A Midsummer Night's Dream By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act IV: Scene 2

Summary

In this short scene, Quince and Flute are searching for their missing friend, Bottom. They worry that "Pyramus and Thisbe" won't be performed without him. Theseus is known for his generosity, and the actors believe they will potentially be rewarded with a lifelong pension for their stellar performance of this play. As they lament this lost opportunity, Bottom suddenly returns. His friends want to hear his story, but Bottom tells them there isn't time for that now: They must prepare for the play. He warns them to avoid onions and garlic so their breath will be sweet for the "sweet comedy" they will perform.

Analysis

Bottom's friends believe he has been, according to Starveling, "transported." His word choice conflates two meanings: metamorphosed and carried away. As the audience knows, Bottom was indeed carried away by Titania and is the only mortal other than the Indian boy who has successfully penetrated the fairies' bower. Transported is also a word associated with drama, describing the elation and otherworldliness an audience feels when viewing a particularly moving dramatic performance. Like Bottom, the audience of this Dream should be transported into a dream world, transformed by the magical performance unfolding in the theater. The actors feel that only Bottom has the correct attributes to have this type of impact on the audience. Only he can correctly personify Pyramus because of his wit, his good looks, and his sweet voice.

Once again, the actors' incorrect use of language adds a comic element to the play. Quince claims Bottom is a "very paramour for a sweet voice," but Flute recognizes the error in his statement. He corrects Quince, explaining that "paragon" is the word he should have used, and that a paramour is something shameful. Flute is correct, but in some sense so is Quince. Bottom was involved in an illicit relationship with Titania, so he warrants the title of paramour, and his "sweet voice," his singing, is what first attracted her to him. Much of the humor in this exchange hinges on the layers of meaning hidden in each incorrect word used; in fact, the improper words contain more meaning than the correct ones because they expand the audience's sense of the truth. Unlike Quince and Flute, for example, we know that Bottom has been a paramour, so this word actually accounts for more of our experience of the play than Flute's more technically correct "paragon." In fact, Bottom seems to be a paragon, or shining example, only of an ass.

Like Bottom, the captive audience may be left tongue-tied, without the words to describe their experience. Bottom recognizes that he has been part of a wondrous event, yet he cannot explain what it was. Like a dream, his memories of his time in Titania's bower fade as soon as he returns to his everyday world. When Quince asks for the tale, Bottom cannot utter a word. Instead, he discourses about the upcoming performance of "Pyramus and Thisbe," reminding the actors of the mundane activities they must accomplish to make their efforts a success: Thisbe must have clean clothes, the lion should not cut his fingernails because they need to resemble claws, and so on. Once again, Bottom sticks with the bottom-line, with the real, mundane tasks. Discoursing about dreams, speaking in Titania's poetical language, are not Bottom's strengths; instead, he's a key voice of commonsense.

Glossary

transported (2) carried off by the fairies, or transformed.

strings to your beards (26) the actors used strings to tie their false beards on.

preferred (28) presented for acceptance.

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