Female Characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream

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      There are a total of four main female characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream. These characters are Hippolyta, Hermia, Helena and Titania. All the four female characters in the play are interesting characters from the point of view of their personality traits. They are all strong women with discernible characteristics and an individual personality. They are not similar at all and therefore can be looked at from the point of view of contrast and comparison.

      Hippolyta: Hippolyta is the Queen of Amazons. She fights a war with Theseus but loses this battle against him. Impressed by his bravery on the battlefield, Hippolyta agrees to marry Theseus. She is patient about getting married but Theseus is impatient and wants the wedding day to approach faster. Hippolyta is a brave woman and only agrees to marry Theseus after she loses a battle against him. However feminist literary critics have also pointed out that Hippolyta's portrayal in the play is symbolic in nature. Her agreeing to marry Theseus is representative of the fact that female strength and courage have been subordinated by male domination. We also see this being shadowed by Titania and Oberon wherein Oberon seems to be stubborn about getting his demands met by hook or by crook. He finally makes Titania surrender her Indian attendant thereby humiliating her.

      Hippolyta is also interested in sports such as stag-hunting which are predominantly considered to be 'masculine sports'. Hippolyta enjoys stag hunting and even pays keen attention to the Spartan breed dogs which Theseus has. She tells Theseus that she had once accompanied Hercules and Cadmus to a Cretan wood for hunting bears. It is during this visit that she had the fortune of hearing the Spartan hounds bark. She says that their barking was such a 'musical discord and sweet thunder'.

      Hippolyta also represents the virtue of love. When the two couples, Lysander and Hermia; and Demetrius and Helena, recount their experience in the woods, Hippolyta is the only person who actually believes their story to be true. However, she is also idealistic in nature. Just like love is an ideal, she also wants to cling to the ideal of perfection. While she is watching the play about the love story of Pyramus and Thisbe, she expects the actors to perform without any flaws. She does not acknowledge the fact that these actors are merely artisans who are already going beyond their limits to justify their parts.

      Titania: Titania is the wife of Oberon. This makes her the queen of fairies. She has a train of attendants who can assist her with her daily work but she has taken a liking towards one particular attendant, a changeling who was stolen by the fairies from an Indian household. She bestows him with gifts and appreciation. She crowns this attendant with flowers and makes him the source of all joy to her. Titania is a stubborn and headstrong woman. She is not willing to give up her attendance to Oberon. For this, she has to argue incessantly with Oberon and engage in verbal duels. This disturbs Titania as such arguments disturb the natural order of things. However, Titania is not willing to obey Oberon. On the contrary; she asks Oberon to be calm and give up his wish of acquiring her attendant. Like other woman characters in the play, she is also subject to the domination and machinations of men. However being a strong-willed character, she does not succumb to the pressure of obeying the male characters in the play. Titania claims that the attendant she has is actually the child of a mortal, human friend she had. She takes on her child to care for him and provide him with a normal life. She uses the child as her attendant and showers him with gifts and appreciation. Oberon also desires to have this boy as his attendant but Titania is determined to not give up the boy. She cites this reason to not give up the boy that she promised the boy's mother that she will always keep the boy close to him. From Titania's speeches we realize that she is a friendly fairy. This friendship which she shared with the earthly mortal is a deep and joyful friendship. She says, "Full often hath she gossp'd by my side; And sat with me on Neptune's yellow sands". She treats this boy as a memento, a reminder of her friendship with this earthly mortal. But as Fate would have it, she is forced to give up this boy even though she does this under the influence of a magic flower whose juice is squeezed into her eyes by Puck on the command of Oberon. Therefore we can say that Titania stands for the virtue of friendship. Titania is a source of three major elements in the play-comedy; magic and love. She is an obstinate fairy who believes in being determined to pursue what she wants. She is as stubborn as her husband, Oberon. Since both of them are headstrong characters, they always engage in quarrels which lead their marriage into an uncomfortable space. She provides romance and comedy through the episode of her falling in love with Bottom wearing the donkey's mask. Her behavior becomes a source of merriment to the other characters. She is a lively spirit. This is evident from the fact that she enjoys singing and dancing with her attendant fairies.

      Helena: Helena, from the beginning of the play comes across as a pitiable and unfortunate character. She is in love with Demetrius who had actually wooed her sometime back. Once she fell in love with, Demetrius deserted her and started following Hermia. This led to an intense heartbreak for Helena and she left no stone unturned to woo back Demetrius. However, Demetrius turned out to be stone-hearted person who was not willing to accept Helena back at any cost. This background makes Helena a pitiable character for the reader. During the play, under the influence of a magic potion, both Lysander and Demetrius fall in love with her. They start following and wooing her with lofty expressions of love. However such is Helena's condition and hopelessness that she cannot accept the fact that she is being wooed by two lovers. She feels that she is being mocked and ridiculed by both Lysander and Demetrius. In the play; envy and jealousy are the traits which is the most highlighted as far as Helena is concerned. She has been intimate friends with Hermia since their school days. However, it is unacceptable to her that Demetrius has fallen in love with her. Even when Hermia tells her that she detests Demetrius, Helena is not willing to listen to this and says that it is because of Hermia's beauty that both men have fallen in love with her. Helena does not hold Demetrius responsible for abandoning her even once. She also reveals Hermia's plan of running away from Athens to Demetrius. Helena does not think about her friend, while Hermia has entrusted her with this secret with the sole objective of consoling her.

      Hermia: Hermia is in love with Lysander and continues to follow her love even when her father, Egeus disapproves of it. He has chosen Demetrius for Hermia but Hermia does not budge from her position. She also agrees to be a part of Lysander's plan of running away from Athens without hesitation. She absolutely detests Demetrius and does not want to be in his company at all. She does not bow down to the wishes of her father, Egeus and the Duke of Athens, Theseus.

      Hermia is an assertive and courageous woman. She is caught in a place, where not just people and situations have turned their tides against her but even the law is against her. The ancient Athenian law prevents her to get married to a man of her choice. Except Lysander, every person ranging from her own father to the most powerful and mighty of all, the ruler of Athens, Theseus is against her. Even in the midst of such untoward and conflicting situations, she holds her voice and vehemently declares that she would rather spend her life as a virgin than get married to Demetrius which would be like a violation of her nobility; chastity and spirituality. Hermia is usually responsive and listens to the other person's problems, stories and concerns well. However, there are also instances where we see a stain of aggression in Hermia's personality. While in the woods, Demetrius and Lysander, under the effect of the magic potion, start wooing Helena, she becomes extremely angry and even threatens to physically hit Helena.

      It can be said that Hermia's character is a round character. We see shades of honesty, sincerity, morality and even aggression in her character. She comes across as the most human character. She stands for the upholding of various values like love, friendship and morality. But she also has hints of an aggressive, violent nature along with insecurity which only symbolizes that she is a round character with shades of both positive and negative qualities.

      All the four female characters symbolize different virtues. While Hippolyta stands for magnanimity, Titania stands for an obstinate nature. Helena comes across as a pitiable character while Hermia is a determined, young woman not ready to confine herself in the chains of societal norms. However, this is not to say that these characters can be defined in these words. Through the course of the play, we see that these characters go through many ups and downs and new character traits emerge for us to interpret. One more remarkable thing that can be observed in the play is that all the four characters are not flat characters. They do not serve the purpose of reciting a few stock lines. They have a mind of their own and all the four characters are fearless as far as speaking their mind is concerned.

University Questions

Comment on the female characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Write a short note on the women characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Substantiate the significance of the women characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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