Robin’s epilogue at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is intriguing. Shakespeare seems to have ‘jumped the shark’ in suggesting that all was a dream at the end of the play. Why would Shakespeare end the play by saying it was all a dream and then apologize if it offended? It may have been because of the strong female characters that behave uncharacteristically for the time. The apology, “Gentles, do not reprehend. If you pardon, we will mend” (5.2.7-8) could be intended for the men in the audience who will have to deal with the aftermath of women who are inspired by Hermia, Helena and Titania.
A female character publically opposing her father must have been controversial. Women of the time would have been awestruck by Hermia’s defiant behavior towards her father. They might have been inspired by Hermia’s stance on not marrying someone she doesn’t love. Hermia statement, “Ere I will yield my virgin patent up Unto his lordship whose unwished yoke. My soul consents not to give sovereignty” (1.1. 80-83) could have planted seeds of rebellion in young girls. Hermia does not waiver in her defiance and is prepared to live a life of chastity if she cannot have the one she loves. Could Shakespeare have been accountable for young women of the era standing up to their fathers and taking control of their own destinies?
Helena’s character could have also gotten Shakespeare into trouble. While I love Helena she is the epitome of obsessed even in today’s world. She doesn’t pursue Demetrius shamelessly, “Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex. We cannot fight for love as men do;” (2.1.240-241) she admits she is behaving unabashedly yet she does not yield in the face of rejection. If Helena’s behavior is a part of the offense and included in the apology how does it reconcile with the fact that she gets Demetrius in the end? If I were an impressionable young girl in the audience I might think that if I super stalked someone I could end up with him.
Titania is yet another female character that defies male authority. Robin tells the fairy that Titania forcibly “withholds the loved boy” (2.1.26) from Oberon. Like Hermia and Helena, Tiatnia carries out her assertion until she is tricked into giving the boy up. In class we discussed the interpretation of the relationship between Titania, her voltress and the mens’ merchant ships. The notion of women being more valuable than men because of reproduction seems to be what Shakespeare would have needed to apologize for most of all.
I wonder how the dream was received in Shakespeare’s time. I think it was a crafty way for him to get his ideas across and save himself from public scrutiny. Today’s audiences don’t seem to appreciate the ‘dream’ explanation. We want to be told what it means rather than finding the meaning ourselves.