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Comparison in Ethics of in Relationships in The Scarlet Letter and “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”

Updated on June 25, 2009


Comparison in Ethics of in Relationships in The Scarlet Letter and “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”


In exploring the idea of ethics and the moral implications that they may hold gives a glimpse into the social conditioning of the subjects studied.  In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter the characters develop several ethic dilemmas and life altering situations due to the moral conditioning of the time period.  In Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream “The ethical issues are not only that of moral correctness but that of moral obligation.  The obligations are not only isolated to social responsibility but through social conditioning the ethics spread to every factor of life, even relationships.  The ethical relevance revealed in The Scarlet Letter and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the relationships are strained and tested for the temptations of lovers and the divergence of parent and child. The obvious dissent observed in the styling and construction of The Scarlet Letter and "A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with regards to the religious and political throttlehold over the populace lend strongly to the discourse that would befall the ethics of love versus the law.

                In Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s dream” the relationship between Egus and his daughter Hermia is given added tension due to the laws that are set forth by the rule of monarchy and the views of women as property of their fathers until the time they wed.  Egus is made aware of Hermia’s feelings for Lysander he brings the young lovers in front of the Duke Theseus to enforce the law.  Egus feels that Hermia and Lysanders love for one another is a direct defiance towards him and an uninvited exploit of his property.  Egus wishes for Theseus to enforce the law that if Hermia will not do as her father demands then she should be put to death.  “. . . Turned her obedience, which is due to me, . . . As she is mine, I may dispose of her, Which shall be either to this gentleman Or to her death, according to our law . . .” (1407.1.1.37&43-44).  This infliction of the laws on the structure of family implicates an ethical judgment call over moral obligation to his daughter or the legal allowance of Hermia to be a subservient possession.  Theseus, However seems less intent on seeing thru with Egus desire for lawful punishment and even though he agrees that Hermia should  act the part of obedient daughter, he uses his power to alter to a less sever yet equally restrictive punishment.  “. . . If you yield not to your father’s choice, you can endure the livery of a nun.” (1407.1.1.69-70). 

                The parental ethics as demonstrated in Nathanael Hawthorns The Scarlet Letter between Hester and Pearl are enveloped in Hester and Dimmsdale’s transgression and imposition on the theocracy.  The religious governing of the puritan people gave influence to the matter in which Hester viewed her relationship with Pearl.  Whether it was the maternal love or an act of penance Hester’s overall view of Pearl falters between loving admiration and apprehension with little hope.  The totality of the influence of the god fearing puritans gave Hester the social conditioning to fell that the constant reminder she had of her sin was embodied more in the shear presence of Pearl ,bestowed to her by god, then any punishment that man could inflict.  “God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punish, had given her a lovely child, whose place was on the same dishonored bosom, to connect her parent forever with the race and descent of mortals . . .”  (Hawthorne 61).  Hester’s ethics are tested in the rearing of Pearl because she was a product of sin.  “She knew her deed was evil; she could have no faith, therefore, that its result would be for good.” (Hawthorne 61).

                Likewise ethics portray a large part in the roles of lovers and the apparent conflicts that accompany them.  As with most love stories there has to be an element of illicit behavior between the coupling parties.  The relevancy in the roles of the lovers to the perplexed affair of moral beliefs and values opposed to the social moral code allows the distributing countless ethical predicaments.  These are relevant areas explored in The Scarlet Letter and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” due to the intertwined issues of devotion versus social persecution.  The forbidden affairs exposed, place the lovers into the choices of following their hearts and pursuing the one they love or obliging the authorities.  With the strong convictions to the ones loved the lovers find it necessary to flee the home lands and create new lives free from the governmental control.  In The Scarlet Letter Hester and Arthur have made plans to leave by ship overseas to assume a new life free of the symbolic application of the theocracy.  “In our native land . . . Thou wouldst be beyond his power . . . what hast thou to do with all these iron men, and their opinions?”  (Hawthorne 135).  Furthermore, In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Hermia and Lysander plan to flee the overbearing clutches of her father’s proprietorship in order to be together.  “. . . A time that lovers’ flights doth still conceal, Through Athens’ gates we have devised to steal.”(1411.1.1.212-213). The plots revolve around the lovers making the choice to escape the authority and strive for the pursuit of happiness regardless of the social ethical implications. 

                Any decisions of an ethical nature as devoted to relationships give interpretation to whether the decisions are a social bias or a truth to the nature of the individual.  When love is involved there is always a fracas between heart and head.  There is never a lucid answer to what is ethical.  Allow yourself to love and be loved in return come what may.  The punishment that comes from the establishment cannot cause as much harm as the anguish caused of the dearth of love.


“Love is that condition in the human spirit so profound that it allows one to survive and,

 Better than that, to thrive with passion, compassion, and style.”

                -Maya Angelou (2001)

Work Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1994.

Shakespeare. ""A Midsummer Night's Dream." Myers, Micheal. The Bedford Introduction to Literature.                               Seventh Edition. Boston: Bedford, 2005. 1405-1459.


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