Nick Bottom In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

1924 words - 8 pages

Nick Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Roget’s thesaurus defines the word “ass” as “one deficient in judgment and good sense: a

fool”. In William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the ass is undeniably tied to the

character of Nick Bottom on many different levels. As the play is a comedy, Bottom’s central

role is to provide laughter. At the same time, however, through his role as the Ass, he acts as a

sort of symbolic center-piece that ties all of the action in the play together. Throughout the play,

Shakespeare has various characters making word-plays on the Ass, in relation to Nick Bottom

and otherwise. These many references combined with the physical Ass’ head that Bottom

receives point to the fact that the idea of the Ass, or the fool, is a central theme to the play and as

the play’s fool, Nick Bottom plays a crucial part in the structure of the play. Within his character,

love and foolishness are inextricably linked.

It can be deduced from just one reading of the play that they figure of the Ass is very

important. Not only does one of the main characters chance to have an Ass’ head for awhile, but

many of the other characters mention the idea of the Ass, or the fool, in passing. The first clue is

that Bottom’s very name is a synonym for another meaning of the word “ass”. This is a subtle

clue to the reader to pay attention. When Puck transforms Bottom’s head in the middle of

rehearsal and all of his fellows run away, Bottom is left shouting, “What do you see? You see an

ass head of your own, do you?” and “I see their knavery. This is to make an ass of me, to frighten

me” (Shakespeare 38). The irony of this situation is that the joke is on Bottom. He does not

realize that his head has been transformed, in fact he never does. Therefore, his use of the word

ass several times is not only comical for the audience, but also serves to ironically point out the

fact that Bottom is an Ass, in all meanings of the word. He does it again later after Titania has

fallen in “love” with him: “...for me thinks I am marvelous hairy about the face, and I am such a

tender ass, if my hair do but tickle me, I must scratch” (Shakespeare 62). Two other important

references occur during the ill-fated performance of Pyramus and Thisby. Demetrius and Theseus

both have something to say. When it is mentioned that the lion is speaking, Demetrius says, “No

wonder, my Lord. One lion may when many asses do” (Shakespeare 78). The reader may also

take this comment figuratively, implying that many men are fools and that they speak with fool’s

mouths, as in the case of Bottom. Theseus also exclaims later, after Pyramus has killed himself,

“With the help of a surgeon he might yet recover, and prove an ass” (Shakespeare 84). This

follows a pun on the word ace, but it also serves as yet another poke at Bottom, this time as


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