Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Simpleness and Duty - The world of the artisans and the significance of the play within the play

Term Paper, 2009

14 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The workmen
2.1 Bottom
2.1.1 Bottom’s character
2.1.2 Bottom’s language
2.2 The other workmen
2.2.1 The other workmen in general
2.2.2 The other workmen in detail

3 The play-within-a-play
3.1 The inner story
3.2 The Pyramus and Thisbe story

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography
5.1 Primary Literature
5.2 Secondary Literature
5.3 Works cited

1 Introduction

This term paper deals with the simplicity of the workmen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the significance of the embedded play-within-a-play. The first part discusses the simplicity of the workmen and their characteristics that make them who they are. First, an analysis of the main artisan figure, Nick Bottom, will be given. This analysis is classified in his characteristic traits, formed by his behavior and his being, and his language. Those two categories will show the simplicity of his figure and his role in the play. His companions, the other workmen, are then grouped and treated in general before detailed characteristics about each individual artisan are itemized.

The second part of this term paper handles the importance of the play-within-a-play. A general overview and definition about this literary device will be given in order to discuss the importance of the specific story in the play. The reference of the Pyramus and Thisbe story as the play-within-a-play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream will complete this term paper.

2 The workmen

2.1 Bottom

Bottom is the main figure of all the workmen in the play. He is not only the one standing out because of his transformation and his bigger presence in the play, but also because his character and his language are much more specific and detailed from the ones that his companions bring about.

2.1.1 Bottom’s character

As all the workmen, Nick Bottom, the weaver, is very simple. His profession is named in 1.2.16, but will never play a role. Bottom’s profession in the play is to be an actor for the play in the play that the workmen are rehearsing. Mentioning his profession is a proof of his simplicity and his rank in society in relationship to the Duke and the Queen of Athens that were introduced in 1.1. His importance as an actor is already shown at the beginning of 1.2. when he announces that “his chief humor is for a tyrant” (1.2.24). This proves that Bottom has acted before and has knowledge about the art of acting. Bottom is very enthusiastic about the play so that he tries unsuccessfully to take all the roles that Peter Quince, the director of the play, distributes. “[L]et me play Thisbe too” (1.2.45). He shows intense desire with the lion’s part “Let me play the lion too” (1.2.63). Bottom’s eagerness on this part is further expressed by his imagination of how he would play the lion’s part: “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’ ” (1.2.64-66). Bottom is convinced of his ability as an actor as he claims that he can roar not only in the way to scare the women in the audience, but also “as gently as any sucking dove” (1.2.74). The next fact that underlines Bottom’s skills about acting is his knowledge “about the technical details of costume: ‘I will discharge it in either your straw-colour / beard, your orange- tawny beard, you purple-in-grain / beard, or your French-crown-colour beard, your perfect / yellow’ ” (Charney 38; 1.2.83-86).

Nick Bottom is a very enthusiastic character and full of self-confidence not only when it comes to acting, but also in the scene where he is with Titania. He has already been transformed into an ass when she meets him, but is not aware of his transformation. Although he identifies his metamorphosis before anyone else does it, he does not know what has happened to him. Bottom is proud and still self-confident when he talks to Titania. Although she is the fairy queen, he does not talk to her in a more elaborated speech. On the contrary, his speech is very simple and homely (cf. Charney 38): “Nay, I can gleek upon occasion” (3.1.139). Bottom stays himself even after his transformation. When Titania expresses her love to him “Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful” (3.1.140) he is still self-assured, but also simple. He keeps talking to her, enjoys her presence and being surrounded by her fairies. Just like his character, the wishes he expresses to the fairies are modest and simple. “I shall desire you of more acquaintance, good / Master Cobweb. If I cut my finger, I shall make bold / with you” (3.1.173-175).

The simplicity of the character is also apparent in the contrast between himself and the fairy queen. Titania is very majestic whereas Bottom still presents the figure of a simple workman, even after having been transformed. In addition to him not realizing that he appears as an ass, he thinks that it is right for him that the fairy sees herself attracted to him and that her servants attend to him. Bottom is unaware of the fact that it is ordinary and absurd for a magical fairy queen to fall in love with him (cf. Hehl, 234; Parrott, 131). This lack of perception highlights his inability to separate reality from illusion. In 4.1.198-215 the weaver wakes up and thinks that all of what had happened was a dream. “I have / had a most rare vision. I have had a dream past the wit / of man to say what dream it was” (4.1.201-203). He calls it Bottom’s dream.

Moreover, the afore mentioned characteristics, provide evidence that Nick Bottom is far more developed than the other workmen. He is differentiated from his companions “by a savoir-faire and a self-possession that will carry him through any crisis” (Ridley, 83). The other workmen regard him highly for his abilities and see him as a good friend. “What sayst though, bully Bottom?” (3.1.7) expresses the term of endearment that his companions give him. They also listen to his suggestions

BOTTOM Nay, you must name his name, and half his face/ must be seen through the lion’s neck, and he himself / must speak though, saying thus, or to the same defect: / ‘ladies’, or ‘fair ladies I would wish you’ or ‘I would / request you’ or ‘I would entreat you not to feat, not to / tremble. My life for yours. If you think I come hither as / a lion, it were pity of my life. No, I am no such thing. I / am a man, as other men are’ – and there, indeed, let / him name his name, and tell them plainly he is Snug / the joiner.

QUINCE Well, it shall be so (3.1.33-43).

and are impressed by him because they think that he is a great actor: “the best wit of any handicraft- / man in Athens” (4.2.9-10).

Bottom represents the central character among the workmen. He links all of them and their activities with the world of the court and the world of the fairies. Peck (227) says that the characters are created to serve a function and make a point. “Bottom’s episode with Titania is closely linked with the central theme of the ‘fairy’ plot; and by their play before the duke they are also linked with the other, or ‘court,’ plot” (Ridley, 83).

2.1.2 Bottom’s language

Nick Bottom also represents a special workman, due to the choice of language. He is often very boisterous and loud and does not know how to speak in a higher register. For example, when he speaks to Titania, the fairy queen. Although he is very honest, he is sometimes misguided (cf. York Notes). This is especially the case when he makes silly mistakes and misses the language. “You were best to call them generally, man by man, according to the scrip” (1.2.2). It is the first sentence that Bottom says in the play and “his verbal mistakes begin immediately” (Holland, 146). In the same sentence, he means ‘script’ in the place of ‘scrip’, a piece of writing in the place of a scrap of paper. The next mistake that he makes is the confusion of the word aggravate with its antonym moderate in “but I will aggravate my voice so, that I will / roar you as gently as any sucking dove” (1.2.72-73). Again, in the same sentence, Bottom makes a second mistake. He mixes and matches two proverbs with each other, sitting dove and sucking lamb, which then became “sucking dove” . At the end of the same act, he confounds other terms with each other that are similar in pronunciation. “We will meet, and there we may rehearse most / obscenely and courageously” (1.2.95-96). Obscenely is a mistake for seemly. The latter one signifies suitable where obscenely means offensive to accept. (cf. thefreedictionary). Another mistake which Bottom seems to make because of phonetical similarity is the following: “Nay, you must name his name, and half his face / must be seen through the lion’s neck, and he himself / must speak through, saying thus, or to the same defect: ‘ladies’, […]” (3.1.32-36). When Bottom says defect, he means effect. The last error in his language being cited here is Bottom’s statement “I have an / exposition of sleep come upon me” (4.1.37-38) where he means disposition to instead of exposition of.

All those malapropisms express a comical incompetence and put Bottom in the center of the most comedic scenes in the play, yet Bottom himself remains unaware of his ridiculousness. The way he uses his words and language illuminate his self-confidence since he is convinced that he is wise and can speak in such a way. His speeches are often overdramatic, therefore boisterous and self-aggrandizing.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Simpleness and Duty - The world of the artisans and the significance of the play within the play
University of Heidelberg  (Anglistisches Seminar)
Literature and Film: Shakespeare
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
414 KB
Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Simpleness, Duty, A play within a play, Workmen, Bottom, Pyramus and Thisbe, Artisans, Midsummer, Dream, simple
Quote paper
Judith Nagel (Author), 2009, Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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