In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream", the relationships and friendships of women are portrayed as complex, perhaps even more complicated than the romantic and marital relationships between women and men in the play. On the one hand, the reader of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare finds several examples of friendships between women that appear to be built upon a tenuous foundation, but which supersede their loyalty to men when tested; on the other hand, friendships built upon more solid foundations crumble when attacked by the artillery of petty jealousies or when undermined by misunderstandings, which creates a complicated portrayal of women and their relationships with one another that cannot be understood in one specific way.
By examining two types of friendships between women portrayed in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare, the reader can discern what Shakespeare wanted to convey regarding the nature of female passions and affections, not only as they affected women, but also as they impacted women’s relationships with men. The friendships and relationships of women in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare are important to the plot and even the general structure of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare as they are entirely reliant on gendered understandings of women’s relationships in general. Nonetheless, by representing women with complex friendships, it is important to note that this also means they are being presented as round developed characters as opposed to mere objects, which is one of the most important points to make about the value placed on women through the written nature of their relationships and friendships with one another.
One of the most interesting representations of the friendships of women in A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare can be seen in the conflict between Titania and her husband, Oberon. This is occasioned by the fact that both the wife and the husband want to retain possession of a young Indian boy who has been placed in Titania’s care. Titania does not want to give up the boy because she has, as she states in one of the important quotes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare, “never had so sweet a changeling" (II.i.23); for this reason, she keeps the boy close to her and “makes him all her joy" (II.i.27). Over time, it is revealed that the real reason why Titania wants to keep the boy by her side is because she had developed a close friendship with the boy’s mother, an allegiance that seems both more tenuous and more solid than Titania’s allegiance with her own husband. “In the spiced Indian air by night/Full often hath she gossiped by my side," Titania tells Oberon, “But she, being mortal, of that boy did die,/And for her sake I do rear up her boy,/And for her sake I will not part with him" (II.i.128-129;140-142). Although it does not seem that Titania had the time or cultural commonalities to develop a deep friendship with the boy’s mother, what Titania is telling Oberon is that the allegiances among women are stronger and more profound than marital ties, and she will keep the boy with her because her friendship with his mother obliges her to do so.
The friendship between Hermia and Helena and, in particular, the collapse of that relationship between these two women in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare, is harder to explain, but it does expose the other side of female friendships. Hermia and Helena, who had once been close friends, are divided by petty and irrational jealousies. While both Hermia and Helena in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” have unique qualities, they come to envy one another because of conflicts and misunderstandings regarding men. Helena, in particular, feels betrayed by this turn of events, questioning what happened to their “sisters’ vows, the hours that we have spent [together]" (III.ii.204). Although this friendship seems to have a firmer foundation than that between Titania and the unnamed Indian woman, Shakespeare shows that friendships are always vulnerable to intrusions and misunderstandings. By permitting Helena to have the last word on friendship, Shakespeare seems admiring of the kinds of ties of which women are capable of forging with one another: “To join with men in scorning your poor friend/Is not friendly…. /Our sex…may chide you for it" (III.ii.221-223)