The Female Archetype in Shakespeare: Marriage and Love

Category: Archetype, Female, Marriage
Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
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The thesis for the following paper will be presented as marriage as a theme in Shakespeare’s play as it is applicable to character development in female characters.  Shakespeare’s  portrayal of women in A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be one focus of the paper.  Another theme and thesis supporter of the paper will be presented in the fact that in Shakespeare’s play the theme of love is integral to the plot for both a comedy and a tragedy, as such the presence of love in women will be examined as a transitional tool.

Other avenues of discussion in this analytical paper will include mothers, female prophecy, and virginity, and as Rackin states, “No woman is the protagonist in a Shakespearean history play.  Renaissance gender role definitions prescribed silence as a feminine virtue, and Renaissance sexual mythology associated the feminine with body and matter as a opposed to masculine intellect and spirit.” (329), thus, women could not be considered even a main character in these plays unless she became married, or as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream the woman sacrificed herself for her male counterpart.

Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not only an allegory, but within the story there exists another allegory.  Shakespeare creates a play in which events take place as they would in the real world, or seemingly so, but juxtaposed with this storyline Shakespeare includes a second story with Oberon and Titania thus presenting to the audience a layered story.  Aristotle wrote that art is an action which is defined through mimesis; as such, the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream is written partly as a dialogue of the possibilities of life (as can be witnessed with the humans of the story) and partly as a dialogue for the fantastical (as is written pertaining to the faeries of the play).

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The argument then arises from, Jacobus, that offers, is drama an imitation of life, or is life an imitation of drama, and in Shakespeare’s play, the answer is cleverly disguised between his layering of reality in fantasy in which the real becomes so engrossed in the fantasy, as if the scenes set in the forest are each under the spell of Puck.  It is in Puck’s reality that all of the protagonists exist and thereby the answer to Jacobus’ question may be analyzed.

The theme of Shakespeare’s play can aptly be stated as ‘love in idleness’ since this is also the name of the flower Robin Goodfellow or Puck uses to cause the characters to fall in love with each other (Lysander with Helena then Demetrius with Helena and as Oberon uses it to cause Titania to fall in love with Bottom)

Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness. (Shakespeare 2004; Act 2 Scene 1)

In this plot, it is revealed that drama in part is imitating life.  Love in idleness is a circular event in life that seems abysmal in its foreplay, and desperate in its reality.  As each character falls in love with the wrong character, or is forced to fall in love with another person, Jacobus’ claim that characters are the building blocks of allowing the audience to identify with the actions of the play as they relate to their life, is succinctly pandering to Aristotle’s concepts of drama in imitation of art.

The characters frolic around the wood, hopelessly in love with one another, and loved by the wrong person, as is shown in the four couples Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena while the faeries in turn present the audience with how ridiculous this love in idleness is defined in showing Titania in love with Bottom who has been transformed into a donkey.  Aristotle’s definition for a tragic hero is one who is not in control of his own fate, but instead is ruled by the gods in one fashion or another (Jones 1962).

The theme of Shakespeare’s play delves into the morality of his intent to present the audience in stride with how to perceive their own lives and loves in relation to the events that transpire in the woods.  In context of the play, Aristotle’s mimesis gives the audience a chance to pause and consider the motive of love both in terms of the reality that Shakespeare delivers with Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena and the motivation of love when it is juxtaposed with Titania and Bottom.

As Jacobus states, although drama has the ‘capacity to hold up an illusion of reality like the reflection in a mirror: we take for granted while recognizing that it is nonetheless illusory’ (Jacobus 2005; 1-2).  Thus, it may be extolled from this statement that illusion transforms the allegory of the play into applicable terms whereby the audience becomes not only immersed in the play and its actions and characters, but also takes those actions and characters to stand as testaments to their life experiences.

The fact that the characters lose themselves in a maze of darkness and fog and awake approached by Theseus and Hippolyta who are likened to the gaurdians of the play or the characters of reason, stand in testement to the actions of the characters and it is accepted that Lysander and Hermia are united and Demetrius and Helena join together in a group wedding.

Shakespeare’s play however does not end there but continues with the theme of love in idleness with the mechanicals performing the myth Pyramus and Thisbe in which both lovers kill themselves because each assumes the other is dead.  This is Shakespeare’s way of contributing both the graceful and loving end of one story, with the humans in the forest, as well as showing with this play, how love may go awry and become a tragedy.  The love in idleness theme is subsequently debunked in Shakespeare’s play merely by the endings in which even Oberon and Titania reunite.

Jacobus states, “The action of most drama is not drawn from our actual experience of life, but from our potential or imagined experience” (Jacobus 2005; 1-2), thereby exhibiting the idea that a play can give the audience different proscenium displays or possibilities by which they may lead their life, or a review of what life may become.  The subject of drama as it applies to life then becomes more focused on avenues of probability and possibility. Thus, in Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream the audience envisions three different chances of love; with the humans, with the faeries and with the doomed lovers as performed by the mechanicals.

Drama then is a way in which a person may identify with fictitious characters and design their own possibility of pleasures through that character.  Often times drama leaves an audience member questioning life, be it positive or negative and thereby adhering to Aristotle’s ideas of reflection, and it is this reflection that makes us human.  In being given these different paths of love in A Midsummer Night’s Dream the audience is given the oppurtunity to envision life differently and vicariously through these characers.

In fact that is the purpose of drama, to present the audience with a vicarious option of examining life.  Although there is no ritual or religious interpretation associated with drama today (unless the playwright intends it) the genre of drama is best described as not only entertainment but a tool by which reality may be examained through make-believe characters in real life situations and themes.

In the theme that is present in Shakepeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream love in idleness is a very prevalent topic.  Although each character in the play has a deep devotion to another character such passion is lost in the woods when the characters are left to the devices of Puck, and his chicanery.  The guiding light of love in this play may best be seen with Oberon and Titania as they are the ruling factors of love.  Their love however has been thwarted due to the presence of an Indian child and the jealousy of Oberon and the bullheadedness of Titania.  The theme within the theme in this context may best be described as compromise.

The relationship between Oberon and Titania my be defined as a quintessential part of the character develoment between male and female, “…Shakespeare depicts male protagnosts defending masculine…projects against both female characters who threaten to obstruct those projects and feminine appeals to the audience that threatedn to discredit them.  IN shakespeare’s later…plays thos rfeminine voice become more insistent.

They both threaten to invalidate the great, inherited…myths that Shakespeare found in his historiiographic sources and imply that abefore they masculine voice…can be accepted as valid,it must come to terms with women and the subversive forced they represetn.  However, as soon as Shakesperae attmpts to incorporate those feminine forces, marryign words and things, spirit and matter…(it) becomes problematic…” (Rackin 330).

This statement suggests that if Shakespeare did not marry off his female characters the audience would believe it as possible nor would they accept it.  In the case of Titania and Oberon, it is Oberon’s masculinity that must make Titania’s will submissive to him and to give him what he wants (in this case her Indian).  In this case, the two characters are already married and this struggle of wills suggests that a man must constantly be domineering and gain what he wants through force and trickery.

This shows that the dynamic of marriage in Shakepseare’s plays is exhibited with force.  In the other characters in the play, the one’s who are not yet married, that is Hermia and Helena, they are full of anticipation to get married but both had to first experience what it was like to not have their counterpart and suffere through the period of not being love; neither of the men truly suffer in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which suggests that Shakespeare’s female characters must prove their love, while the men of the play have no such duties.

The difference then between the marriad and the unmarried woman in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is that the unmarried women must convince the men that they are loved while the married woman, Titania, must re-learn obedience.

The theme of love is envisioned well in this play as Shakespeare chooses to focus on the power of love through marriage as a tool of union.  In union is found the relevance of transisiton.  The characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream only become fully aware of their own intentions and feelings after they are given the drug from Puke and spend the night in the forest.  When awakened each character realizes their true desires.  In these desires in the morning the women are quieted because they feel as though they have seen the measure of their desire reflected in their male counterparts and as such it is only through marriage that they may be tamed.  Thus, Shakespeare’s female characters are revealed to be counterparts.

This essay has argued for the interpretation of Shakespeare’s characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be the classical female archetypes such as wife, or lover.  The plan in the play reveals how women are induced to persuasion and almost hypnotized by love and desire as is seen with Titania, Hermia, and Helena.  Each character is in love, and at the end of the play this love becomes true instead of the farce of the beginning and middle of the play.  Love is the conquering power over women in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Work Cited

Jacobus, L.  The Bedford Introduction to Drama.  Bedford St. Martins.  2005.

Jones, John. On Aristotle and Greek Tragedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Levin, R.  Feminist Thematics and Shakespearean Tragedy.  PMLA, Vol. 103, No. 2 (Mar.,       1988), pp. 125-138.

Price, J. R.  Measure for Measure and the Critics: Towards a New Approach.

Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 2. (Spring, 1969), pp. 179-204.

Rackin, P. Anti-Historians: Women's Roles in Shakespeare's Histories.

Theatre Journal, Vol. 37, No. 3, Staging Gender. (Oct., 1985), pp. 329-344.

Shakespeare, W.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Washington Press.  2004.

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The Female Archetype in Shakespeare: Marriage and Love. (2017, May 13). Retrieved from

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