Shakespeare paints for the audience beautiful images of homosocial communities — images of women living together, without the need for men. From the beginning of the play the audience is given their first homosocial community. When Theseus says, “Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword, And won thy love doing thee injuries,” the audience is thus informed that Hippolyta is Queen of the Amazons, Queen of a community of warrior women (1.1. 16-17). Then another image is produced when Titania shares her anecdote of her vot’ress, and how she came to be guardian of the vot’ress’s baby boy (2.1. 122-137). The audience again automatically senses the gender world of women, who talk and laugh the by view of the ocean. The images of homosocial communities of women getting along are mixed with other images and ideas. The words of Hermia and the actions of Helena also allude to the idea that women are exploring and defying gender normative behavior within the patriarchal world.
Some of these images are beautiful — as Titania peacefully watches ships on the horizon with her vot’ress and how Hermia defies the words of powerful men and stands up to them out of love. Yet, some of these images are disturbing — that Hippolyta was “wooed” by Theseus’s sword and the double meaning the sword implies, but that nonetheless she is captured. She is captured by the full throttle of manpower (yes that is exactly what I mean). The audience watches Helena lose all sense of self-worth and run at full speed behind the trail of Demetrius, in his wake of insults, awful words, and loathing towards her.
Is there one vein of meaning that runs through each of the examples above mentioned? Is each woman part of a whole picture and working together to prove a point; Or do they represent their own version of defying the patriarchal world?
As the lovers and the newlyweds watch Pyramus and Thisbe only the men speak, interrupt, and comment on the performance. It is Hippolyta who speaks up and also participates, not Hermia nor Helena. Hippolyta takes a deeper jump and tells Theseus that the play is silly. Theseus responds to her “The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse if imagination amend them” and she responds back “It must be your imagination, then, and not theirs” (5.1. 207-210). Two things are happening; one she is saying what she wants to say and two her words are not being regarded. Hippolyta makes her words heard, as differing from Hermia and Helena by not even talking, but her words are said and nothing is done about them.
At that same time Helena is chasing after Demetrius telling him he is allowed to treat her as one would treat a dog, she also brings up the point that her pursuit is only considered so wrong because she is female. She says “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. 240-243). Two things are happening here as well; one she can perceived as a hopeless fool chasing after a man who does not want her and two she can be perceived as a raising a good point — that it is the societal norm for men to woo, not for women to do the wooing.
On one level it may seem that strong females are disregarded by the end of the play. Oberon gets the vot’ress’s child. Hippolyta does not want to watch incompetent actors, but since Theseus wants to they watch it, they do. On one level the women have the power to say what they want, speak up, and take a stance. The next step is the follow-through action. When the men have a want, the next step is taken. For example, Oberon wants the child. He essentially drugs his wife and does in fact get the child. Titania’s desire was ignored. However, with yet another level, Oberon helps Helena get what she wants. He meddles with the same drug used on his wife and has Puck use it on Helena’s love, Demetrius.
Interestingly, Oberon does not do what his wife wants, but helps Helena get what she wants. What can we make of his words and his actions? He loves his queen, but does he love? He does not do what she wants, yet instead almost transfers his disregard into a responsive helpfulness for Helena. It is fascinating that Oberon — the one who is judging and toying with everyone else’s affairs and acting as God by creating Demetrius to love Helena — has not reflected on his own love. Does Oberon love his wife enough to listen to her wishes? This is unanswered, for who can define how another gives and receives love.
From exploring this, I think that there are many different veins of this issue… but one blood running through the veins, pumped out by one heart. The women in their own different ways are running with the same current. Hippolyta, Hermia, Helena, and Tatiania have their separate stories and instances of exploring the patriarchal world and exploring the prospect of a female homosocial world. These women are part of an entire point, an entire picture. The world of love encompasses both male and female reign. Whether frivolous, austere, lazy, false, or true… love is alive in every heart pumped by human, fairy, creature, or even a human with the head of an ass. Each character of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, male and female, explore the prospect of homosocial communities, the patriarchal society, and the defiance against gender normative behavior in a common vein of love.