old women

The female characters in A Midsummer Night"s Dream are maidens, on the brink of marriage, as as Titania, a queen and fostermother. Yet, as Terence Hawkes points out, "A Midsummer Night"s Dream seems haunted by the shadowy images of older women." (Hawkes 1996: 25) There is

a growing and finally tumultuous crowd of older women who gradually accumulate on the play"s margines: the "breathless housewives", the gossips, the "wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale (II.i.37ff) all routinely tricked by Puck, the "ladies or Fair Ladies" (III.i.38) congenitally afraid of swords and lions, confronted by Bottom and Snug, and the "mothers" with whom the "mother's sons" of the mechanicals consistently assert their filiation (I.ii.73 and III.i.69). All this takes place in the shadow of what Louis Adrian Montrose calls the "pervasive cultural presence" of the ageing Queen Elizabeth, who functions as "a condition of th eplay's imaginative possibility" and might even have been physically present as part of its first audience." (Hawkes 1996: 226-7).

One of these old women may be Nadar, who is referred to twice in the text as Helena"s parent - or rather, Helena is referred to as "Nadar's daughter Helena" (I i 106-7) and as "old Nedar"s Helena" (IV i 127-9) Hawkes suggests that this Nedar is not Helena"s father as readers often assume, but her mother. [more] Another interesting placement of the missing old women in the play is the addition of a Mrs Bottom to the cast in certain performances. See for instance the 1999 film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

in the text:

Act 1, scene 1, lines 3-6

Act 1, scene 1, lines 157-60

 related comments

The place of dowagers in the play.