Patriarchy and Gender Roles in King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Through his characters and characterization in both King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare sought not to reproduce the dominant ideas on patriarchy at the time, but rather to critique the ideology of patriarchy and the socio-political construction of male and female roles.

“Be advised, fair maid.
To you your father should be as a god,
One that composed your beauties; yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax,
By him imprinted, and within his power
To leave the figure, or disfigure it.”

- William Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Judith Butler in her book Gender Troubles asserts that gender is a construction of an individual’s society and upbringing, believing that the concept of female and male
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A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear are two such plays, where we see Shakespeare scrutinize patriarchy and the roles designated to each sex. Both plays are characterized by an attempt by men to control women, and we see various characters negotiate ‘masculine’ control. Through his characters and characterization in both King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare sought not to reproduce the dominant ideas on patriarchy at the time, but rather to critique the ideology of patriarchy and the socio-political construction of male and female roles.

Before one can begin to consider Shakespeare and his representation of gendered roles and patriarchy in both plays, it must be noted that his characters were hinged on the ruling ideology and coincided with the lives of real men and women at the time. That being said, regardless of how he portrays his characters and their characteristics, the general thoughts on womanhood and manhood for the period and their influence cannot be ignored. The setting of the plays was at a time when women held no amount of power, in fact, the law itself called for the complete surrender of women to their supervisor, be that husband, father, eldest son or brother. Both plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear, represent the female

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