Offended by the apology?

            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.
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5 thoughts on “Offended by the apology?

  1. Sam Montagna

    I enjoyed this post; you make some really great points. Hermia is not the first strong woman that Shakespeare writes about. For example, Kate from Taming of the Shrew, the Three daughters from King Lear and Lady MacBeth from MacBeth are all headstrong and aim to get what they want by any means necessary. However, by the end of the story, all of these women including Hermia get put in their place. Shakespeare tends to build the female characters up but then brings them down through, death, guilt, or marriage. Helena and Titania also succumb to that fate as well. Titania is the queen, yet, is so easily tricked and Helena fights for love, just like a man does. She does not stop at rejection, but then as soon as she wins his love, she acts like a married woman and is silent throughout Act V. Shakespeare's female characters start out acting out of the "female stereotype" for the time but end up definitely pushed back in.

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  2. Jacey Lawler

    Puck’s speech at the end of the play always interested me as well. He may be saying “if something touched a nerve, we apologize” but I think it is more along the lines of, “if you didn’t like it as entertainment, sorry, just think of it as a dream.” To me, this epilogue serves more as the theatre company stating that they hope their audience liked the show, but if they didn’t, a production of a new play will be coming soon enough. I agree that if young women were in the audience they might get ideas regarding defiant attitudes. Historically though, I do not think females in general could attend plays. I agree that Puck’s apology is quite witty of Shakespeare. It is a great way for him to save himself from any upset audience member, whether because they are angered over the entertainment value or some controversial theme.

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  3. Krystal Haight

    Pamela, I think you present some excellent ideas in your post regarding the challenging of patriarchal authority. I like how you ponder what the women of Shakespeare's time would have thought of Hermia. She certainly transforms the role of the female, for she is not submissive in the least (at least in Acts I through IV). I wonder if Hermia's character was a role model for women? I would like to think that she was. The fact that she stands up for herself and advocates a sense of feminine agency was probably admired by women. On the flip side, I do not think men would have been fond of her character! In fact, I am inclined to believe that they were even intimidated by her. Perhaps they feared her character would provoke some sort of "feminine revolution." I think my imagination might be overly exaggerating reality. Society was so patriarchal that the men probably did not have to worry one bit! Nevertheless, I still cannot help but wonder!

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  4. Myra Gonzalez

    Hermia and Helena reflect powerful women who wanted to be in control of their lives. I beleive Shakespeare created these women characters to reflect a power of choice women of the time many have wanted but did not possess. According to the article "Marriage and Money" women were not valued and often were forced to marry because of the families financial needs. Helena and Hermia reflect the opposition women felt when it came to their choiceless choice when it came to marriage. They were the "dream" of controlling their own destiny. Regarding your question, I don't feel Shakespeare had the power to influence many women in his society because it was so male dominated. All he was able to do was entertain the people with the ridiculousness women go through for love.

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  5. Liz Schiavo

    I agree with Myra 100%, I truly enjoyed these women characters because they went against society rules and took control of their lives. Women struggled with power because of the male dominance and I think Shakespeare definetly created these characters to entertain and lighten up the mood by using comedy; Hermia being a rebel and Helena being a stalker

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