Publication Date

Spring 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


English and Comparative Literature


Adrienne L. Eastwood


Fairy, Female, Magic, Patriarchy, Shakespeare, Witchcraft

Subject Areas

British and Irish literature; Folklore; Women's studies


There has been extensive writing and research into the fairy magic and witchcraft practices of the Early Modern Period in the 400-plus years between when Shakespeare's plays were performed and now--even including a tome on demonology by King James I himself. However, as witchcraft and fairy magic are distinctively female realms, with women making up 90% of accused witches and fairy magic being mainly related to domestic duties, one cannot accurately discuss these phenomena in the plays without addressing how they affect the female characters. This project examines the role of the supernatural in three of Shakespeare's plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, and The Winter's Tale, and how powerful groups of women are affected. By examining how Shakespeare uses these female-based supernatural powers in his plays, one can gain a greater understanding of how the women fit into the drama and, to a larger extent, how they were expected to fit into society. From the examination of the supernatural in these three plays, it can be concluded that Shakespeare uses fairy magic as a means to support patriarchy and keep women in their proper place within the realm of society. Witchcraft, by contrast, is a female-based power which undermines established patriarchal norms and must be destroyed to keep women from becoming too powerful.