"I Woo'd Thee with My Sword, / and Won Thy Love Doing Thee Injuries": The Erotic Economies of A Midsummer Night's Dream

By Rieger, Gabriel | The Upstart Crow, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

"I Woo'd Thee with My Sword, / and Won Thy Love Doing Thee Injuries": The Erotic Economies of A Midsummer Night's Dream


Rieger, Gabriel, The Upstart Crow


In a footnote to his introduction to the 1979 Arden edition of A Midsummer Nights Dream, Harold Brooks notes of the Bottom/Titania subplot that:

   ... though the humour resides partly in contrast between his animal
   form and her 'airy spirit', even a controlled suggestion of carnal
   bestiality is surely impossible: jealous Oberon would not have cast
   his spell to cuckold himself. Her dotage is imaginative and
   emotional. (1)

Brooks' dismissal is understandable; the idea that "jealous Oberon" might "cast his spell to cuckold himself" as a means of punishing his wife is jarring, and potentially troubling in the extreme. Indeed, the mere suggestion has the potential to undercut the play's comic effect, at least for a modern audience. Of course, whether it would have done so for an early modern audience is by no means certain.

In this essay, I propose that Oberon has indeed "cast his spell to cuckold himself," using erotic desire as a weapon to humiliate his rebellious wife and enforce her submission. He does this in order to reassert his position at the head of his family and, by extension, the state as embodied in the fairy kingdom, while at the same time restoring order to the natural world by remedying the domestic and political chaos which has infected it with "contagious fogs" and "progeny of evils." In his chastising of Titania, and Titania's acceptance of it, we see a clear example of the erotic dominance and submission which underpin the domestic, social, and political economies of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play famously concerned with the nature of erotic desire, and perhaps for this reason it is one of Shakespeare's most perennially popular comedies, performed in various (sometimes truncated) forms since the late sixteenth century. (2) The play's engagement with that desire has been central to critical inquiry for nearly as long. Even Samuel Pepys, one of the play's earliest (and harshest) critics, remarked in his diaries that it showcased "some handsome women." (3) More recent criticism, while no less engaged with the play's treatment of erotic desire, has also tended to comment upon the play's gender dynamics, reading the play in the context of gender relations of the late Elizabethan period in which it was written. Shirley Nelson Garner notes that despite the "renewal" which is promised in the conclusion, the play "recognizes the tenuousness of heterosexuality." (4) Critics such as David Marshall have noted the ways in which the comedy's female characters are marginalized, (5) while Louis Montrose reads the play as a kind of cultural artifact whose treatments of gender and social relations must be understood in relation to the Elizabethan court. (6) Jonathan Crewe built upon this reading, arguing that A Midsummer Night's Dream's "sexual politics" were both complex and "historically specific."(7) In Things of Darkness, Kim Hall reads the comedy as a gyno/xenophobic study in which "threatening female sexuality and power" are displaced into the literal and rhetorical darkness of the forest. (8) More recently, Bruce Boehrer has undertaken a study of the play's "economies of desire," noting the parallels between the play's "bestiality motif" and its "various references to same-sex communities. (9)

While all of these studies are informative and illustrative in various ways, Boehrer's study is particularly to my purpose. I propose here a new reading of the play's "economies of desire," or "erotic economies," as I term them. (10) As critics have long noted, the play is focused on the power dynamics of gender relations, and all of the play's representations of erotic desire emanate from this focus. Arguably the most conspicuous feature of erotic desire as it is depicted in A Midsummer Night's Dream is its close linking with control. Indeed, in the Oberon/Titania/Bottom plot, erotic desire is inextricable from control; it is, in fact, a form of control.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"I Woo'd Thee with My Sword, / and Won Thy Love Doing Thee Injuries": The Erotic Economies of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.