dowager

The word dowager is used twice in the first scene of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and in none other of Shakespeare's works. Eliot Krieger argues that these two uses of this unusual word, with opposite connotations, demonstrate Lysander and Theseus' opposite interpretations of the world.

The perceptual opposition between the two men using dowager as a verbal bridge, crosses into a political opposition: Lysander proposes a liberating world, discontinuous with the laws of Theseus's dukedom; in Lysander's world one's social and familial superiors would accumulate wealth in order to bestow it, and elders would sanction rather than oppose his subjective decisions. In short, Lysander envisions a second world where he and Helena will be accepted by a benevolent, nurturing society. (Krieger 1996: 40)

in the text:

Theseus sees the moon as a jealous dowager in I i 5.

Lysander tells Hermia of his kind and wealthy dowager aunt in I i 157.

related comments:

"the shadowy images of older women" haunt the play, according to Terrence Hawkes.