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William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

2048 words - 9 pages

Shakespeare wrote his acclaimed comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream more than a thousand years after Apuleius’ Roman novel, The Golden Ass. Although separated by thousands of years and different in terms of plot and setting, these works share the common theme of a confused and vulnerable man finding direction by relying on a supernatural female. One of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s many subplots is the story of Bottom, a comical figure determined to be taken seriously in his production of a Pyramus and Thisbe. As Bottom becomes caught up in a quarrel between the king and queen of the fairies, the commanders of the enchanted forest where Bottom and his players practice, the “shrewd and knavish sprite” Puck transforms his head into an ass’ s and leads him to be enthralled in a one night stand with the queen, Titania. (2.1.33) Apuleius’s protagonist Lucius endures a similar transformation, after his mistress’s slave girl accidentally bewitches him into a donkey, leaving him even without the ability to speak. Although Lucius’ transformation lasts longer and is more severe, he and Bottom both undergo similar experiences resulting from their animal forms. Lucius’ suffering ultimately leads him to salvation through devotion the cult of Isis, and Bottom’s affair with Titania grants him clarity and a glimpse into similar divine beauty. Ultimately, both asinine characters are saved through their surrender to the goddesses.
Bottom and Lucius begin their respective novels as laughingstocks. In the beginning of Act Three, as soon as Bottom assembles his acting troupe of misfits in the words, the comic relief begins at his own expense as he endearingly worries that his portrayal of Pyramus and Thisbe’s deaths, as well as the lion, will be so convincing that women in the audience will be disturbed. To remedy the problem, he states, “I believe we must leave the killing out, when all is done,” defeating the purpose of the play entirely. (3.1.14-15) Bottom’s humorous bungling of the story continues as he proclaims that he will cast a man to play the wall through which Pyramus and Thisbe whisper, and that this actor will “have some plaster, or some loam, or some roughcast about him.” (3.1.69-70) Puck even scoffs at the crudeness of the rehearsal, asking “What hempen homespuns have we swagg’ring here?” (3.1.78) Bottom becomes unknowing object of mockery—his friends’, Pucks’, and the reader’s—especially once Puck transforms him and he becomes frustrated with the “knavery” that he thinks is little more than a practical joke. (3.1.113)
Lucius is also made the laughingstock of his community in The Golden Ass. After drunkenly fending off three supposed home invaders, Lucius panics that he is “trinae caedis cruore perlitum” (Apul. Met. 3.1), “smeared with the gore of triple murder.” When he faces trial the next day, instead of mourning or cursing him, every townsperson is “risu dirumperetur” (Apul. Met. 3.1), “burst with laughter.” Lucius later discovers that this mock...

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