Like many Shakespearean comedies (The Taming of the Shrew, for example), A Midsummer Night's Dream dramatizes gender tensions that arise from complicated familial and romantic relationships. When the play opens, a young woman fights her father for the right to choose her own spouse, a duke is set to marry a woman he recently conquered in battle, and the King and Queen of Fairies are at war with each other, enacting a battle of the sexes so intense that it disrupts the natural world. And you thought MTV's Battle of the Sexes was intense.
Throughout the play, Shakespeare also questions some stereotypes about traditional gender roles when it comes to romance. For example, while men are usually expected to be aggressive, women are expected to remain passive and docile. Of course, A Midsummer Night's Dream shows us that this isn't necessarily always the case—especially when you get magical love juice involved. We think it's awesome that Shakespeare wasn't afraid to poke fun at the absurdity of gender roles so many centuries ago... he really was ahead of his time.
Questions About Gender
- Why does Egeus want Duke Theseus to enforce the death penalty on Hermia? What does this suggest about Egeus's attitude toward his daughter and women in general?
- "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" (2.1.6). What does Helena mean when she says this to Demetrius? Do you think what she says rings true in the play?
- Oberon and Titania's fighting is often described as the ultimate "battle of the sexes." Explain why the couple fights and discuss whether or not their brawls are a result of gender tensions.
- Is the tension between various men and women ever resolved in the play? Why or why not?
Chew on This
Titania, Hermia, and Helena defy traditional gender stereotypes by aggressively pursuing love.
Shakespeare makes a gendered argument in A Midsummer Night's Dream; while both Lysander's and Demetrius's madness can be explained by their enchantment, Hermia and Helena have no such excuse. Shakespeare argues that women are subject to a different view of reality when it comes to love.