Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of his most well known works, written during 1595-96. The play revolves around an event, which connects two physical worlds: the human and the fairy one.
Two couples, Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius, are stranded in the forest while in the same forest, inside a magical space, the king and the queen of the fairies are in a fight since the queen, Titania, has disobeyed her husband by refusing to give up a changeling he wants to take guardianship of. On the other hand, Hermia also disobeyed a male authority (her father, in this case) for refusing to marry the man he has chosen as her suitor as she is in love with another.
Although a Midsummer Nights’ Dream may very well be a one-man show starring Puck, minor characters such as Nick Bottom, play an important role in bringing about the twists in the story. Who is Bottom in a Midsummer Night’s Dream? He is a weaver by profession, who is one of the actors from the cast of the Mechanicals who are preparing to put on a show at the Duke’s wedding.
What makes Nick Bottom stand apart from his counterparts? He is the only character, lead or minor, to possess the ability to physically exist with both the humans and the fairies. This is a gift that even Puck does not possess and thus allows the character of Bottom to majorly cause the events of the play to shift in the few scenes he does appear.
He first appears as an overly confident actor amongst the Mechanicals as Peter Quince calls out the characters he and his peers are to play on the show during the wedding of the Duke and the Queen. Since the play is to be about the deaths of Pyramus and Thisbe, the lead roles are of the titular characters and assigned as respectively.
However, as Peter calls out the actor who is to play the Lion, Nick jumps in and claims that he is fit to play all three lead characters by himself although he has already been asked to play Pyramus. This shows Nick to be egotistical and a bit too much self-interested. He continues with great excitement with his plans regarding the play and demonstrates the way he has imagined the characters to be played in. The rest of the cast are in disagreement and observe that this would cause their performance to be a huge embarrassment in the wedding. This is of no concern to Nick Bottom who rambles on and on about how he would play his trio roles.
At one point, he reflects that if he were to be too realistic at his performance as the Lion, the audience may believe that he really is an animal and thus, cause them to be terrified. Moments such as these serve as periodic comedic reliefs throughout the play. His utmost belief in his outstanding acting abilities is portrayed in such as naïve manner that the audience does not find him irritating; rather, they consider him a silly fool.
It is to be noted that although it is clear to be everyone that Nick is minimally talented as an actor, he does have a passion for theater and has an eye for improvisation as can be observed from the way he describes the characters of the play. It may be that if he were to play the characters he might mess up the whole routine, but some other gifted actor was to play the role as Nick had imagined it to be, the play could be successfully ameliorated.
Throughout the play, Nick appears in what seems to be strategically timed breaks. Although a Midsummer Night’s dream is stated as a comic play, it does have its tragic moments such as when, in the first act, Helena rants about the loss of her love for a significant amount of time in an emotional manner.
A scene that includes the character of Bottom instantly follows this performance. This allows the audience to avert their emotions from getting to riled up due to Helena’s misfortunes by concentrating on Bottom’s idiotic ideas as the crew attempts to ignore him and practice for their upcoming gig at the big wedding. Their attempt is unsuccessful, hence followed by more laughter from the crowd.
In a Midsummer Night’s dream, Bottom is one of the ways Shakespeare uses to add puns to the play. Throughout the entire plot, Nick unknowingly messes up his speeches by using the different word in the place of the correct one, thus changing the whole meaning of the sentence. Additionally, this particular trait gives us a glimpse into his true character. He feels insecure about his skills as he suspects that others do not think much about him. Therefore, he tries to act high and mighty by using complicated words he does not really know the meaning to. Such incidents tend to backfire on him, causing his peers to make fun of him.
Nick’s next scene in the play takes place well into the plot in the first scene of the third act. The entire third act, he remains in the fairy world after he is transported up to the world. He was found in the forest where he set up camp with the other actors to practice for the play. He is turned into a donkey in order to bewitch Titania into falling in love with him, an animal, to make her pay for disobeying her husband.
Although it is only his head that has been turned into an animal body part, the process is surprisingly easy and Nick has no difficulty in settling in his new part. The implication is that since Nick has always been a bit of an ass, the transition does not bother him at all, rather it fits his personality very much.
He meets Titania, the queen of the fairies, who is an attractive woman and has fallen in love with Nick due to being under a spell. She dotes on him and arranges for him to get special treatment from her maids. Instead of questioning the whole situation, Nick is uncomplaining and goes by the routine as if this is what is due to him. This kind of behavior is also common in donkeys since they tend to go with the flow and act accordingly.
There are such many instances where Shakespeare shows the likeliness between the character of Nick and the animal he has been turned into. Even his surname is a instrumental in deciding his fate; when Puck first notices Nick, he is taken by the name, Bottom, and surmises it to be another term for donkey. Hence, Nick is chosen to be the device via which Oberon plans to embarrass Titania into submission.
In the next act, when everything has been put back into place and the couples have resolved their differences, Nick Bottom is restored to his original state as a human being. Interestingly enough, unlike the other human beings involved in the play, he remembers the events that have happened to him. He wakes up as if he had been in a trance and contemplates about the experience he had while he was with Titania in the fairy world. Since no one would believe him and his stories, he decides to write a ballad detailing his tales.
In a way, Nick is an intriguing character. He is the only one who remains the same, although he does appreciate his journey to the fairy world. When he is transformed into a donkey, he accepts his role, and though perplexed by Titania’s affections for him, reciprocates her undivided attention. In this case, it must be observed that although the affection in question is meant to be romantic in nature, Titania’s ways of caring for Nick may be construed as more motherly than lover-like.
Again, when he is changed back into a human, he is accepting of his second magical transformation in the same evening and goes back to the play, the only addition being his newly written ballad. He is oblivious to the laughter he produces within his actor friends and he is oblivious to the role he plays in reconciling Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies.
After he returns to the human world, he continues with the practices and later on, follows through with his performance as Pyramus in Pyramus and Thisbe. He has not changed a bit and his role is more comic than tragic, with more blundered mistakes in between his dialogues. He even mispronounces some of the names.
In his comical pronunciation, Ninus’ tomb becomes Ninny’s tomb. Not only that, poor Leander, Cephalus and Procris become ‘Limander’, ‘Shafalus’ and ‘Procus’ respectively. At last, it is time for his death as the titular character, Pyramus and he falls dead only to rise up amidst the heightening of the climax only to ask the audience would like to see a rendition of a special dance he has covered.