Let’s take a look at one of Bottom’s monologues from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated texts, and for good reason. It’s a lively, fantastical, and fun play! And Bottom is probably one of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters. Let’s take a look for ourselves and see why.
The play begins with the preparations for the marriage of Theseus the Duke of Athens and Hippolyta, the Amazonian Queen, however, in the context of this speech, this is largely unimportant. So this play has 5 intersecting plots but is largely centered around the love… triangle? Square? Well it’s a mess. But we’ll get to that. It follows four young Athenian lovers: Lysander, Hermia, Helena and Demetrius. Lysander and Hermia are in love, Helena loves Demetrius, but Demetrius is in love with Hermia. Hermia’s father demands that she marry Demetrius as he has arranged their marriage. Hermia protests but the Duke tells her that if she doesn’t marry Demetrius, Athenian law says she must die by her fathers hand. Like I told you, it’s a bit of a mess. Anyway, under fear of death, Hermia and Lysander decide to run away to the forest where they can be married and live happily ever after, or so they think.
Meanwhile, a group of tradies called the mechanicals are in rehearsal for their play Pyramus and Thisbe, as part of the wedding celebration. Bottom, who is playing Pyramus, insists that he can play a number of other parts at the same time… including Thisbe. Unfortunately the director, Peter Quince, tells him that were he to play the Lion, he’d probably mess it up so badly that they’d all be hanged. Quince ends this meeting and tells the mechanicals ‘’at the Duke’s oak we meet’’.
Meanwhile elsewhere in the forest, Oberon and Titania, the fairy King and Queen are fighting over a changeling boy, who Oberon wants to use as one of his henchmen, because the child’s mother was a worshipper of Titanias. Oberon decides to exact revenge on Titania and sends his servant Puck to fetch a flower. Why? Because the juice of this flower will make whoever it is given to fall in love with the next ‘person’ they see. He decides he will use the juice of the flower to make Titania fall in love with an animal of the forest.
Puck returns with the flower, and after using it on some unsuspecting Athenian lovers in the forest, Oberon uses the juice of the flower on Titania. Meanwhile the mechanicals have met to rehearse their play. Bottom goes off into the bushes to await his cue. Puck, watching curiously and hearing Bottom’s name, decides to turn Bottom’s head into the head of an ass. When Bottom returns for his cue the other mechanicals scream and run away terrified. A confused Bottom decides to wait for them to return. Just as this is happening, Titania awakes from her slumber. And who’s the first ‘person’ she sees? Bottom! And she immediately falls madly in love with him, on account of the potion. She lavishes him with her, and her fairies attention. While all this happens, Oberon steals the changeling boy. He then orders Puck to reverse the spell on Titania, and to remove the asses head from Bottom. Titania snaps out of the spell and leaves Bottom asleep. And when he awakes he says…
Original Text Bottom Act 4 Scene 1
When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer: my next is, ‘Most fair Pyramus.’ Heigh-ho! Peter Quince! Flute, the bellows-mender! Snout, the tinker! Starveling! God’s my life, stolen hence, and left me asleep! I have had a most rare vision. 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 to expound this dream. Methought I was–there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had,.but man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream: it shall be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom; and I will sing it in the latter end of a play, before the duke: peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shall sing it at her death.
intelligence, wisdom, good sense, mental ability
go about (v.)
old form: goe
endeavour, set to work, start trying
old form: Me-thought
it seems / seemed to me
old form: patch’d
wearing a patchwork costume, multi-coloured
old form: foole
[professional] clown, jester
old form: conceiue
understand, comprehend, follow
old form: Peraduenture
perhaps, maybe, very likely
delightful, lovely, charming
[Awaking] When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer: my next is, ‘Most fair Pyramus.’
When my cue comes, tell me, and I’ll saw my line. My next cue is ‘Most handsome Pyramus’.
Heigh-ho! Peter Quince! Flute, the bellows-mender! Snout, the tinker! Starveling!
Hey! Peter Quince? Flute the bellows-fixer? Snout the handyman? Starveling?
God’s my life, stolen hence, and left me asleep!
Oh my god, they’ve run off and left me sleeping!
I have had a most rare vision. 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 to expound this dream.
I’ve had the strangest dream. It was beyond comprehension. You’d be a donkey to even try to explain it.
Methought I was–there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had, but man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had.
I thought I was – no, there’s no one who could describe what I was. I thought I was, and I thought I had. But you’d be a badly dressed clown to try and describe what I thought I had.
The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.
Eyes have never seen, ears have never heard, hands can’t taste, tongues can’t comprehend, and hearts can’t describe the kind of dream I had.
I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream:
I’ll get Peter Quince to write a song about this dream:
it shall be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom;
and it will be called Bottoms Dream, because it’s so deep that it has no bottom;
and I will sing it in the latter end of a play, before the duke: peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shall sing it at her death.
and I’ll sing it at the end of the play, in front of the Duke, perhaps, to make it even more delightful, I’ll sing it when Thisbe dies.
Performing Shakespeare’s Bottom
So there’s three things I think you should focus on when performing this monologue. Obviously the most important thing when performing anything is understanding your given circumstances and context. They’re gonna put you in the right direction. More specifically to this piece what I think you should remember is:
This speech is in prose, most companies if you’re auditioning for them for the first time will want to hear you perform something in verse. If you’re lucky enough to be able to do two pieces by all means, ask away and see if you can do your second piece in prose. Not exactly ‘performance’ advice but something to keep in mind.
Secondly a lot of the comedy in this speech comes from the dramatic irony, or, what the audience knows vs. what Bottom knows. Bottom believes he’s just awoken from a dream, just like the Athenian lovers, but the audience knows better than that.
Lastly, try to relish the wordplay in this piece. Just because it’s in prose doesn;t mean there’s not some great wordplay to be found. Bottom plays with his words a lot in this speech (unbeknownst to him) so try to find those connections and really lean in to them.
This is a really fun monologue and there’s potential for you to play with both physical and text based comedy. Make sure you understand your given circumstances, you understand the play, and the rest will really take care of itself. This is a great character piece to have in your toolkit. So dive in and have fun.
For more great monologues from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.