Only in the forest do women exercise power. How far do you agree with this statement?
The forest in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is used as a green space, a place where the social norms don’t apply. At the time of writing, Shakespearean England was ruled by a female monarch, Queen Elizabeth the 1st who was only the 2nd queen of England in their own right. This power held by a woman at the time was not the norm, women were subservient of men.
Hermia has been promised to Demetrius by her father; however she is unwilling to marry him as she is in love with Lysander. We are introduced to this theme when they visit Thesus, the figure of authority in the play, who makes it clear that women are not to have their own identity, but instead are to be ‘a form in wax’ (I.i.49), meaning that women are to exist without existing. Women were not allowed to gain an education, or have jobs of importance. This shows that Thesus (Duke of Athens) doesn’t believe that women show have power. However, in the forest, Hermia exerts her dominance over Lysander as she insists that he ‘lie further off’ (II.ii.43) so she can keep her virginity as she is less likely to be tempted into having sex with him. At the time a woman who had lost her virginity before she was married, especially to someone whom she was not betrothed, was a social sinner
and would make a woman was less likely to marry. By telling Lysander to ‘not lie so near’ (II.ii.43), Hermia is showing that a woman can tell a man she doesn’t want to have sex with them, and that they, men, shouldn’t force a woman to have sex with them, as for women of the time their virtue was everything. Therefore, by Hermia telling Lysander to ‘lie further off’ (II.ii.56) when they fall asleep in the forest she was exerting power.
The character of Titania is the only female who is shown exercising her power towards a man who would traditionally have any hold over her. Titania and her husband Oberon are shown arguing over ‘A lovely boy, stol’n from an Indian king –’ (II.i.22) who is her possession. As she is refusing to hand over this changeling child, Titania is showing Oberon, that they are equals, ‘am I not thy lord/Then I must be you lady;’ (II.i.63-64), she retaliates showing him that they are equals, which when Shakespeare was writing this was far from the social norm. During their argument in Act 2, Titania uses natural world imagery to argue her case, that she should keep the changeling child and for their argument to cease. She says that "the winds, piping us in vain, /as in revenge have suck'd from the sea" (II.i.87-88) which suggests that she is angrier than normal as a wind coming of the sea is more powerful than a normal wind. This use of natural metaphors tells us that the characters of Oberon and Titania are unpredictable and dangerous because of the power they have as King and Queen of the fairies.
Titania is arguably the strongest women in the play; however she is still susceptible to the devious schemes of...