The Victimization Of Women In Elizabethan In A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Throughout history, the role woman have played in society has changed drastically. As compared to modern society, William Shakespeare’s works illustrate the fluctuation of the treatment of women in the two-time periods. The present study of a few Shakespearian plays borrows some of the insights of feminist criticism to examine Shakespeare’s portrayal of women. A Midsummers Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing (which are both comedies), and Othello (a tragedy) all have been chosen deliberately for this study because of what they reveal about women and social order in Elizabethan society. In A Midsummers Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and Othello, the male ego causes destruction, commotion, and even death. During the Elizabethan era, male domination was heavily rooted in the idea of patriarchy, a system in which men hold power in society. Women are seen as the man’s property; they were expected to be quiet and submissive. They could not express themselves.

The ill-treatment that some women characters endure in Shakespeare’s plays is the result of men’s fear of losing control of their women, and by implication, their male authority. In the three plays, women characters become victims not only of male domination but also of the male ego. These plays show the presence of male domination and the exploitation of women––more specifically, Hermia and Helena’s, Hero’s, and Desdemona’s victimization. Neither of the characters commits the accused crime, but all are made victims because of false accusations.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set in a patriarchal society. The woman fits the social quotas of the time: subserviency. Women did not have any power in the real world, except in the fictional world of Fairyland. This only shows how women had no significant societal role in the real world. However, once in the Fairyland, women can make their own choices and demonstrate their real power. The males in A Midsummer Night’s Dream victimize the woman in the ‘real world.’ Emma Smith provides insight on a typical plot within Shakespearean plays that appear in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: two men who are rivals and jealous of a woman. This jealousy can prompt the misogyny.

The father of Hermia, Egeus, is extremely misogynistic to his daughter in the play. Dehumanizing Hemia, Egeus makes all of Hermia’s choices for her: ‘As she is mine, I may dispose of her’ (1.1.43). By objectifying her and stripping her of her human rights and dignity, Egeus’ does not let Hermia make any decisions for herself. Her father only sees her as his property, not as a human being. One of the significant examples of this is Egeus choosing who Hermia will marry: ‘she is mine, and all my right of her / I do estate unto Demetrius’ (1.1.99-100). He does not hesitate to force his daughter to marry someone she doesn’t love. Egeus not only wrongfully give ownership of Hermia to Demetrius like she is his property, but he also does not let Hermia have a say in the decision. Hermia is in love with Lysander, not Demetrius.

Demetrius’s misogynistic personality victimizes another woman in the play: Helena, Hermia’s friend. Demetrius is continuously mistreating her. He does not even treat her as a human being. In one instance, Helena begs: ‘What worser place can I beg in your love / (And yet a place of high respect with me) / Than to be usèd as you use your dog?’. Without any sympathy, Demetrius responds: ‘Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit, / For I am sick when I do look on thee’ ( His treatment of Helena reflects his view of woman: he does not see them as equals. It is assumed that Demetrius does not have any mercy in hurting her, despite Helena’s feelings. The victimization of Hermia and Helena can be compared to the victimization of Hero in Much Ado About Nothing.

Shakespearian character, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, is not only a victim of one man’s ego but of two men. The first is Don John. As explained in Emma Smith’s lecture on Don John’s motives in the play, Don John is upset when he finds out that Claudio and Hero are about to get married because he is in love with Hero. With his heartbroken and his ego destroyed, he and Baratio, a close friend of Don John, develope a diabolical plan.

Tell [Don Pedro and Count Claudio] that

you know that Hero loves me […]

Offer them instances, which shall bear no less

likelihood than to see me at her chamber window,

hear me call Margaret ‘Hero,’ hear Margaret term

me ‘Claudio’ (2.2.34-43).

Don John carefully thought out his plan to ensure the recovery of his ego. The only thing that could fix Don John’s wilted ego was for both Claudio and Hero to feel his pain. So, he intentionally ruined the almost wed couple’s lives.

Once Don John ruined the pure relationship between the two lovers, Claudio’s ego is also hurt because he feels like he has been humiliated by his soon-to-be wife, Hero. His ego is crushed, and he will not stop until the humiliation is over. Claudio believes that Hero has been unfaithful; therefore, he doesn’t tell her that he is hurt. Instead, Claudio transfers those damaged emotions and uses them to exploit her.

There, Leonato, take her back again.

Give not this rotten orange to your friend.

She’s but the sign and semblance of her honor.

Behold how like a maid she blushes here!

O, what authority and show of truth (4.1.31-35).

Although Claudio is aware of Hero’s ‘good’ reputation, he never confronts her about the false accusations. He automatically assumes that since his male friend has told him the news, then the information must be correct. Marriage requires love, and love requires communication. The abuser who refused to talk to his partner denies her love and leaves her isolated. This form of emotional abuse is what Claudio uses to victimize his lover. Lacking and information or the opportunity to explain herself, Hero becomes victimized by Claudio.

Luckily, the male domination in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing is dealt with before anyone gets killed. In Othello, however, the situation is tenser. Desdemona, Othello’s wife, is a victim of the male ego, so much so, she also dies in response to it. Desdemona’s innocence makes her victimization more excruciating. Othello has never witnessed any conduct of Desdemonas that is suggestive of infidelity. As a result of Iago’s devilish scheme, two men victimize Desdemona––her husband and his sworn enemy. The evil plan that Iago creates makes Othello jealous, and this causes him to become violent towards Desdemona. In one of Othello’s acts of violence towards her, Desdemona only states, ‘I have not deserved this’ (4.1.271), and she lovingly proceeds to entertain her husband’s guest. Later, Othello suffocates her. Gasping the last breath, she mutters, ‘O falsely falsely murdered!’ (5.2.125). In her final moments, Desdemona does not reveal her killer to Emilia, only stating, ‘Nobody. I myself. Farewell. / Commend me to my kind lord. O, farewell’ (5.2.127). Desdemona’s victimization ends with her taking the blame as she dies in her husband’s arms–as if she had done something to prompt the violence. Despite Desdemona’s submissive reaction to Othello’s violence, it does not diminish the foolishness of the fragility of the more’s ego and his actions.

Although the social norms for women have changed since the sixteenth century, it is not perfect. Society is adjusting to the addition of women who are not entirely oppressed by male domination. Women’s wages still are not equal to men in some industries. Women’s contributions to society still are not accepted by all people. Despite that, women are now able to go to work and school independently. They can choose to do household duties without obeying male authority. Shakespeare illustrates the victimization of women in Elizabethan England in these notable plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and Othello. Shakespeare utilizes characters like Hermia and Helena, Hero, and Desdemona to get this message to the reader. But now the question is: What could Elizabethan women like Hermia and Helena, Hero, and Desdemona have accomplished if they weren’t bogged down by the male ego?


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