Parental Issues in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Reading the science of Law into a Cautious Tale about the Return into the Lapse of Nature Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Dec 21st, 2018

Introduction: Shakespeare’s Wisdom and Wit

The ideas in Shakespearean plays have never been too on-the-nose; conveyed in an extremely subtle manner, they often hid in between the lines, allowing the readers time to ponder ethical dilemmas. Not necessarily being the focus of the work, the given problems nevertheless stood out on their own, making it clear that the poet addressed the social issues of the time as well as telling entertaining stories.

Which is even more enthralling, the ethical issues that Shakespeare raised in his works still remain topical. Considering the issues that concern rather human nature than the morals of a particular epoch, Shakespeare created timeless works that offered the readers timeless dilemmas, as well as the solutions to these dilemmas, hidden between the lines of his works. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a comedy with an unusual moral question for the audience to consider, is one of such works.

Thesis Statement: Despite its age and topic, A Midsummer Night’s Dream brings up topical legal and ethical issues, as well as creates a connection between people and nature, bringing up the principles of strength, power and stealth as the key means to win, which the primitive society was guided by.

The plot of a Midsummer Night’s Dream can hardly be related to anything legal, with its fairytale setting and the romantic premises. Analyzing the curves of the plot, however, one will come across the fact that the play offers a very unusual perspective on parenthood, namely, on adoption and the rights of a custodian.

Though it is usually considered that a mother should be given the rights to take care over a child, in case of a father and a stepmother, the issue becomes much more complicated. Therefore, the problem that arises between Titania and Oberon can be seen from the legal point of view as well.

Moreover, it is necessary to mention that the play blurs the line between the legal solutions of the problem and a more ancient and, therefore, more savage means to solve the given problem. Using brutal force, Oberon tries to get the hold of the child, while Titania flees with her son, relying on her cunning rather than on the support from anyone with enough authority.

Finally, in addition to the criminal subtext and the nature versus nurture issue, the play also offers a gender problem that stems from the conflict between Titania and Oberon. Concerning both biological specifics of gender and, therefore, referring to the previously raised nature–nurture argument, as well as setting male and female gender apart and, thus, leading to a gender issue, the conflict leads to a question concerning who has the qualities of a better parent.

However, it is worth mentioning that the third issue can also be viewed as a contribution to the argument concerning the legal rights for adoption. While the former issue is relatively independent and, thus, can be used as an argument in discussions, the latter is an implication stemming from the biological premise.

The Play Summary and the Obvious Ethical Question

Before proceeding with the description of the plot, one must mention that Shakespeare, as a true master of intrigue that he was, managed to intertwine several plot lines within a single play. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there are three key storylines. The first and the most important one concerns the love relationships between Lysander and Hermia, and touches upon the idea of arranged marriage.

The second one revolves around the couple of elves, the king Oberon and his wife Titania, who runs away from her royal husband and takes her son with her, being afraid that, as a stepmother, she has no right to prevent Oberon from taking her stepson away and is the key point of discussion in the given paper. The final plotline, which lies the closest to reality, depicts the attempts of the Athenian actors to put up a play based on the notorious love story of Thisbe and Pyramus.

Hence, it seems that the issue of divorce between Titania and Oberon is left in the shadow of the unfolding events of the play. The very idea of a conflict between a couple seems quite trivial for Shakespeare; however, resulting in a “divorce” between the lead characters, who quite frankly belong to the real of the Greek mythology and, to top it all, with an issue regarding the “custody fight” between the characters, the problem becomes rather unique.

When Literature Meets Jurisdiction: The Mother, the Father and the Child

As it has been mentioned above, the play incorporates the elements of a moral dilemma concerning who the parent of a child should be in case the parents decide to separate. While in Shakespeare’s play, the case with the custody is very black-and-white, with little to no indications that Oberon could also play the role of the child’s father successfully, the poet states clearly that the issue concerning single parenting exists and that it must be addressed.

Shakespeare is obviously on Titania’s side, which does not make his point of view revolutionary in the modern sense of the word. However, given the fact that in the epoch during which the events in the play occur, women’s role in society was restricted to following the orders of the husband and that the mother’s opinion was in no way significant, the choice that Titania makes running away with the child is quite solid. From this point, there are two ways to interpret the issue.

On the one hand, the problem can be viewed through the lens of modern jurisdiction, which dictates that the right to bring a child up belongs to the mother, yet states that kidnapping is a punishable offense. On the other hand, Titania’s runaway can be considered outside of the modern justice context as a manifestation of a very motherly instinct to save the child.

Shakespearean World: Where Passion Is a Sufficient Reason for Kidnapping

At first, what Titania does to save her stepchild from her savage husband seems irrational. While Oberon does act like a cruel beast, disregarding his wife’s feelings towards her stepson, Titania also breaks all possible laws in the light of the modern law, literally kidnapping the child and running away.

On a second thought, though, it is essential to mention, though, that the plot of the poem is based on a Greek myth, which makes a sufficient excuse for what seems a completely illogical and even criminal step from the point of view of modern judicial system.

Therefore, the poem also serves as a graphic example between the present-day judicial system and its principles, and the legal postulates that were used several centuries before. Thus, one can see clearly the progress that has been made in term of both re-establishing the rights of a mother and at the same time polishing the existing system so that the victim should use it as a tool for restoring justice instead of running away from it.

From the Viewpoint of Nature: Mother’s Care vs. Father’s Protection Choosing a Better Parent

With the idea of mother’s prerogative for raising children, the reasons for the given idea do not seem to be questioned often. However, it is reasonable to suggest that there are certain arguments stressing a mother’s advantages as a child tutor. These specifics stems from the times when men and women had defined social roles, women being engaged into children upbringing, while men devoted most of their time to hunting (Fiske, Gilbert and Lindsey 952).

At present, with a considerable shift in the social roles of men and women, the idea of women as the only possible child tutors seems to have become dated; however, in the Shakespearean epoch, women had the ultimate privilege of raising children as opposed to taking any part in the social or political life of the country (Wright 89). Hence, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, questioning the reasonability of the given prerogative, Shakespeare, thus, is several centuries ahead of his epoch.

While the solution might seem obvious, there is still a lot to discuss. Indeed, a mother gives birth to a child, which means that from the point of delivery, a kind of a spiritual connection between a mother and a child appears. On the other hand, Titania was not the biological mother of the child, which makes the given argument invalid.

Given the fact that in the Shakespearean times, and especially in the times of the legendary Oberon and Titania, women were restricted to the social roles that they were told to play (Blundell 76), it is rather doubtful that with Titania’s protection, destiny would have been much more favorable to the child. On the contrary, staying with Oberon as his servant, the child would have obtained at least some education and had a career.

However, the specifics of the epoch aside, the assets of a single mother are just as strong as the ones of a single father. Hence, saving her son from becoming her husband’s servant, Titania makes the right choice that signifies her maturity and motherly qualities. As Kehler puts it, Titania becomes “the voice of ethical commitment” in the play (Kehler 317).

Conclusion: A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a Retreat into the Primitive

Regardless of its flippant charm and the obvious comedic elements, A Midsummer Night’s Dream offers a lot of food for thoughts in terms of its subplot of kidnapping and the following argument concerning the best choice of a parent. While the focus of the play is obviously on the relationships between the characters, as well as on the situational comedy, the issue of parenthood is still touched upon.

Therefore, the play intersects with legal issues concerning parenthood at certain points. Moreover, bringing up the question concerning who the best parent is, a caring mother or a protecting father, A Midsummer Night’s Dream appears to be a much more dimensional play than one might think it to be.

Works Cited

Blundell, Sue. Women in Ancient Greece. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Print.

Fiske, Susan T., Daniel T. Gilbert and Gardner Lindsey. Handbook of Social Psychology. Vol. 2. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Print.

Kehler, Dorothea. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Wright, Courtni C. The Women of Shakespeare’s Plays. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. 1993. Print.




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