Weak or Strong? How does Shakespeare portray his female characters in “A Mid-Summer Nights Dream” Essay

In the Athenian setting of “A Mid-Summer Nights Dream”, women play an important role. The position women play is both strong and weak, and I will be discussing these matters.

Compared to the English society in Shakespearean times, the female characters behaviour in “A Mid-Summer Nights Dream” would have been unconventional. The only exception in those days would have been Queen Elizabeth because she was very powerful even though she was a woman. This would have affected how Shakespeare portrayed women in “A Mid-Summer Nights Dream”. Women would have been made to look weak but their strength would be judged by their social position.

The two women I am going to focus on closely are a Titania, queen of the fairies and the other Helena, a lover. At this point I would say Titania seems the stronger but it may not be as straight forward as this.

Titania had a high social position as queen, also commanding the fairies. With the aid of her fairies e.g. “fairies be gone”, she has quite a powerful force. This alone is not all of Titania’s strengths, during the play she is persistently asked by Oberon for the possession of her young Indian boy but strongly refuses, “I will not part with him”. This strength of Titania, denying Oberon of the Indian boy, shows her power over him. This also shows the strength of her loyalty to her friend, mother of the Indian boy, to keep her promise of looking after the boy. Furthermore she shows her independence from Oberon, “shun me, and I will spare your haunts”. It appears she does not need Oberon and so shall leave once thesus’s wedding night is over.

Although Titania is a strong character, she does have some weaknesses. Titania is responsible for the seasons of nature and weather; her argument with Oberon has altered the balance of nature, causing turmoil and confusing all living beings. “Through this distemperament we see the seasons alter”. This shows that she is weak because her feelings are interfering with her duties. Titania is next tricked by Oberon, into loving Bottom, the ass.

She fawns over him, telling her servant fairies to do anything for him, “be kind and courteous to this gentleman”. She has put herself into a weak position, making a fool of herself loving an ass. As she is so involved with her love she betrays the promise to her dead friend by giving Oberon the Indian boy, “I then did ask of her, her changeling child; which straight she gave me”. This has shown how weak and vulnerable she is especially to men.

Further more, Titania does have a high social position, strong loyalties and is dominant once in love e.g. with bottom, “thou shat remain here, whether thou witt or no”. This shows us, although she has some weaknesses, Titania is a strong character

Helena, the lover, has a weak position though she is in a relatively high social position. She is viewed to have no control over what happens in her own life. “I have found Demetruis like a jewel, mine own and yet not mine own”. She can’t attract Demetruis, through all her efforts; she can not control a man, the man she loves, Demetruis.

Helena is very submissive, willing to put up with anything to be with Demetruis. ‘Spurn me, strike me, neglect me, lose me’. This shows us how pathetic and pitiful Helena is. Also it shows Helena to have no independence.

Though Helena loves Demetruis, she is also willing to trick him for his love, tricking him into loving her. ‘Oh, teach me how you look, and with what art you sway the motion of Demetruis’ heart’. Helena wants to look like Hermia to win Demetruis’ love; Helena is very jealous of Hermia as Demetruis’ love is for Hermia.

Helena cannot keep a secret. She betrays Hermia by telling Demetruis her plans and where to find her in the forest. But in spite of jealousy, she remains Hermia’s friend, confidante and tries not to blame her.

However, Helena is a strong character. She rebels against convention and pursues Demetruis. ‘The story shall be changed. Apollo flies and Daphne holds the chase’. Taken from a speech by Helena, this quote explains her intention to pursue Demetrius for his love, even if she must chase him for his love or if it seems against the laws of nature.

The queen and lover I have focused on do have some things in common. Both have some weakness in common. They seem to not be in control of their own lives; Titania is letting her emotions meddle with her duties while Helana can’t attract the man she loves. Further more, both have trouble with dealing with men. Titania is overpowered by Oberon into loving bottom and then tricked into breaking a promise and giving away the Indian boy. Helena can’t attract Demetrius through all her efforts.

The queen and lover also have some strengths in common. Both Titania and Hermia have high social positions; Titania is the queen and therefore leader of the fairies, she has a powerful force, controlling the weather. Helena is a noble woman, with an honourable father in a high social position, she has a high social position.

This day in age, some women are still affected by the same positive and negative feelings and relationships these women were faced with.