bring forward different opinions and unknown ideas without being considered offensive. He does this by using farce comedy through Hermia’s exaggerated choice of words: “So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord, Ere I will yield my virgin patent up unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke my soul consents not to give sovereignty.” The main messages that Shakespeare deliberately intended to deliver are that men and women are equal, they should have equal rights, men are not dominant and that women should have more say in their lives, challenging the issue of gender inequality. Throughout the play, Shakespeare uses different types of comedy such as slapstick, rom-com, satire, high, low and farce. He does this to ease the harshness of the mood, relieving tension and distracting the audience from serious political issues. It also makes it easier for the audience to watch, understand and to enjoy and absorb the message of the story.
Shakespeare lightly introduces gender inequality in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as soon as the play begins when Theseus advises Hermia that her father should be as god and was the one that composed her beauties. This shows that men were revered as being worth more than women and having the utmost authority and control, in this case love, over them. It is also mainly present when Egeus (Hermia’s Father) does not allow her to marry Lysander, her lover, as Egeus believes that he doesn’t possess the qualities desired by the Victorian society, and instead marry his preferred suitor Demetrius, who is worthy of Hermia’s marriage. He displays romantic comedy in this display to ease the mood of the scene, and relieve tension from the audience. Egeus is advantaged in this situation as he is her father and is a male and has the free will to decide who Hermia marries. Hermia is the most disadvantaged as she is a young female who is powerless and has no say in her love life. This is followed by Lysander as he cannot marry Hermia whom he loves as he doesn’t have Egeus’ blessing and is thought of as unworthy. Demetrius has similar power to Egeus in the sense that he can marry whoever he wants to. Helena is in a bit of a different situation to Demetrius because she can’t marry who she wants to because they love with someone else. Egeus is also sided with Theseus, the king, who also shares the same beliefs as him. Shakespeare however strongly displays the key idea when Hermia and Lysander plan to escape to his auntie’s place in the forest, displaying a lack of obedience to her father and absence of acceptance that men are the authority. The impact of the key idea as it is introduced, greatly affects the storyline and characters decisions as the whole idea is based around the fact that Hermia and Lysander aren’t able to marry.
Oberon wants Puck to straighten out the dilemma of the four lovers with ''love juice,'' but Puck enchants the wrong man. Now the tension is higher than ever between the two couples, even descending into a girl fight between Hermia and Helena. This is an example of slapstick physical comedy. High comedy is the part of the plot involving the four lovers. Once Puck magically changes the love interests for Lysander and Demetrius, the comedic situation becomes clear. The situation itself is the source of the humour.
Shakespeare challenges that the cultural notion that man has any power at all, and that man is like and should be revered as god. He expresses these ideas through the actions of Oberon and Puck, changing and influencing the appearances/aesthetics and mindsets of various characters throughout the play. Although characters such as Egeus, Theseus and Hippolyta are all given some level of social hierarchal power, it is nothing compared to the magical capabilities of the fairies, Oberon, Titania and Puck. Shakespeare also conveys a powerful and important concept that men and women are equal and need each other to be genuinely successful. The Shakespearean part of the comedy is in all of the dialogue and play on words. For example, when Helena and Hermia argue, they insult each other in cunning ways in Act 3 Scene 2.
Gender equality is finally resolved at the end of the play when Hermia and Lysander, as well as Demetrius and Helena get married. The end of the play has been well scripted so that all four lovers get lost in the forest through Puck’s deception and they all fall asleep. This conveniently allows for Puck to correct his mistake and make Lysander fall back in love with Hermia, and Demetrius with Helena. The lovers overcome the sense of patriarchy, introducing norms such as marriage based off love and women having equal power to men on the same social level. Shakespeare introduces new values to Victorian Society such as women being valued equally to men, adding new perspectives on women and men.
Shakespeare uses rom-com to influence the audience through a complex love story. He conveys gender inequality and changes the audience’s mindset when it comes to how men and women are valued and how much authority they have over each other. In the beginning of the play Shakespeare starts in a serious way causing people to acknowledge what is happening in their society and develops those ideas towards the end as everything is resolved.
Gender inequality is effectively enhanced and explored through Shakespeare’s use of comedy to bring forward different opinions and unknown ideas without being considered offensive, using different types of comedy such as slapstick, rom-com, satire, high, low and farce. He successfully conveys the main messages that men and women are equal, they should have equal rights, men are not the authority and that women should have more say in their lives.