Titania’s Pursuit of Personal Desires and Conformity
Come, sit thee down upon this flow’ry bed
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
And stick musk roses in thy sleek, smooth head,
And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.
Titania. The character of Titania was selected as her pursuit of desire and status as the Queen of the Fairies would indicate her power – the suppression of her personal pursuits in favour of a conformity enforced by men suggests that patriarchal attitudes, and the conventions of society, will always dominate however powerful females. Through Titania’s character, Shakespeare illustrates the misogynistic perception of the feminine pursuit of personal desires, in Titania’s case, the pursuit of motherhood, over conforming to the expectations of a patriarchal society. In such circumstances, the ultimate suppression of female desires as a consequence of male influence – shown through Oberon’s personal objective to restore control over the relationship – results in the re-establishment of natural societal order, through conformity. Initially, Titania can be seen to pursue, with conviction, aspirations of motherhood and a devotion to her changeling boy. In choosing to prioritize her child over her attention-seeking partner, Titania effectively disregards the generally accepted superiority of males – by pursuing personal desires, Titania neglects the natural structure of society, prompting social discord. It is only through Oberon’s manipulation of Titania that she made aware of such chaos that ensued in her choice to embrace personal desires. The consequences of the female pursuit of personal desires are exaggerated in the fact that Titania, a Queen, was degraded in her pursuit to the point of being “enamored of an ass.” Ergo, as Titania conforms to the influence of Oberon for the reasons as mentioned above, it can be determined that societal conventions assert that female pursuits of personal desires are futile, as conformity to said conventions is the only manner in which order is maintained. Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this is further exemplified through the utilization of pathetic fallacy as a mirror to the disruption of societal order in Titania’s initial pursuit of personal desires, though eventual conformity as incited by the dominance of Oberon: natural order. Just as the moon emits light merely as a reflection of the Sun, the eclipse of Titania’s desires by a male perspective is representative of the humiliating defeat of her womanly pride – her status is determined by her dependency. Such dependency perpetuates the notion that the power of the Sunlight – the power of men – will override the reign of moonlight, and thus of female influence and desire. Conformity in an orderly society is, therefore, inevitable.
Creative Piece 1:
“an undesired rest”
in my flowery bed, I rest
azaleas spring from each crack
and remind me of my place,
I am a queen, but the king will reign.
as much as I wish they grew for me,
they grow in spite of me.
red primroses make a home under my hands,
finding life in my own failure:
the failure to prove myself,
to show my capabilities.
they never seem to shed their petals.
eryngium are trampled under my feet
not by me, but by a man
who is scared what my choices may cause
and in fear he takes anything I call mine
and in my fear, i treasure much less.
I learned that treasuring things never helps,
it only makes it harder when the loss comes.
he took from me what i needed,
my child wore a crown of lilacs and lilies
and with him i wore my own blessed crown
of carnations and amaranths,
through him I knew a love that had no bounds
and i fought for him more than anything in my life;
yet our crowns were stripped from us
and he was gone from my grasp
because of the king’s word
and like the flowers in the crowns,
my own resilience wilted
in my flowery bed, I weep.
Explanatory Paragraph for Creative 1:
With this piece, I wanted to portray Titania’s character using nature’s best storytellers, flowers. I used the “flowery bed” as the basis of Titania’s character because it is a place of reflection and dreams. I chose to do a poem for this piece because it felt the most appropriate to represent this reflection of hers and it provided the best format for quick shifts in a train of thought. The first flowers I used were azaleas, a symbol of fragility and femininity; they grow as a reminder that she is less than Oberon and how her life is not her own. The red primroses symbolize unappreciated merit which further reaffirms that Titania is supposed to live as an extension of her husband. These are the resilient flowers that are meant to dictate her view on herself thus how she is supposed to act. In contrast, the eryngium flowers are forbidden from growing strong as they represent independence and that trait would make it difficult to control her. After discussing the perception others, specifically Oberon, want her to have, I wanted to shift it to address her own desire for motherhood. I use the crown of lilacs and lilies – representing innocence and purity, respectively – for the changeling boy to show how much Titania revered and loved him. Her own crown made of carnations and amaranths is meant to display motherhood and undying love. But these aren’t crowns made to last, they are stripped and the flowers wilt; Titania is forced to accept the roles Oberon wants her to have. With the final line, which serves as a distorted reflection of the first, I wanted to show how even when she sees and recognizes who she is meant to be, her heart is unable to comply and she still longs for the changeling boy.
Creative Piece 2:
Explanatory Paragraph for Creative 2:
Titania and child
For my creative piece, I chose a moment that captures the intimacy between Titania and her changeling – Titania holding the little Indian boy as she hums him to sleep. The moment is set at night, under the influence of the moon – a traditionally feminine symbol, as the moon itself does not emit light; it can only reflect that of the Sun – or, the light emitted from a masculine source. The full moon, therefore, suggests that Titania is at the height of her power in this moment; taking care of the child is symbolic of the strength of her influence as a mother figure and a protector. The branches encroaching on the moon, in contrast, represents the fallibility of her powers; her passion for loving – both as a mother and as a woman – is easily redirected or obstructed in its entirety by masculine authorities, as indicated by the traditionally male coloration of the branches (deep browns, in contrast the the lighter, more colourful look of Titania and the changeling). The way in which the branches fragment the light of the moon should concern Titania, but her complacency in her happiness prevents her from acting to maintain the joy she feels in the achievement of her personal desires. The leaves, flowers and butterfly wings in Titania’s hair are also significant; though nature is often seen as awe-inspiring in its beauty and its forcefulness, these parts of nature are some of the weakest; though beautiful, flowers are fragile and representative of sexuality; leaves and butterfly wings are easily torn. These traditional symbols of femininity, thus, indicate that Titania’s acceptance and love for these symbols prevents her from acquiring the full extent of the power she could potentially have if she were to relinquish her femininity and motherhood. Her choice to maintain the fulfillment of her personal desire in the face of the circumstances presented by society as a result of her identification with her female role – as well as the price she has to pay for her failure to foresee the weakness of her position created by said societal role – indicates that a woman must resolve the conflict between their desire – to assert dominance – and their conventional role of being dominated by male influences.
The cause of Titania’s woes, a conflict between her desire to keep the changeling boy and the convention imposed on her by Oberon – by going against his word – is understandable. Her defiance is resomable – perhaps even inspiring – as it is a human desire to seek freedom, and motherhood is her only way of pursuing it. Considering the immense pressures put on women to conform to their circumstances, it is reasonable to expect rebellion against a social hierarchy that has no true basis in reality; what is somewhat confounding, however, is the fact that Titania pursues this freedom through motherhood – a role that has often been used to oppress women in the past. This comes at a direct contrast with modern human society in which to have children and care for them is the societal norm; however, when comparing her own acts of rebellion, it is clear that it is the ultimate pursuit of being able to make choices on her own – not just what is expected of her. She seeks control over her own life and wants to have independence which for her becomes possible when she cares for another person – by taking away the love and attention she had given to Oberon in the past she has a momentary flux of power. This was represented in both our pieces using the floral and natural imagery; like a flower in bloom, Titania’s dominance is fragile and temporary. Her crown of these delicate blooms can be seen as her attempt to harness her femininity to empower her to be on equal standing with Oberon; the fallacy in this plan is that social constructs prevent her from maintaining it. Her acceptance of her femininity is unable to subvert the societal power dynamic because, like the full moon, femininity is too temporary to exert the influence she needs to break free of convention. Yet, if she relinquished her femininity, she would also lose her status as the Fairy Queen – this is the paradox presented to women; a true woman cannot be both feminine and powerful according to Titania’s circumstances – one of those traits will always be challenged in order to maintain male dominance.
Personal Connection Paragraph:
In the feminine pursuit of personal desires over conforming to conventions, a disruption of natural order is inevitable. Titania, of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, incites chaos in her initial overwhelming female independence, however the subdual of said independence, in the form of conformity, restores lost order in the fairy world: only when Oberon has conquered Titania is peace reached. Aforementioned conformity takes form in the manifestation of Titania as a mother in which convention dictates that she must serve both her child and male counterpart – failure to do either is equated to a failure to sustain natural order. This Shakespearean natural order is not in the strength of the individual, but in the control of women by men – such ideas, the universality of the suppression of woman through conformity, can be seen to be argued against in Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It is not natural that a woman be inferior, it is not natural that a woman be predisposed to seeking and having the sole purpose of serving man – “It is not natural; but arises, like false ambition in men, from a love of power.”(Wollstonecraft, 43) Wollstonecraft asserts that the female race is not naturally inept, rather they are the product of a conventiontional society founded upon Shakespeare’s natural order. The consequences of such an environment on an individual are natural – if one is brought up in prejuices they will “blindly submit to authority” (Wollstonecraft, 37) mistaken as natural order, as evidenced through Titania’s conformity to fulfill Oberon’s desires. “[History discloses]…, how few women have emancipated themselves from the galling yoke of man”(Wollstonecraft, 50) simply because of a lack of cultivated female minds at the expense of a society that perpetuates their lacking abilities – Titania forsakes all previous personal desires she initially stood up for, such as her devotion to her changeling boy, after being exposed, albeit deceptively, to Shakespeare’s natural order of man over woman. Such ideas of conformity based off of social custom can be seen to be paralleled within abusive relationships. It is in the pursuit of personal desires – desires that are against the “natural order” and control of the abuser – that the abusee disrupts structure in his or her relationship. Said disruption of order creates an environment similar to that which is created for females by Shakespearean natural order: in disregarding order in favour of pursuing personal desires, one provokes abuse, as abuse acts as a means by which the abuser is able to enforce their dominance and control – order.This cycle of pursuing personal desires, only to be met with harsh consequences, develops in the abusee the idea that it is natural for them to be inferior and submissive. Again, in both Shakespearean convention and abusive relationships, conformity presents itself as the path of least consequence, and thus serves to maintain order as perpetuated by convention – it through the continuation of social expectations that associate conformity with peace that order is accordingly preserved.
Within the comedic play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as written by William Shakespeare, the playwright showcases the inevitability of female conformity within a male-dominant society through the character of Titania, the Fairy Queen. Titania had originally attempted to pursue personal desires – those unaligned with the etiquette of her society – of motherhood, prioritizing her own passions over those that her love interest and King of the Fairies, Oberon, demanded of her. Titania did so, however, without cognizance of the fact that, in spite of her power, she is defined by society and by her relationship with Oberon: without the King there is no Queen. In telling Oberon that the “fairy land buys not the child of [Titania],” (2.1) she demonstrates her initial persistence regarding the pursuit of her personal desires. However, the accompanied disarray of elements (“the [piping] winds,…pelting river, drowned field” (2.1)) parallels the social disturbance created when a woman does not act according to the desires of her spouse. As such, Shakespeare develops the idea that the attainment of personal desires by a female is impossible in a patriarchal society – Oberon’s manipulation of Titania in response to her pursuit exemplifies this, as his “spell” cast on her causes Titania to rebuke all initial personal desires in favour of a devotion to Oberon. She “[welcomes her] lord ” (4.1) with a reverence unlike her previous disposition due to the restoration of male influence and dominance, likened to order and structure, in her life. In essence, Titania conforms to Oberon, and the structure of patriarchal society, neglecting her past desires because of the the establishment of order in the form of male dominance over women. While females may act as the objects of desire and subjectivity, it is through submitting to their male companions that they can be seen to fill the desires of man – conformity. In this sense, acting based on the whims and desires of one’s superior is simply a consequence of the nature and roles of females in a society led by men. It can therefore be determined that in patriarchal environments, the pursuit of personal desire’s is left to man, while female conformity acts as the mannerism by which men pursue said desires.
Perhaps the most poignant element of Titania’s pursuit of her personal desire is that it was doomed to fail; empowerment via femininity is one that is short term within a society in which convention is equated to male dominance. In such cases, the pursuit of personal desires by women, through motherhood, disrupts said convention – conformity is the only manner in which reconciliation of order in society is possible. Yet, that Titania should choose to pursue her own will at all is inspiring. However temporary it was, motherhood provided her with the joy of fulfilment – despite being oppressed, her moment of power was an example of how challenges to the hierarchy could induce change. This rebellion, even when futile, given the circumstances, provides evidence that humans will seek methods by which they are able to assert their independence. Social conventions, however, dictate the effectiveness of such methods; in this case the extreme extent of the power men have over “their” women is indicative of a competition for authority between the sexes – one that women have lost because of social preconceptions that force them to conform. Showcased throughout this presentation by means of poetry, visual art, and personal connections is the way in which Titania’s rebellion resonates with the universal desire to act according to one’s desires while her ultimate conformity, at the hands of Oberon, speaks to the nature and order of patriarchal societies. Thus, the cycle continues; with each oppression of women, men further assert their supremacy, and the female pursuit of personal desires gives way to conformity of male influence.
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