By Corinne DeShon
The Amazons are an ancient Greek myth of warrior women. They are chronicled throughout history and held as one of the earliest references to feminist ideologies. They swore off men, and aside from reproduction were set out to dominate other tribes, particularly male. Any boys they had in childbirth were said to have been killed, given back to their fathers, or left in the wilderness to fend for themselves. The girls were then raised to become warriors. They acquired skills such as hunting, fighting, and other typically male activities. The women’s fighting breasts were said to have been cut or burned off so as not to impede them when they notched and shot their bows. “Breastless” is actually the original meaning behind the word “Amazon.” There is “no historical basis for the legend, but some archaeologists connect it with the armed priestesses depicted on Hittite sculptures,” (McLaughlin). They were led by their fearless queen Hippolyta, one of the most famous characters from the myth of the Amazons.
These women were integrated throughout Greek mythology. For example, the famous, ancient Greek story of Hercules includes Hippolyta. One of Hercules’ Twelve Labors included killing Hippolyta in order to gain her magic girdle. Another story includes Theseus, also an ancient Greek warrior, who ends up marrying Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus and Hippolyta are engaged. Theseus, a man of high stature and power, although dominated the Amazonian clan, in turn was dominated by Hippolyta. “Theseus’ opinion: that, being himself a lover, he comes under the aim of his own attack,” (Nemerov, 638). To explain, Theseus is a renowned warrior, a strong male character of Greek mythology, the fact that he falls in love with Hippolyta and lays down his sword for her is hypocritical of male stature in that era.
Shakespeare introduces the concept of the Amazonian women to Elizabethan society through A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Throughout history, including Elizabethan culture, women were considered subservient members to their male counterparts. However, Shakespeare rattles this concept of gender roles by introducing fierce, warrior women and their culture of domination. He “enlightens audience members, exposing them to hierarchical system where women are authority figures,” (Rogers, 117). Some scholars believe that William Shakespeare modeled Hippolyta after Queen Elizabeth I, which one can see the similarities by their positions of power. However, Shakespeare also takes a slightly different approach to the character of Hippolyta. Traditionally she is represented as a strong, tough warrior queen. However, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she is portrayed as somewhat of a “trophy wife” to Theseus. Although in a position of power, engaged to Theseus, she is not characterized as she is traditionally in other stories of her life. Theorists say that Shakespeare does this to call attention to women’s roles in Elizabethan culture and the submission they are set upon when dominated by their male counterparts.
McLaughlin, B. (1998). A woman’s own guide to the galaxy: Amazons. Dawn, (27), 8. Retrieved from http://libproxy.sdsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.sdsu.edu/docview/230417109?accountid=13758
Nemerov, Howard. “The Marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta.” The Kenyon Review, 18.4 (1956): 633-641.
Rogers, Ellen. “Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The Explicator 56.3 (1998): 117-18. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.