One theme that I am always particularly interested in are gender roles and how they are portrayed. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, what stood out to me most was the portrayal of Helena and Hermia’s bond as well as the description of the relationship between Titania and her vot’ress.
The unnamed mother of the changeling boy is described as a vot’ress, which we discussed in class to be someone who is almost a religious follower of the powerful fairy queen Titania. I would expect this relationship to be that of a servant and protector, both faithful to one another yet with Titania in a position of more power and slightly superior. Titania explains that the vot’ress would “fetch me trifles,” (2.1.133) almost as a squire would run errands for a king. Because of their positions, it is surprising to me that Titania would take upon herself the responsibility of this woman’s child, ” And for her sake I do rear up her boy; And for her sake I will not part with him,” (2.1.136-137). The repetition of the words “for her sake” suggests that the relationship was of more importance than one would expect of queen and follower.
I want to contrast this relationship with the description of Helena and Hermia’s friendship, where there is much evidence of the pair being described as equals. Helena asserts that they were “like two artificial gods… created both one flower…sitting on one cushion…warbling of one song, both in one key,” The repeated use of the word “one” suggests that there was no superior, but that they were the best of friends and equals. It is therefore curious to me that this pair should accuse each other of betrayal, while Titania is still respectful and faithful to an unnamed woman who is no longer alive. Helena and Hermia allow the tricks of men to come between them, meanwhile Titania was seemingly of a community where men were not even needed to reproduce.
Do we as humans crave the homosocial relationship that Helena and Hermia had? Or can positions of leader and follower be more beneficial to us, or even more reliable? I was unsure of Shakespeare’s intent in creating the contrast of these two relationships, but it seems that he is making an observation about the different ways in which we construct our social order and the value of different types of human bonds.