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Ladies First

Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less. - Susan B Anthony
Freedom is a word thats well defined, the only thing thats not clearly explained about the concept of
freedom is who gets it, as well as who takes it away. Up until the 19th century, most ladies didnt have the
luxury of choosing what life decision they wanted as opposed to what their parents wanted. Before long,
the result of this common idea became known and practiced throughout the entire world. In Shakespeares
play: 1A Midsummer Nights Dream, the very idea of giving women less rights then the men revolves
around the Athenian Law, and one of the main characters: Hermia concocts a plan to achieve her dream
by rebelling against her fathers wishes, and as a result she defies the very law of the land.
In the script of A Midsummer Nights Dream, one of the four
lovers: Hermia falls in love with a man named Lysander against her
fathers wishes, and her affair continues on until her father makes
the decision to threaten Hermia in front of the Athenian ruler
Theseus with two decisions on how to live her the rest of her life, as
well as a third decision that involves her not having a life to carry
out:
I.
By marrying Demetrius: the suitable husband for
Hermia in her fathers eyes
II.
By going to a nunnery to live out the rest of her
days
III.
By paying the death penalty for her crime
Its fairly shocking that the only three options that Egeus
(Hermias father) provided for Helena do seem rather dark as well as
unfair. It pains me to state, that even in present day society young
women are victimized in a similar way in the form of an arranged
marriage outside the barriers of the United States. Among other
reasons, Hermia is treated unfairly by the Athenian Law, as well as
by her father because she is handed three unjust decisions on how to
live her life as a woman which clearly implies her father keeping a
leash on his daughter in a way thats encouraged and unfair in the
Athenian social system.

A Midsummer Nights Dream poster

The first offer that Egeus provides for his daughter to live for the rest of her life is for her to
spend the rest of her days living in a nunnery. In present day society, being forced to be a nun by ones
parents would be hard to do without receiving some disappointing glares, however in Shakespeares time
this ritual may have seemed common or logical to carry out. The main reason why his first choice was an
undeserved choice made on Hermias part is because it makes Hermia seem like a piece of property equal
to the status of a slave that her father can freely give away without any consequential thoughts about
caring for her well-being ever again. In the play: A Midsummer Nights Dream Hermias father states
before the four lovers and the Duke of Athens, You can endure the livery of a nun, for aye to be in shady
1A Midsummer Nights Dream transcript

cloister 2mew'd, to live a barren sister all your life, chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon...that
which withering on the virgin thorn grows, lives and dies in 3single blessedness.(Act, Sc.). As the
quote suggests, Egeus isnt exactly the type of loving father you would expect from a stereotypical
Shakespearean play, instead hes very much like a cold-blooded father that would sent his daughter away
from her birthland just because of her decision to not obey the rules he set specifically, (as well as cruelly)
for her. In the scenario that Egeus would seriously send Hermia elsewhere from her birthplace to instead
spend the rest of her life in a nunnery, she would be in a state of distraught to live a long distance away
from her lover and not be allowed to marry any man but to instead follow the rules of her religion. And
even if this were the reality of the situation, whats to say that Hermia wouldnt meet in secret with her
true love; Lysander?
A

shadowed effect with leaves


representing the main setting of
where the play takes place: in
the mysterious forest, as well as
one of the four lovers: Lysander

The second fairly cruel deal that Egeus bestows upon his
daughter is to marry Demetrius; the marriage that he originally
intended for his virgin daughter to go through with. However, the odd
gist of the story involves Hermia madly in love with Lysander, and
Lysander madly in love with Hermia. But Egeus prefers Demetrius
over Lysander: Demetrius who is also in love with Hermia. The base
that Shakespeare fabricates for his famous play: A Midsummer Nights
Dream is quite geniusly crafted since it involves a love triangle of four
people, all of whom live in Athens. But the diabolical situation of the
plot where Hermia marries Lysander revolves around Hermia being
forced to please a man who she does not love. By giving her the option
of even considering to marry a man she doesnt love, Egeus is
suggesting that Hermias only job in life is to please whomever she
marries. By doing so he is degrading the respect of women as well as
how they should be viewed in society. What affects me as a women
myself is that Egeus simply handed this decision to Hermia without
even thinking about the freedom that he was taking away from her, he
plainly disregarded the life that Hermia envisioned for herself in ten
years and instead took sight to the

life that he envisioned her having with Demetrius in ten years. At this point in the play I viewed
Shakespeare as sympathizing with the women of his society (as well as the future society) who were
treated unfairly despite having to later pay the burden of a child. After conducting further research, I
discovered that the extent of the Athenian law stretched far beyond a set of simple rules to follow, in fact
part of the Athenian Law hands power to the father of the future wives of Athens by granting them the
authority to declare a death penalty towards their daughters if they happened to blandly refuse the
proposal of a man approved to be the future son-in-law of the family. Not only does this give more power
to the people of Athens with sons, but it also takes away power (as well as rights) to the people of Athens
with daughters. By forcing his daughter to marry another man other than whom she loves, Egeus is
2 Mewd: to be confined; imprisoned
3 Single Blessedness: to die unmarried

creating a mold that Hermia has to squeeze herself into in order to escape with her own life, as well as her
dignity.
The topic of arranged marriages is currently a very controversial subject, in many religious
cultures, its regular to witness the ceremony of an arranged marriage. Contemporary arranged marriages
usually involves two people who dont even know each other to be wed. This further encloses the amount
of freedom that women have regarding their love life. According to statiscticsbrain.com, 53.25% of all
marriages in the world are arranged. This same website also states that 11% of all girls below the age of
fifteen in developing countries are forced to marry. Arranged marriages arent only a marriage arranged
by a third party, its a set of chains shackled on thousands of young women every year. A shackle of
chains in Hermias case that cant be broken without breaking the law, running away, becoming a nun, or
even paying the death penalty, Thus, Egeues hidden form of an arranged marriage is considered a form of
an cruelty because Hermia would suffer under the arrangement of having to marry a man whom she is not
attracted ergo taking away the freedom she has regarding her love life which should be private to her
when considering a man to wed.
The third proposal that Egeus offered to Hermia was death. Just by refusing a man she doesnt
love, Egeus automatically has the power and the gall to send his own daughter to her death. The very
notion of sending the daughter that you spent more than ten years caring for (paying for clothes, food, the
house, etc) to her death not only seems stupid, but quite a waste of money on Egeus part. Mainly because
Egeus would rather kill his own daughter, then watch her marry a man other than Demetrius or spend the
rest of her days away from home practicing the traditions of a nun. Without an actual crime carried out to
other humans, no one should have to be sent to their death. This specific scenario begs me to ask the
question: is Shakespeare trying to show that the daughters of Athens dont have power, or merely all the
women in Athens dont have the power to disobey their own fathers? Granted in the story, Hermia finds a
loophole: to elope away outside the borders of Athens with Lysander, but only at the price of death in the
case that she would get caught.

A young girl
gazing at the
glory of the
moon; a
symbol of the
crushed dream
of young girls
traveling to
the moon

As I lady myself, I am perfectly fine to say that I dont view the unified
country of America as being the first to land on the moon, instead I see
men stepping on the moon first. I envision the crushed dreams of the little
girls who were told that they couldnt learn how to pilot a rocket ship
because of their opposite sex. Albeit the Shakespeares writing: A
Midsummer Nights Dream and the faded dreams of young girls going to the
moon may not seem similar, they certainly are because they both portray a
similar scenario: women being judged, diminished, and going through the
process of having their rights slowly being pulled apart from them. Some
people might disagree with this statement; some might even believe Egeus to
be an intelligent father who took his parenting skills a step further in order to
secure a better future for his own daughter. Some people might side with the
argument that Egeus wasnt really going to kill his daughter, he just said that
in order to make her open her eyes about the only option she had in order to
live a normal life in the city of Athens. I have a clear message to this specific
group of people: Egeus is nothing but a tyrannical father. Instead of wishing
for the mental (as well as physical) well-being of his daughter to be well by
allowing her to marry Lysander, he uses his power given to him just because
hes her father (also given to him by the Athenian Law), just to threaten her
with three decisions. What Egeus also knows is that Hermia doesnt wish to carry out any of the three
offers he provides for her, and nevertheless he doesnt give a fair and valid solution to her problems.
Another argument against my claim; and an argument made to Hermia herself involves Demetrius being a
fine man: wealthy, loved by Egeus, tall, handsome, etc. However, in the play itself, Lysander brings forth
a piece of gossip relating to Demetrius. In A Midsummer Nights Dream, Lysander states, Demetrius, I'll
avouch it to his head, made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena, and won her soul; and she, sweet lady,
dotes, devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry, upon this spotted and inconstant man.(Act , Sc. , ) By u ttering
these one sentence, Lysander exposes a secret about Demetrius true colors about how he had a
scandalous affair with a virgin woman before turning to Hermias face with love. I understand that some
people may even think that arranged marriages decrease the percentage of divorce rates in many
developing countries but isnt it safe to say that this is caused by the pressure of the two families are
exerting on the bride and groom to remain married? Therefore, the threats that Egeus makes to Hermia for
the well-being of his daughter isnt for her well-being at all, its simply for the sake of his well-being to
avoid his daughter disobeying him.

The world seems to be a different place when comparing


present day to Shakespearean traditions, but as a matter of fact, the
two time periods are alike in what may seem like trivial ways.
Granted, we have different human inventions which help us carry
on from day to day but the fact that women are still treated unfairly
by the society of men really shows how little the world has changed
since the time of Shakespeare. Mankind wasnt created just so
gender could tear it apart, it was made for each side (men and
women) to peacefully interact with each other. However, in
Shakespeares play: A Midsummer Nights Dream, as well as reality,
women are forced into a box that encloses them to what they should
think, say, and do. Hermia was handed three unfair choices on how
to live her life by her father: an egotistical man. If she were to go to
a nunnery, her right to what she would do for the rest of her days
would be taken away. If she were to marry Demetrius, then her right
to choose who she would marry in the future would be taken away,
and if she happened to die instead of choosing the life of a nun or
the life of a wife to Demetrius, then her right to living, as

A double exposure picture representing


Hermia trying to break free of her
fathers chains by eloping with Lysander
rather than accepting one of Egeus deals

well as the disintegrated vision of having a life with so many possibilities would be taken away. All three of
the decisions Egeus offered to his daughter mock the power of refusal that women shouldve had the right to
grasp in that period of time. In conclusion Hermia was treated unfairly by her father as well as the Athenian
Law, because the Athenian Law gave Hermias father to right to take away her freedom, and her restricted
forms of freedom presented himself in the shape of her only legal three choices on how to live her life: to die
a nun, to die Demetrius wife, or to die accused of the crime for not obeying her father and following the
road to true love over an arranged marriage.

Works Cited
Dunbar, Brian. NASA. NASA. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
"Shakespeare Dictionary - M." M. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "Roses in A Midsummer Night's Dream." Shmoop.com. Shmoop
University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
"Snippets of Egeus' Offers." Google Docs. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
"Statistic Brain." Statistic Brain. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
"Susan B. Anthony House." :: Her Story. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
"Artworks with Clever Use of Negative Space Picture on VisualizeUs." VisualizeUs. Web. 26 Feb.

2016.

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