Male dominance in 
A "Midsummer Night's Dream" 
and "The Taming of the Shrew".


In my paper I would like to talk about two characters from two different plays in terms of “male dominance” in Shakespeare’s comedies. One of these characters is EGEUS in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the other character is MINOLA BAPTISTA in The Taming of The Shrew. 


Almost in every play of Shakespeare we can see the dominance of males over women. In his plays women have no right to say what they think or what they want. They are always expected to be faithful to their fathers and husbands. They don’t have any freedom about their lives. However we know that this attitude of men against women in Shakespeare’s plays is a reflection of Renaissance society. Carmen Stephen says; ‘The plays of Shakespeare can be used as a window upon Renaissance society’ [1] and she continues her essay dealing with the relation between man and woman in Renaissance life.


The identity of a woman fringed upon that of her husband; in fact, the woman was seen as an extension of the man. Women were "objects of male desire and dependent on that desire for their status, livelihood even their lives" (Newman, 7). The handbooks urged them against any opposition to their husband; they were to accept their husband as teacher and master. One woman perceived men as having an active role in maintaining women's virtue: "Eue was a good woman before fhe met with the Serpent, her daughters are good Virgins if they meet with good Tutors" (Sowernam, A3). This reflected the patriarchal influence of Renaissance society, as respecting and obeying the husband or father was parallel to respecting and obeying the king. Obedience was one of the most important virtues a woman could display: "Obedience is better then Sacrifice: for nothing is more acceptable before God then to Obey" (Sowernam, 9).[2]


            We can see the most remarkable examples of male dominance in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The play opens with a tragic event. Hermia who is in love with Lysander is forced to marry with Demetrius because of her father’s wish. Acording to her father Demetrius is richer and nobler than Lysander and he wants his daughter to marry with Demetrius. From  the beginning of the play male dominance can be easily realized via the speeches of Egeus who is the father of Hermia. He goes to Duke Theseus and complains about all that happens.[3] He clearly talks about his daughter as if she was a commodity and he claims to be the owner of Hermia. There is no chance for Hermia to choose her own husband. If she doesn’t marry with Demetrius, her life will be turned into a torture. The ancient Athenian laws say a daughter has to marry the man of her father's choice otherwise she comes face to face the consequences of death or nunnery. Egeus begs the Duke Theseus to apply the Athenian law. An internet source tells about this law:


THERE was a law in the city of Athens which gave to its citizens the power of compelling their daughters to marry whomsoever they pleased; for upon a daughter’s refusing to marry the man her father had chosen to be her husband, the father was empowered by this law to cause her to be put to death; but as fathers do not often desire the death of their own daughters, even though they do happen to prove a little refractory, this law was seldom or never put in execution, though perhaps the young ladies of that city were not unfrequently threatened by their parents with the terrors of it. [4]


            Hermia’s life and happiness depend on the words that will be uttered by his father and the Duke. The speech of Theseus also underlines the importance of father for a daughter one more time.[5] He says that she has to act as if her father was her God. This means she has to do everyting for the sake of her father and her father is the ultimate power over her.


We can meet the same situation in  The Taming of The Shrew.  Again the father of Kate and Bianca is the biggest authority over his daughters. At the beginning of the play Minola Baptista who is the father of two sisters lays younger daughter’s marriage down as a condition. While Bianca, the younger one, is quite modest,  beautiful and she behaves like a real lady, Kate, the elder sister, is a shrew. No one wants to marry with Kate but almost everyone wants to marry with Bianca. He announces that Bianca cannot marry before her elder sister Kate.[6] Nobody cannot object to his decision because he is the ultimate power who can decide about his daughters have to obey their father’s decision about their life. Kate doesn’t want to marry but she has to while her sister Bianca wants to marry but she cannot because of her father’s wish. As soon as Baptista finds a wealthy man for his elder daughter, he starts to wait for another son-in-law to give his younger daughter to him. Before giving permission to their marriage he asks the statement of the man’s assets who wants to marry with his daughters. We may  think  that he sells his daughters as if they were commedities and he behaves as if he were a tradesman. After the marriage the sisters have to live under the dominance of their husbands. They can never have freedom in their lives. The actions of the father stem from the culture that they live in.


In Shakespearean Culture marriages were made for the convenience of the fathers far more than for the love already existing between the bride and groom. In Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew marriage is not so much the result of love, but rather an institution of society that people are expected to take part in. As a result of the removal of romance from marriage, suitors are judged by what the can supply for the wife. All suitors compare the dowry each can bring to the marriage and the one with the most to offer receives the woman's hand in marriage. This competition for marriage is like a game to the characters of the play.[7]


Although both Baptista in The Taming of The Shrew and Egeus in  A Midsummer Night’s Dream don’t have lots of lines in the plays, they are so important for the whole plays. In both plays by using the power of male characters Shakespeare  changes the way things are going. Egeus and Baptista become blocking figures due to their authority on their daughters. As fathers, they always put boundaries  or some rules that can cause  chaos in the plays. Two plays open with the problems caused by them.





A Midsummer Night’s Dream-Shakespeare’s Plays



The Taming of The Shrew- Shakespeare’s Plays



Academic year 2006/2007
© a.r.e.a./Dr.Vicente Forés López
© Ayse Ayanoglu
Universitat de Valčncia Press

[3] 1.1.24 Full of vexation come I, with complaint

Against my child, my daughter Hermia.

Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,

This man hath my consent to marry her.

Stand forth, Lysander: and my gracious duke,

This man hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child;

Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,

And interchanged love-tokens with my child:

Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,

With feigning voice verses of feigning love,

And stolen the impression of her fantasy

With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,

Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers

Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth:

With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's heart

Turn'd her obedience, which is due to me,

To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious duke,

Be it so she; will not here before your grace

Consent to marry with Demetrius,

I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,

As she is mine, I may dispose of her:

Which shall be either to this gentleman

Or to her death, according to our law

Immediately provided in that case


[5]1.1.48 What say you, Hermia? be advised fair maid:

To you your father should be as a god;


[6]1.1.49 Gentlemen, importune me no farther,

For how I firmly am resolved you know;

That is, not bestow my youngest daughter

Before I have a husband for the elder:

If either of you both love Katharina,

Because I know you well an love you well

Leave shall you have to court her at your pleasure