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?A Midsummer Night?s Dream?

Character Analysis of Bottom the Weaver

The play ?A Midsummer Night?s Dream? by William Shakespeare offers a wonderful contrast in human mentality. Shakespeare provides insight into man?s conflict with the rational versus emotional characteristics of human behavior. Athens represents the logical side, with its flourishing government and society. The fairy woods represents the wilder, irrational side where nothing seems to follow any sort of structure. The character of Bottom the weaver is a direct reflection of these two worlds. He brings the rational and irrational elements of the play together in several ways.

Nick Bottom is indeed one of Shakespeare?s most memorable creations. He is first introduced during the casting of ?Pyramus and Thisbe?(1.2.253). Bottom is ready to take on anything. He wants to play every part in the play. This can be seen as he says: ?An I may hide my face, let me play Thisbe too. I?ll speak in a monstrous little voice: ?Thisne, Thisne!?- ?Ah Pyramus, my lover dear, thy Thisbe dear and lady dear??(1.2.43-45). Further along he states:

Let me play the lion too.

I will roar that I will do any man?s hear good to hear me.

I will roar that I will make the Duke say

?Let him roar again; let him roar again?.


Clearly, Bottom has complete confidence in his ability to sweep from one end of the emotional scale to the other. Perhaps he feels that playing only one role in the play is constricting and he does not want to limit his talent to one specific person. This is the basis of the difference between him and the lovers. He does not want to feel restricted by anything or anyone, thereby casting aside the idea that loving only one person is possible. As he asks: ?What is Pyramus? A lover or a tyrant?? (1.2 17) and shortly thereafter remarks:

That will ask some tears in the true performing of it.

If I do it, let the audience look to their eyes.

I will move stones. I will condole, in some measure.

To the rest. ?

Yet my chief humor is for the tyrant.

I could play?er?cles rarely, or a part to tear a cat in, to make all split.


Here he gives us insight into his own personality and almost seems to mock those in love. When he says ?let the audience look to their eyes? (1.2.20), he is directly touching on one of the themes in the play: the use of one?s eyes in love, which according to Bottom means that people do not use their heads when in love and that it is an emotion merely based on superficialities. Whatever the case may be, it is obvious that he is much more of a lover than a tyrant.

Bottom proceeds to show however, that one can love and be a tyrant at the same time. When he is transformed into the ass and shares Titania?s bower, it shows his marvelous adaptability to adapt immediately to whatever life offers him. His energetic love of life, good nature and eager innocence obtains him this entrance into the ?other world? so different from his own. Perhaps he is not completely incapable of feeling or understanding love. Starting from his position as a ?rock-bottom? realist, he can, with the same vigor and joy he brings to whatever he does, respond to this power and believe. The fantastically transformed Bottom, the least likely candidate for the position in the world before his transformation, becomes a participator in the fairy world in the incredible role of being Titania?s lover. But we see thus that it was possible after all. He can, in sum, be both a lover and a tyrant yet he knows that being in love is but a passing phase and that at some point, one must face reality again.

When Bottom awakens from his ?dream?, his own manner of reacting to it is the best approach to the experience. Wonder, awe, and a very strong sense of the power beyond man?s apprehension are communicated by his words here. ?I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about t?expound this dream? (4.1.200-202). He rightly declares the unfathomability of his ?dream? and feels most profoundly its power. He knows that it should be called ?Bottom?s dream?(4.1.208) for these correct reasons because, like being in love, it had no real substance.

Some might argue that Bottom is a domineering, brash, self-centered personality, which would be a direct reflection on his name and a pun on the fact that he is transformed into an ?ass?. This is a grave error. His name does not deal with his own persona but rather, describes those around him and the entirety of the play. He makes a joke of his own name to state that in fact, men are but fools in love and, as he says to Titania: ?reason and love keep little company together nowadays? (3.1.127-128).

Bottom conducts himself with such sobriety and yet such grace, with his own good sense and yet with such enjoyment that we see that he is a weaver in the deeper sense too-Bottom is supremely capable of uniting these disparate worlds. He is indeed the reel on which the thread is wound and his very person embodies the union of reality and illusion, carrying as he does Puck?s trick on his real, sturdy shoulders. His love of life enables him to engage in it to the fullest, which is what unites these two experiences.

All passages from Midsummer Night?s Dream are quoted from The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997)

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