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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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QUINCEIs all our company here?
BOTTOMYou were best to call them generally, man by man,
according to the scrip.
QUINCEHere is the scroll of every man’s name, which is
thought fit, through all Athens, to play in our
interlude before the duke and the duchess, on his
wedding-day at night.
BOTTOMFirst, good Peter Quince, say what the play treats
on, then read the names of the actors, and so grow
to a point. 10
QUINCEMarry, our play is, The most lamentable comedy, and
most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby.
BOTTOMA very good piece of work, I assure you, and a
merry. Now, good Peter Quince, call forth your
actors by the scroll. Masters, spread yourselves.
QUINCEAnswer as I call you. Nick Bottom, the weaver.
BOTTOMReady. Name what part I am for, and proceed.
QUINCEYou, Nick Bottom, are set down for Pyramus.
BOTTOMWhat is Pyramus? a lover, or a tyrant?
QUINCEA lover, that kills himself most gallant for love. 20
BOTTOMThat will ask some tears in the true performing of
it: if I do it, let the audience look to their
eyes; I will move storms, I will condole in some
measure. To the rest: yet my chief humour is for a
tyrant: I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to
tear a cat in, to make all split.
The raging rocks
And shivering shocks
Shall break the locks
Of prison gates;
And Phibbus’ car 30
Shall shine from far
And make and mar
The foolish Fates.
This was lofty! Now name the rest of the players.
This is Ercles’ vein, a tyrant’s vein; a lover is
more condoling.
QUINCEFrancis Flute, the bellows-mender.
FLUTEHere, Peter Quince.
QUINCEFlute, you must take Thisby on you.
FLUTEWhat is Thisby? a wandering knight?
QUINCEIt is the lady that Pyramus must love. 40
FLUTENay, faith, let me not play a woman; I have a beard coming.
QUINCEThat’s all one: you shall play it in a mask, and
you may speak as small as you will.
BOTTOMAn I may hide my face, let me play Thisby too, I’ll
speak in a monstrous little voice. ‘Thisne,
Thisne;’ ‘Ah, Pyramus, lover dear! thy Thisby dear,
and lady dear!’
QUINCENo, no; you must play Pyramus: and, Flute, you Thisby.
BOTTOMWell, proceed. 50
QUINCERobin Starveling, the tailor.
STARVELINGHere, Peter Quince.
QUINCERobin Starveling, you must play Thisby’s mother.
Tom Snout, the tinker.
SNOUTHere, Peter Quince.
QUINCEYou, Pyramus’ father: myself, Thisby’s father:

Snug, the joiner; you, the lion’s part: and, I
hope, here is a play fitted.
SNUGHave you the lion’s part written? pray you, if it
be, give it me, for I am slow of study.
QUINCEYou may do it extempore, for it is nothing but roaring. 59
BOTTOMLet me play the lion too: 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.’
QUINCEAn you should do it too terribly, you would fright
the duchess and the ladies, that they would shriek;
and that were enough to hang us all.
ALLThat would hang us, every mother’s son. 69
BOTTOMI grant you, friends, if that you should fright the
ladies out of their wits, they would have no more
discretion but to hang us: but I will aggravate my
voice so that I will roar you as gently as any
sucking dove; I will roar you an ’twere any
QUINCEYou can play no part but Pyramus; for Pyramus is a
sweet-faced man; a proper man, as one shall see in a
summer’s day; a most lovely gentleman-like man:
therefore you must needs play Pyramus.
BOTTOMWell, I will undertake it. What beard were I best
to play it in? 80
QUINCEWhy, what you will.
BOTTOMI will discharge it in either your straw-colour
beard, your orange-tawny beard, your purple-in-grain
beard, or your French-crown-colour beard, your
perfect yellow.
QUINCESome of your French crowns have no hair at all, and
then you will play bare-faced. But, masters, here
are your parts: and I am to entreat you, request
you and desire you, to con them by to-morrow night;
and meet me in the palace wood, a mile without the
town, by moonlight; there will we rehearse, for if
we meet in the city, we shall be dogged with
company, and our devices known. In the meantime I
will draw a bill of properties, such as our play
wants. I pray you, fail me not. 93
BOTTOMWe will meet; and there we may rehearse most
obscenely and courageously. Take pains; be perfect: adieu.
QUINCEAt the duke’s oak we meet.
BOTTOMEnough; hold or cut bow-strings.

Next: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1


Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 2

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan & Co.

2. You were best, for this ungrammatical remnant of ancient usage, see Abb. § 230: generally, Bottom’s blunder for ‘individually.’

3. the scrip, the list in which their names are written down; the same word as ‘script,’ from O. F. escript, a writing, Lat. scriptum pp. of scribere to write.

4. which, though frequently used as less definite than ‘who,’ and indicating ‘a kind of person,’ is here perhaps intended as a note of Bottom’s speech, just as we have in 1.6 his applied to the duke and duchess, and the phrase wedding-day at night, — a phrase with which Wright compares the words of the not much more highly educated nurse in R, J. i. 3. 21, “On Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen”; though for both there is this much excuse that ‘wedding-day’ and ‘Lammas-eve’ may not improperly be taken for the whole twelve hours.

9. on, of.

9, 10. grow to a point, come to a conclusion; cp. M, V. iii. 1. 17, “Come, the full stop,” said by Salarino to the prolix Solanio.

11. comedy, Bottom’s blunder for ‘tragedy.’

12. Pyramus and Thisby. Thisbe, a beautiful Babylonian maiden, was beloved by Pyramus. Their parents objecting to a marriage, the lovers were obliged to meet by stealth, and agreed on a certain day to a rendezvous at Ninus’ tomb. Thisbe, arriving first, perceived a lioness which had just torn to pieces an ox, and therefore took to flight. While running away she dropped one of her garments, which the lion seized and stained with blood. Pyramus, on finding it, supposed Thisbe to be slain, and so put an end to himself. Thisbe presently returning to the spot and finding Pyramus’ dead body, also slew herself.

13. A very … merry. “This,” says Steevens, “is designed as a ridicule on the titles of our ancient moralities and interludes. Thus Skelton’s Magnificence is called ‘a goodly interlude and a merry.'”

14. the scroll, the list of names.

15. spread yourselves, do not crowd all together.

18. are set down for Pyramus, have had the part of Pyramus assigned to you.

20. gallant, gallantly.

21. That will … of it, that if well performed will make a great demand upon the audience for tears; cp. T. S. ii. 1. 115, “my business asketh haste”; R. II. ii. 1. 159, “And for these great affairs do ask some charge.”

22. let the audience … eyes, i.e. or else they will weep their very eyes out.

22, 3. I will … measure, probably means ‘I will make a fine story of grief’; though condole is probably intended for a blunder, the word in Shakespeare and his contemporaries was used as a neuter and as a transitive verb, and not merely as now with the preposition ‘with,’ in the sense of sympathizing. Thus, Marston, ii. Antonio and Mellida, v. 2. 81, we have the stage direction “Piero seems to condole his son,” who is dead; and Heywood, Fortune by Land and Sea, uses the word absolutely, “My heart begins to condole.” Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress has the phrase “To condole his own misery.”

23. To the rest seems to me nothing more than a stage direction that has crept into the text. Bottom having made his former remarks to Quince, the stage-manager, in particular, now turns to his fellow-actors in general, and tells them that though he is ready to play Pyramus, the part of a tyrant is the one he especially fancies.

24. Ercles, Hercules; a character often exhibited in the bombastic dramas of the time. Delius quotes Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, “The twelve labours of Hercules have I terribly thundered on the stage.”

25. or a part … in, or a part in which some doughty deed was to be done, such as rending a cat. Steeven quotes Histriomastix, “Sirrah, this is you that would rend and tear a cat upon a stage”: to make all split, a phrase like the last expressive of violent action, and of nautical origin. Rolfe quotes Taylor, the Water Poet, “Some ships have so great a sayle, that they heave their masts by the boord and make all split againe.”

30. Phibbus’ car, the chariot of the sun-god, Phoebus, which he daily drove round the earth. The lines seem to be rather a burlesque of, than a quotation from, some old play.

34. This was lofty! That is the kind of noble verse that I should enjoy having to recite! name … players, call out the name of each and tell them what parts are assigned to them.

34, 5. This is Ercles’ vein, such language as that would Hercules use: condoling, pathetic.

38. must take … you, must undertake the part of Thisbe; probably with an allusion to taking somebody on one’s back.

39. a wandering knight, a knight in quest of adventures, a ‘knight errant.’

40. must love, has to make love to in the play.

41. let not me … woman, the parts of women were in those days played by boys or young men, and actresses were not regularly employed till the revival of the drama in the time of Charles the Second. Cp. A. C. v. 2. 220, where Cleopatra is anticipating her story being represented on the stage; “I shall see Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness.”

43. That’s all one, that does not matter in the least: in a mask, as was often the case when no actor sufficiently youthful could be found for the part.

44. may speak … will, may mince your words and speak with a voice as much like a woman’s as you can; cp. M. W. i. 1. 49, “She has brown hair and speaks small like a woman”; and such phrases as to ‘speak big,’ to ‘speak thick.’

45. An, see Abb. § 101.

46. monstrous little, wonderfully small: ‘Thisne, Thisne,’ expressing the manner in which he will mince his words, if allowed to play Thisbe.

48, 9. you Thisby, you must play Thisbe.

53. you must … mother. Theobald points out that the father and mother of Thisbe, and the father of Pyramus, here mentioned, do not appear at all in the interlude.

57, 8. and, I hope … fitted, I flatter myself that the cast of the play is now complete.

60. study was and still is the technical term for getting up a part; cp. Haml. ii. 2. 566, “You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines.”

63, 4. that I will… hear me, so that every one will be delighted to hear me.

64, 5. that I will … say, in such a perfect way that the duke will be unable to refrain from saying, etc.

65. Let him … again, “Not only does Bottom propose to play every part himself, but he anticipates the applause, and encores his own roar” (C. Clarke).

67. that they would shriek, so that they could not help shrieking.

69. every mother’s son, every one of us.

71. no more discretion but, no other choice than.

72. aggravate, Bottom’s blunder for ‘moderate,’ as in ii. H. IV, ii. 4. 176, the Hostess says, “I beseek you now, aggravate your choler.”

73. roar you, for me, you, him, etc., representing the old dative and giving liveliness to the narration, see Abb. § 220.

73, 4. I will roar … nightingale, Abbott (§ 104) thinks an ellipsis is probably to be understood here, ‘I will roar you, and if it were a nightingale (I would still roar better),’ which is perhaps to pay a too high compliment to Bottom’s English. Wright compares T. C. i. 2. 189, “He will weep you, an ’twere a man born in April.” sucking dove, Bottom’s blunder for ‘sucking lamb.’

76. sweet-faced, comely looking: proper, handsome; the literal sense is ‘own,’ thence ‘what becomes a man, is appropriate to him,’ and so ‘well-looking,’ ‘handsome.’

76, 7. in a summer’s day, i.e. in a long day; cp. H. V. iii. 6. 67, “I’ll assure you, a’ uttered as brave words at the bridge as you shall see in a summer’s day“; and iv. 8. 23, “a most contagious treason come to light, look you, as you shall desire in a summer’s day.”

78. needs, of need; necessarily; the old genitive used adverbially, as ‘whiles,’ ‘twice’ (twies), etc.

79. were I best, see note on 1. 2. above.

81. what you will, any you like.

82. discharge, perform, enact; a theatrical technicality; cp. below, iv. 2. 8, v. 1. 201, 346: your straw-colour, the straw colour you know so well; your, used generically.

83. orange-tawny, a colour midway between orange and tawny; ‘tawny’ is merely another spelling of ‘tanny,’ resembling that which is tanned or browned by the sun: purple-in-grain, in this phrase grain is cochineal, a dye obtained from the dried bodies of insects of the species Coccus cacti, but supposed by the ancients to be made from a berry, the meaning of the word coccus.

84. French-crown-colour, the colour of the gold ecu, or crown, formerly current in France.

85, 6. crowns, heads: barefaced, probably with a play upon its literal and its figurative sense: masters, a term frequently used without any acknowledgment of inferiority; my friends, my good fellows.

87. I am to entreat you, I have to entreat you.

88. con, get by heart; literally to try to know; “a secondary verb, formed from A. S. cunnan, to know” (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

88, 9. palace wood, the wood in which the palace stands: without, outside: a mile, Wright points out that in i. 1. 165 it is a league.

90. rehearse, repeat; from “O. F. reherser, ‘to harrow over again,’ Cotgrave. … From the sense of harrowing again we easily pass to the sense of ‘going again over the same ground,’ and hence to that of repetition. Cp. the phrase ‘to rake up an old story.’— F. re– (Lat. re-), again; and hercer, to harrow … from herce, a harrow” … (Skeat, Ety. Dict.): dogged, followed closely; tracked as by dogs.

91. Devices, plans for playing.

92. draw a bill, make out a list: properties, stage necessaries; everything required for the performance of a play, except dresses and scenery.

95. obscenely, Bottom’s blunder probably for ‘seemly,’ as in L. L. L. iv. 1. 145, “When it comes so smoothly off, so obscenely as it were, so fit,” used by the clown, Costard: courageously, without fear of interruption.

97. hold or cut bow-strings. Capell’s explanation, which is generally accepted, seems hardly satisfactory. He says, “When a party was made at butts, assurance of meeting was given in the words of that phrase; the sense of the person using them being that he would ‘hold’ or keep promise, or they might ‘cut his bowstrings,’ ‘demolish him for an archer.'” The meaning of the phrase clearly is ‘in any case,’ ‘whatever happens’; and the construction of the sentence apparently is ‘whether bowstrings hold or break,’ both hold and cut being subjunctives, and cut being used in a neuter sense, as Warburton suggests. Moreover it is not certain thatbowstrings do not mean the strings of the bows of musical instruments, such as violins, etc.


How to cite the explanatory notes:Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1891.