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The Customs of Marriage and the Rights of Women in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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Introduction

Diana Best March 11, 2003 Shakespeare Dr. McHenry The Customs of Marriage and the Rights of Women in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream It is hard to imagine in today's world that there could be or ever have been restrictions on the choice of one's spouse or the bonds of marriage. Yet history shows that only recently has the freedom to choose one's spouse become a reality, more so for women than for men. Women's rights, especially when it came to choosing a mate, were minimal. Marriages for women tended to be arranged, pre-paid, or not allowed before, during, and after the 16th century. One might wonder what rights did women have concerning marriage and how can they be seen in the play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare. According to "The Law's Resolutions of Women's Rights," published in 1632, women were taught from birth that they were inferior to men. It was a common belief at the time that women were the "authors of original sin who lured men away from God and salvation" (Tudor Women, 2). ...read more.

Middle

To add to this sad affair, if she does not do as her father wishes, her father will "dispose of her, / which shall be either to this gentlemen/ Or to her death" (1.1 43-45). As the law of the land and Biblical law both stated that women and children should submit and obey their parents and husbands, it would have been highly unlikely for Hermia to have married Lysander as she did in the play. This is just one of many political and societal changes Shakespeare made in his play. Weddings during the Elizabethan time were much more time consuming and extravagant than most weddings of today. First there came the betrothal. Theseus and Hippolyta are betrothed although we know through classical history that Theseus captured Hippolyta and owned her. But readers can see that he has a deep admiration for her and we can assume that their betrothal is a somewhat happy one. According to the Compendium of Common Knowledge of Elizabethan England, the betrothal is the giving of what we know as the engagement ring to be put on the right hand. ...read more.

Conclusion

And though he bequeath them not, yet are they the husband's executor's and not the wife's which brought them to her husband (Law's pg 4). As we do not know whether Titania or Oberon were married when she obtained the boy, belief was still that Oberon had the rights to the little changeling boy and not Titania, whether he was given to her or not. She was not submitting to her husband's will and therefore, was punished by being tricked into loving an ass. Throughout A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare addressed numerous political and social customs of the aristocracy. Although not much changed for the rights of women during the Elizabethan period, readers today can gain a better understanding of the time through historical documents and literary works. To be unable to marry for love, to have no choice in your mate, and to be completely submissive to your husband's every whim, had to have been depressing no matter what the customs were. A great deal has changed now since then, but in all actuality it has only been a few decades since women have been allowed so much freedom in their own lives. ...read more.

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