Absurdity of Power Dynamics

A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens with love with complications—typical, right?  First, we get a dominating power dynamic.  On the first page we learn that Theseus dominated Hippolyta during a military conquest, and now they will be married in four days.  Although this arrangement seems completely aggressive and one-sided, Hippolyta too is excited to be married.

Soon after, we are introduced to another male dominated relationship.  Egeus, Hermia’s father, comes to complain that this daughter will not obey him in that she will not marry Demetrius.  However, here we see the female speaking up for her wants.  Hermia’s first line in the play “So is Lysander” (1.1.53) is ambivalent in that this line speaks to her independent desires, but the three words also reinforce her compliance to men.  Hermia does not want to be independent of men, rather she wants choice of who to marry (which does exert some independence).  In addition, I find that Egeus’ 23 line complaint about his daughter, with her three word response to contrast one another greatly.  The power dynamic is implicitly reinforced through the language in this way.

Theseus goes on to add that if Hermia does not act as he wishes she will “For aye to be in shady cloister mewed” (1.1.71).  In reality though, Hermia is already caged in by the societal forces which give men the right to reign over women.

To contrast the absurdity of the first scene, the second scene can be viewed as a foil to the harsh realities of society’s boundaries.  These working class men stumble around trying to put together a production of The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe.  The title of the production, which uses excessive (and unnecessary) modifiers by using “most” twice.  To make the production even more absurd, they are throwing together parts only days before they are supposed to perform.  The conglomeration of these misfit men do not fluidly fit together as a crew.  Bottom has no idea what the play is about and has to ask whether Pyramus is a lover or tyrant, when the story of Pyramus and Thisbe is one of the most classic stories. Flute does not want to play a woman because he is growing a beard, and so on.  These men clearly have little experience in theater and are not fit to put together such a production.

The absurdity of Scene 2 contrasts with the underlying absurdity of yet another love story about two young people not being able to be together because of their parents’ wishes.

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5 thoughts on “Absurdity of Power Dynamics

  1. alexsokolinski

    I like how you describe the second scene of act one as a foil to the harsh realities of society’s boundaries. This sums up my personal views of the scene as well. It is funny how Shakespeare describes these gentleman, and how we can compare them to people in our society today. The views of the common people in Shakespeare’s time are very interesting and help understand certain aspects of the play. As we see the play being a contrast of worlds, I feel it is very important to see the contrast in ONE world as well. Also how the entire play shows how there are boundaries being broken down in many ways including the patriarchy and of the different societal classes.

    Reply
    1. george842013

      I can agree that the society of the day was male dominated, but I read the windy complaint by Egeus more as exposition and an opportunity to be rendered absurd than a support of the apparently male-dominated social setting. The fact the after launching into a protracted argument to detail how he has been slighted, the conventions violated, and his legal redress, the one sentence reply of Hermia is more than a rejection and stand for a woman’s right to choice: it is very funny. This would, of course, depend on how the scene is acted. I see the exchange as exposing Egeus as absurd and comedic–making the dialogue about gender dynamics much more nuanced than it would initially seem.

      Reply
  2. jacobic1

    Reblogged this on Shakespeare I and commented:

    In the power-relations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream the male characters indeed seem to be dominant over the females at first glance. Examining the power-relations closer we can see, that the men are questioned by the “rebellious” women (Hermia, Helena and Titania). In my opinion, these women, who disobey the traditional male dominance, also balance the power-structure of the play, as they, in a way, even seem to weaken the dominance of the male who rules over them. Hermia, for instance, dares to talk back to Theseus (1.1.53), and demonstrates with her verbal counter-attack that his power is not untouchable.

    Reply
  3. elainemarina24

    Although there is a history of male dominance over females in this play, I was totally shocked when I read of Hermia’s father, Egeus’, desire to kill his own daughter for the sole reason that she wouldn’t obey his desires on who she should marry. Additionally, she was threatened to become a nun for the rest of her life if she didn’t obey. This is very much ironic because it seems as though she already lives under such strict rule from her own father so becoming a nun would probably not feel any different.
    Throughout this play, we find that women are in fact treated unfairly and their opinions or feelings seem unimportant. Although we presume that Hippolyta in fact did want to marry Theseus, considering the circumstances, it was as though her decision and her entire relationship was being made of a mockery. The play that was to be preformed at her wedding by such unexperienced and foolish actors is absurd. Additionally, the play was on death and dying which is completely inappropriate for a wedding. The way in which the woman are portrayed in this play actually upsets me, but I did find some joy in Hermia’s remark to her father standing up for the man that she truly loves.

    Reply
  4. coleenhiggins

    Until I read your post, the contrast between scenes I and II was not something I immediately noticed. Though more comical than the first scene, do you sense a power struggle going on between the mechanicals as well? I think the power dynamics between the couple and then between these foolish men are interesting to look at when you put them side by side. It might be worth noting that the men are reluctant to play women fearing it will diminish their masculinity, which ties in with the theme of male authority and power.

    Reply

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