Character Analysis Bottom


Probably created as a showcase for one of Shakespeare's favorite actors, Bottom's role involves dancing, singing, and laughter. From his first introduction, Bottom is presented as courageous and outgoing. He is confident in his ability to play any, even all, roles in "Pyramus and Thisbe." For example, he says his performance of Pyramus will cause the audience to cry a stormload of tears. As the audience realizes, this confidence is misplaced, and Bottom is little more than a swaggering fool — indeed, an ass, as Puck's prank makes apparent.

Bottom's language adds to his comic appeal. For example, he claims that if he performed the role of Thisbe, he would speak her lines in a "monstrous little voice," an obviously contradictory statement. Then he would "aggravate" his voice if he played the lion's role so that the ladies in the audience would not be frightened; once again, Bottom's word choices show his silliness, while adding a comic element to the play. Similarly, rather than worry about his acting performance, Bottom wonders which beard would be most effective for the role of Pyramus.

Although Bottom is the locus of comedy in the play — he's a traditional Shakespearean clown — he also draws the audience's attention to serious themes, such as the relationship between reality and imagination. In preparing for the performance of "Pyramus and Thisbe," Bottom continually draws his fellow players' attention back to the question of the audience's gullibility: Will the ladies be upset when Pyramus kills himself; will they realize that the lion is not a lion but an actor? To remedy the first problem, Bottom asks Quince to write a prologue, explaining Pyramus is not really dead, and that Pyramus is not, in fact, Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver. In this instance, Bottom focuses the audience's attention on the difficulty of differentiating reality and perception; his solution suggests his belief that the players' acting will be too convincing, that they will fully realize the goal of theater. Similarly, to keep the ladies from being afraid of the lion, he suggests the actor playing the lion show half of his face and explain that he's really a man, not an animal. This belief in the power of theater extends to his solutions for bringing moonshine and a wall into the play. In creating a wall for the set, he believes covering a man with plaster and some loam will sufficiently convince an audience. Always ready to be surprised, to accept the world's wonder, Bottom believes his audience will be equally susceptible to the powers of art.

Bottom's openness to the world's oddities extends to his visit to the fairy realm, which could be viewed as simply another fantasy, much like the theater. It is ironic that Bottom, the most down-to-earth character in the play, is the only mortal who meets any of the fairies. When Titania falls in love with him, Bottom isn't surprised. But he does recognize that Titania's statements about him aren't true, for example that he is an angel or that his looks inspire confidence. At bottom, he knows love and reason don't often work at the same level. Once again, his comments focus on a key, recurring theme of the play: How do love and reason relate? Should love be based on reason or on fantasy? In addition, Bottom's interactions with Titania emphasize the class differences between the characters in the play; as a member of the artisan class, Bottom was literally in a different realm from the regal Queen of the Fairies.

When he returns to the real world, following his stay in the fairy world, Bottom would like to discuss his experiences. He can't. Although he usually is full of language, he is unable to speak about his fairy-inspired visions. Instead, he wants Peter Quince to write a ballad about these experiences; what ordinary language cannot accommodate, poetic language can. Unlike Theseus, Bottom has complete faith in the power of art to capture visionary experiences. Through him, Shakespeare implicitly validates the vision of the artist.