A Midsummer Night's Dream Gender Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to Folger's online edition.
What is Thisbe?—a wand'ring knight?
It is the lady that Pyramus must love.
Nay, faith, let me not play a woman. I have a beard coming.
That's all one. You shall play it in a mask, and
you may speak as small as you will.
An I may hide my face, let me play Thisbe too, I'll
speak in a monstrous little voice: "Thisne,
Thisne!"—"Ah, Pyramus, lover dear! thy Thisbe dear,
and lady dear!" (1.2.43-52)
When the Mechanicals discuss how Flute will cross-dress and play the role of Thisbe, we're reminded that all female roles were played by male actors on Shakespeare's stage. Usually, these parts were given to prepubescent boys with high-pitched or "monstrous little" voices. Shakespeare is always joking about this in his plays.
Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.
What, jealous Oberon? Fairies, skip hence.
I have forsworn his bed and company.
Tarry, rash wanton: am not I thy lord?
Then I must be thy lady. But I know
When thou hast stolen away from fairy land,
And in the shape of Corin sat all day (2.1.62-68)
King Oberon and Queen Titania's tumultuous relationship is often described as the ultimate "battle of the sexes." Like Kate and Petruchio in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, the fairy King and Queen are constantly at each other's throats. Their feud over Titania's foster child (Oberon wants him to be his private page but Titania won't give him up) is so fierce that it throws nature into disarray and causes the worst weather imaginable.
Ay, in the temple, in the town, the field,
You do me mischief. Fie, Demetrius!
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. (2.1.245-249)
Here, Helena points out that, even though it's not socially acceptable for women to be aggressive in the pursuit of love, she doesn't care. On the one hand, Helena acts like a creepy stalker when she chases Demetrius around after the guy's made it perfectly clear that he's not in love with her. On the other hand, Helena's point about double standards raises an interesting question: Why is it OK for men to "fight for love" when women are expected to be passive? Remember, Theseus literally won Hippolyta with his "sword" when he conquered her people (see quote #2).