Women Conformity Within Shakespeare’s Othello And A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Shakespeare wrote Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Elizabethian era, during a patriarchal Venetian society. During this time, women didn’t have as many leniencies per se, compared to men of the time; this was due to the strict social hierarchy. Stereotypically, women were mostly responsible for maintaining the home, barring and feeding children, and maintaining the honor of their husband and family in public. When first introduced to the female representatives, it was clear that there would be unequal gender dynamics throughout each play; there was a level of male superiority from the beginning of each. Within Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare portrays two types of women: the strong minded feminist, readily waiting to break gender norms, and the one conforming to man, later to realize that she to has a voice. While there are a wide range of meninisms, a male feminist, women should be granted social equality because according to Shakespeare discrimmination can lead to: Hermia’s battle with unfavorable familial ties, Desdemona’s death, and Emilia’s inhibition for social interaction. By allowing himself to play with gender roles, in a way, Shakespeare disrupts female stereotypes, and allows his female characters to have if at all their one moment of individuality. All, nevertheless, are eventually silenced by man, conforming to the unfortunate standards set by them.

Hermia is the daughter of Egeus, an Athenian; she has been forced to nearly give up the love of her life, force by the hand of her father. Egeus wishes for Hermia to marry Demetrius; Hermia wishes to marry her true love Lysander. Upon knowing this, Egeus gives her three options: marry Demetrius, be banished and treated like a prostitute, or death. She is immediately seen as a product of disposal instead of a loved daughter when her father labels her as his possession, “And what is mine my love shall render him. And she is mine, and all right to her” (1.1.98-99). In doing so, Hermia has made the decision to run away from home, undermining her father as well as putting her life at risk.

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“I do entreat your Grace to pardon me.

I know not by what power I am made bold,

Nor how it may concern my modesty,

In such a presence here to plead my thoughts;

But I beseech your Grace that I may know

The worst that may befall me in this case

If I refuse to wed Demetrius.”

Hermia (1.1.60-66)

By running away, she is acknowledging and impairing the gender norms of her society. Although fully aware of her consequences as a daughter and a woman, Hermia challenges the conformity of women. However, you can sense that she still is unsure of her decision when saying, “I know not by what power I am made bold” (1.1.61); Hermia is the daughter of a man with powers that would frighten any women of the time. By the end of her conversation with Lysander and Theseus, she has strengthened herself by voicing her decision aloud, “So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,” (1.1.81); confirming that she was going to live on her own or with Lysander. By running away to the forest, she is exhibiting her fight against gender norms, and the right to a fair life. She shows her father that she will not conform to that of male dominance.

Desdemona is the daughter of Brabantio, a Venetian Senator. Commonly, during the Elizabethian era, women were expected to be married by their fathers accords; however, similar to that of Hermia, Desdemona defied odds by eloping with her lover Othello. Othello is a Moorish general in the Venetian army and is one of the story’s main characters. Rather than to support his daughters heart, Brabantio deems that Othello must have manipulated Desdemona, fore loving someone of color during the times was uncommon. Women were veiwed as the weaker sex, and they needed to be controlled or what they would call guided by a man, be it father or husband. Being that may, after Othello was summoned to a military operation, and the Senate allows his wife to accompany him on his travels. Later, they meet Iago, Othello’s standard-bearer, and Cassio, Othello’s second in command. Being the gentleman he sees himself as, Othello permits Cassio to use Desdemona at his convenience after he is hurt. This is a sign which implies that his wife is somewhat a possession since he did not receive permission before granting her services. Iago, jealous of Othello, begins to manipulate him into thinking Desdemona committed adultery with Cassio. He succeeds with said manipulation by planting Othellos’ handkerchief in Cassio’s room. Naive to the love and loyalty his wife has continuously shown him, he strikes her and calls her a whore. Even though he fell victim himself, Othello further pushed Desdemona into the sterotype of women only being utilized for sex. Desdemona is represented as a feminist; she conveyed a strong will for her indepence when she eloped with Othello and doesn’t conform to the society of male dominance. She is loyal to Othello, and proves it when speaking to Emilia, “Beshrew me if I would do such a wrong/For the whole world. (4.3.88-89) but this later leads to her death by him, where she blames no one but herself. Emilia, Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s attendant, helps put her to rest and argues in her defence for equality in marriage, the balance for women’s rights, and male accountability. Desdemona is explaining that being unfaithful to Othello was under no circumstances permitted. Desdemona couldn’t fathom such thoughts, showing her innocence. Here is where Emilia sees that she has made an awful mistake by being so naive and submissive to her husband. Being married to Iago is no easy task; he soon becomes the antagonist of the play. Iago uses sexist and offensive language not just toward Desdemona and Emilia but to all women; he believes women are annoying and their existence is meant only to please men’s sexual desires. During the death of Desdemona, Emilia stayed by her side; this can be seen not only as loyalty but also forms a since of sisterhood. Angered by her death, she tells Othello that it was she who gave Iago, Othello’s handkerchief, rather than Desdemona giving it to Cassio himself. Emilia who once was stern in pleasing her husbands, has now seen his true intent, and wishes to expose that of what jealousy does to man. Iago calls his wife a “Villainous whore” (5.2.273), for her honesty to Othello, and accused her of being a liar. He believes that she will obey his command and hold her tongue but she doesn’t respond with a derogatory term in return, she simply continues to speak her truth “By heaven, I do not, i do not gentlemen” (5.2.27). She continues to confess the true nature of Iago, “She give it to Cassio? No, alas, I found it, And I did give‘t my husband (5.2.269). Through Emilia and her marriage with Iago, Shakespeare represents women as victims of society whom are forced to abide by social norms put in place for societies representation of the perfect woman.

Shakespeare’s plays cover the social and political beliefs of his time and the difficulties in the way of sustaining a healthy relationship and life for women. In an age of racism and sexism, he focuses on the callous expectations of women during the Elizabethan era and the stereotypical behaviors of women conformity, society has placed upon them. There are elements within Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and his tragedy “Othello” that blatantly surface the inequalities of women during the time. Men were meant to be considered head of a marriage; however, it didn’t mean that the husband was able to command his wife to do anything she may not have been pleased to conduct. Instead, husbands were expected to take care of their wives, ensuring she had no needs, and to love her and the family they bore. It’s impossible to not relate these institutions is a way of life or death for these women. Shakespeare represents these women as feminists to his society, whom are unfortunately deemed to follow social norms that define the perfect woman; women are scrutinized for disobeying this system, in these cases, some with death.

Work Cited

  1. Shakespeare, William A. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul
  2. Werstine, Folger ed., Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2009.
  3. Shakespeare, William. Othello. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger ed.,
  4. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2017. 


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