A Midsummer Night's Dream | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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A Midsummer Night's Dream | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

At the home of Peter Quince, some tradesmen of Athens—Nick Bottom, Francis Flute, Robin Starveling, Tom Snout, and Snug—gather. They are planning a play they hope they can perform after Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding in the "interlude" between the ceremony and bedtime. Quince has written it, and he tells the men it is based on the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, an old tale of two young lovers whose families try to keep them apart and who tragically die. As Quince attempts to assign roles in the play to the men, Bottom interrupts, describing in dramatic fashion how he will play all the parts. Eventually, Quince manages to assign Bottom the role of Pyramus and Flute the role of Thisbe. The other men will play the Lion, Moonshine, and the Wall. The men say they will memorize their parts and meet for rehearsal in the woods on the following night.

Analysis

The humor of this scene reveals Shakespeare's most hilarious comedic devices. Much of the humor comes from the fact that Bottom and, to some degree, Quince believe they are far more adept at theater craft than they actually are. Quince names the play "The most lamentable / comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and / Thisbe," which contains the unintentional oxymoron "lamentable comedy." Bottom mixes up the meanings of similar-sounding words, substituting generally for individually, aggravate for moderate, and obscenely for seemly.

Bottom's eagerness to play all the roles ("Let me play the lion too") and his overestimation of his ability to wow the audience ("I will roar that I will / do any man's heart good to hear me. I will roar that / I will make the Duke say 'Let him roar again. Let / him roar again!'") also add to the humor. The men's reaction to the suggestion that the men might all be hanged if their lion is too frightening for the ladies in the audience shows they are earnest but naive. They are concerned the audience will find their portrayals too realistic—a silly notion.

Francis Flute's objection that he cannot play a lady because he has a beard coming is a humorous reference to the practice in Elizabethan times of having young men play the female characters because the law forbade women from taking roles on the stage. However, once an actor's voice changed and his beard came in, he had to move on to other roles.

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