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 able to weave).
Leaving aside, if we may, the quality of Pyramus and Thisbe, we should note how it is Bottom who is the driving force behind the performance, though Quince would seem in 1.2, to be the director (and possibly the writer; in 4.1, Bottom states that he will ask Quince to write the ballad of his dream, while in 3,i, he asks Quince to write the Prologue). It is Bottom who prompts most of the debate about the practical difficulties of the lion, the wall and the moonlight.
When his friends run away, Bottom, though clearly afraid, remains in the wood. He is not subdued by his encounter with the powerful fairy queen and her servants. When he wakes in the morning, he is thinking of his lines in Pyramus and Thisbe, and he is not awed even by the great duke.
Bottom is also capable of great wisdom. His comment to Titania about "reason...