Compare and contrast the depiction of female characters in Oedipus Rex, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Glass Menagerie.
Compare and contrast the depiction of female characters in Oedipus Rex, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Glass Menagerie. What does each author suggest about the role of women in his society based upon the way that women are written for the stage? Use direct evident and quotes from the plays in your response.
Sample Essay Answer
The three stories are written within the context of the society of the authors. The work thus reflects the issues that society faces. One of the themes that can be traced in numerous works is gender. The subject varies from feminism, gender discrimination, and the position of women in contextual societies. The role of women is a theme that one can find in various pieces of English literature. ‘The Glass Menagerie’ by Tennessee Williams, ‘Oedipus Rex’ by Sophocles, and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by William Shakespeare demonstrate the position of women in their respective societies.
The three novels bring into light the economic status of women the various societies. Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie depicts women to be incapable of catering for their financial positions. Amanda, a single mother of two, is incapable of supporting her family. She relies on her first-born son, Tom, to meet the family’s financial needs (Williams, p753).
Sophocles, in Oedipus Rex, supports the notion that women are incapable of catering for their financial needs. This is through Oedipus, who says to Creon that, “as for my sons you need not care for them. They are men….but my poor daughters, who never before have been parted from their father, take care of them”.
William Shakespeare, in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ hardly mentions that the women in his story are in an economic position but he highlights the important positions that the men hold. For instance, Theseus is the Duke of Athens, Bottom is a weaver, and Starveling is a tailor. However, the women are identified with the men in their lives. For instance, Hippolyta is betrothed to Theseus, Hermia is the daughter of Egeus, and Helena is in love with Demetrius (Shakespeare, 3). The highest likelihood is therefore that they rely on their fathers or husbands for finances.
Shakespeare and Sophocles both show the level of influence that a woman has in the respective societies. In the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Hippolytus, who is betrothed to Theseus, is present on different occasions where the Duke is consulted. The first time was when Egeus goes to ask for permission to use the laws of the land that would help him push his daughter into marrying Demetrius or put her to death. Although present, Hippolytus is not consulted. In addition, Hermia when she responds to the accusations, she starts by apologizing for her bold self. It is therefore evident that society expects women to follow the laws that the male-dominated society has formulated without question (Shakespeare, 3).
Sophocles’ story, on the other hand, is in line with the perception that Shakespeare brings about the engagement of women in political matters. Although Jocasta is a queen and has held the throne longer than Oedipus has, she does not engage in political matters. As a queen, she is a symbol of property to the king. This is evident when Oedipus shows his gratitude to Laius when he says, “Now I, having his power that he held before me, having his bed, begetting children there upon his wife, as he would have…” (Sophocles, 43). Hence, to him, he possesses power and a queen whose responsibility is limited to bearing children.
Influence on Whom to Marry
The three authors have highlighted the concept of marriage. For instance, Williams brings up the theme when Amanda tells his son to look for a suitor for her daughter Laura. In addition, she says, “Resume your seat, little sister – I want you to stay fresh and pretty – for gentlemen callers!” (Williams, 760). Thus, a woman can influence the decision of her suitors by maintaining her beauty. Sophocles, on the other hand, views a wife as property. He highlights the conditions under which Oedipus married his wife. She had been the wife of the previous king, Laius. However, after his death, Oedipus had not only succeeded him as the king, but he had taken everything that belonged to him. Jocasta was like “a gift presented to him” (Sophocles, 23).
William Shakespeare shows the influence that women have over their marriage partners through Hippolytus, Helena, and Hermia. Helena and Hermia disagree with society’s principle which holds that women are to be pursued. Helena stated it as “we cannot fight for love as men may do; we should be woo’d and were not made to woo” (Shakespeare, 13). Egeus treats his daughter as someone who cannot freely choose whom she wants to marry. He threatens to uphold the Athenian law that states that, “I beg the ancient privilege of Athens, as she is mine, I may dispose her…either to these gentlemen or to her death according to our law”. This is after she refuses to marry Demetrius, but chooses Lysander whom the father does not approve of.
Influence within the Family
The three authors’ stories revolve around individuals whose families are mentioned. For instance, Amanda in “The Glass Menagerie” is a mother of two children; Tom and Laura. Laura hardly makes any decisions for herself or the family. She has to rely on her brother for decisions such as whom to marry. Amanda on the other hand hands over the major responsibilities to her son. For instance, Tom has to choose a suitor for his sister. In addition, since he is a man, he is responsible for fending for his family. Thus, the women in this book already view themselves as incapable of having any impact on their family (Williams).
However, in ‘Oedipus Rex’, Jocasta tries to break from the notion that women have no influence in her family. Thus, she tries to advise her husband not to go in search of his origin. However, the king views her as a shallow being through his statement: “let it come! However, base on my birth, I must know about it. The Queen, like a woman, is perhaps ashamed to think of low origin” (Sophocles, 56). After she tries insisting that the king should neglect his mission of pursuing his origin, he insults her by claiming that her only interest is in the family name and wealth. Thus, Oedipus limits her ability to influence his decisions.
In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Hermia also tries to break out of the normalcy where a woman has little influence over her family. This is because according to society, a daughter is the property of her father. She should therefore obey her father and embrace him as a god. This is until the father gives her over to her husband or to death. If it is to her husband, she should pay the same allegiance to her husband. However, Hermia disobeys her father by refusing her father’s choice of a spouse for her. By the end of the play, her decision changes her father’s perception, as he has to accept Hermia’s decision.
The Emotional Aspect of Women
Tennessee Williams and William Shakespeare best bring out the emotional aspect of women. Williams demonstrates how women are emotionally weak. Amanda still held on to the past. She did not get over her husband after her divorce to the extent that she could not meet the financial needs of her family. She held on to the good times she shared with her husband and lived in a world of fantasy. Laura on the other hand is fragile. The author uses her unusual collection as imagery for her emotional condition. For instance, she breaks down when she finds out that Jim has another girlfriend. Tom refers to her as “Blue Roses”. Though roses are beautiful, they are delicate (Williams, 765).
Shakespeare however brings out the aspect that some women are emotionally strong than others. After the fairy mistakenly uses the love potion on Lysander and demonstrates that he no longer loves Hermia, she shows that she is distraught but not broken. She decides to head back to her home. However, Helena is emotionally weak. She makes stupid decisions that harm Hermia as a way to safeguard her self-interest. She betrays her trust and loyalty by telling Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander are leaving Athens (Shakespeare, 34).
In conclusion, Shakespeare, Williams, and Sophocles hold various similar opinions on the position of a woman in society. They believe that women have no political influence in society. Additionally, they are not economically empowered. The society has limited their influence on their families or their lives. In addition, they are emotionally weak and thus heavily rely on men. This, therefore, limits the role of women to being wives and child bearers. They are also the property of their fathers or husbands. The greatest achievement they can make is marrying to a wealthy family that has a good name. However, Shakespeare seems to dispute the fact that women are incapable of freeing themselves from the confines of the social norms. This is through his demonstration of how Hermia broke free from the Athenian laws and married the person her heart desired.
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