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A Midsummer Night’s Dream Essay: The Character of Bottom

The Character of Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The character of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is frequently foolish, but he is not a fool. His exuberance and energy are allied to practicality and resourcefulness, with an alarming lack of self-consciousness. He, at any rate, is not at all tongue-tied before the duke, as Theseus has known others to be. We do laugh at Bottom in many situations, but should note that these are situations in which any man might seem ridiculous: amateur theatricals are almost a byword for unintended comedy, whether in planning (1.2) rehearsal (3.1) or performance (5.1); any artisan afflicted with an ass’s head and appetites, and beloved of the fairy queen would have difficulty retaining his dignity.

It is true that Bottom by his ambitious speech, his ignorance of music and poetry, and his homely outlook is even more comic than most men in these situations, however. Bottom is, we presume, competent at his craft, and is respected by his fellows. In their view only Bottom can carry off the demanding r”le of Pyramus. They admire his presence, panache and vocal power. Theseus’s comment on his “passion” may suggest some exaggeration in the playing, and this would be in keeping with Bottom’s character, but we need not suppose the lines are badly-spoken, so much as badly-written. “He that writ it” attracts the most censure from Theseus. It is difficult to see how, given these lines, Bottom could be anything but comic in the performance of the play. And Shakespeare has already indicated that “hard-handed men” who have “never laboured in their minds till now” cannot be expected to perform competently. Theatre should be left to professionals (Bottom would not expect an actor to be …

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…haracteristics, but in the incongruity of this “mortal grossness”, the grotesque, earthy and plain-speaking Bottom, and the beautiful, airy, eloquent and possibly dangerous fairy queen. The “bank whereon the wild thyme blows” and the beautiful fairy song “Philomel with lullaby”, as well as the dainty morsels offered by Titania’s servants – it is difficult to imagine a more alien creature to all this, than Bottom. We laugh at his ineptitude, at the incongruity of the situation, at the blatant illustration of the gulf between “reason and love”; we are disturbed by the indignity Titania undergoes, alarmed by the danger Bottom may be in, but reassured by his taking it in his stride.

Bottom is a comic counterpart to Theseus and to Oberon: the natural leader in his own world, to whom others defer. And when he encounters their worlds he more than holds his own.

Analyses of Race and Gender Issues in Shakespeare’s Othello

Analyses of Race and Gender Issues in Othello

The discussion of race in Shakespeare’s Othello has received a great deal of critical attention. Virginia Mason Vaughn, in her book Othello: A Contextual History, surveys this critical history, beginning with Marvin Rosenberg’s 1961 book The Masks of Othello (a book documenting the nineteenth-century tendency toward representing Othello as light-skinned), and continuing through to Jack D’Amico’s 1991 book The Moor in English Renaissance Drama. According to Vaughan herself, “The effect of Othello depends . . . on the essential fact of the hero’s darkness, the visual signifier of his Otherness” (51). Arthur L. Little, Jr., in his article “‘An essence that’s not seen’: The Primal Scene of Racism in Othello,” claims that “The three crucial structural elements of Shakespeare’s play are Othello’s blackness, his marriage to the white Desdemona, and his killing of her” (306, emphasis added) as if there were no other “crucial structural elements.” It is not my intention to undercut or undervalue the attention that has been given to the discourse of race, the opposition of black and white, in Othello; however, I contend that an exclusive focus on this discourse radically reduces and simplifies the play, and I wish to focus on a different discourse, a different opposition in the play-the discourse of honesty and whoredom, the opposition of falseness and loyalty.

Dympna Callaghan, in her book Women and Gender in Renaissance Tragedy, makes the point that “Mysogynistic discourse . . . leads, directly or indirectly, to the death of the female tragic transgressor [among whose number in Renaissance drama she counts Shakespeare’s Desdemona and Cordelia, and John Webster’s Duche…

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… White Devil. New Jersey: Humanities Press International, 1989.

· Gataker, Thomas. “A Good Wife God’s Gift,” Certain Sermons, First Preached, and After Published At Several Times. London: Printed by John Haviland for Edward Brewster, 1637.

· Little, Arthur, Jr. “‘An essence that’s not seen’: The Primal Scene of Racism in Othello,” Shakespeare Quarterly 44 (1993), 304-324.

· Raynolds, John. A Defence of the Judgement of the Reformed Churches. Printed by George Walters, 1610.

· Swetnam, Joseph. The Araignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women: Or the Vanitie of Them, Choose You Whether. London: Printed for Thomas Archer, 1616.

· Anonymous, An Apologie For Womenkinde. London: Printed by Ed. Allde for William Ferebrand, 1605.

· Vaughan, Virgina Mason. Othello: A Contextual History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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