This scene is the last of the play but by this time the actual plot is finished. This scene is an extra part added on to make the play more humorous. It is also the only scene with all the characters in it. They are all drawn together in one place. Shakespeare did this to make sure the ending is happy and humorous. It also shows the audience that everything turns out alright in the end.
It would look strange on stage as Shakespeare is mimicking his own audience. It is a play within a play.
This is how the theatre may have look:
The people in purple would have been the actors on the stage and the people in red would have been the audience. The ‘rich People’ would have been the people who paid extra to sit actually on the stage with the actors. In the play, this is The Lovers; Theseus and Hippolyta, Demetrius and Helena, and Lysander and Hermia.
They would have been close to the actors (The Mechanicals), and they would have jeered, shouted and made witty comments to interrupt the play. In Shakespeare’s time, this would have been normal as the audiences where allowed to shout things out to the actors. It would have been like out modern day pantomimes. This behaviour is imitated in the play.
Shakespeare seems to be laughing and taking the micky out of plays that he has written. The play, Pyramus and Thisbe, is from a Greek myth, but it is also a mixed up, slapstick version of Romeo and Juliet. The storylines are similar and so is the prologue.
The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is also like Hermia and Lysander. They are also kept apart by their parents, as Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius.
The audience is meant to leave the audience feeling good about the play. It is obviously funny but The Mechanicals don’t actually realise that their play is full of slapstick humour. They see it as a quite serious play, whereas the audience find it hysterical.
Shakespeare uses language to create this comedy. Even the title of the play is amusing, yet The Mechanicals don’t see anything wrong with it.
‘A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth.’
The title contradicts itself. The play is said to be tedious, yet brief, and tragic, yet mirthful? Theseus spots this at once and finds it amusing. Philostrate has seen the play and explains how it can be true. Although the play is brief, he says, the acting and the script are terrible, making it tedious to watch.
The script is proven terrible at the beginning of the play. The prologue is all mixed up and wrong which gives it a slapstick, humorous feel from the start.
‘If we offend, it is with our good will.
That you should not think, we come not to offend,
But with good will. To show our simple skill.
That is the true beginning of our end.’
The rhyming is over the top, which makes it sound humorous and silly. It is also read out with improper punctuation, which makes it sound like nonsense.
Lysander comments on the bad punctuation by saying:
‘He knows not the stop’
He is saying that his punctuation was terrible and he didn’t know where to put full stops. Theseus and Hippolyta also comment on the absurdity of the speech. Theseus says:
‘His speech was like a tangled chain; nothing impaired, but all disordered.’
The rest of the prologue is similar to the introduction of Romeo and Juliet. It sets the scene and tells the audience who the main characters are.
Some of the actors also make humorous mistakes when reading their lines so that what they say also sounds a bit strange and doesn’t really make sense. Bottom mixes up his words when he says:
‘I see a voice: now will I to the chink,
To spy an I can hear my Thisbys face. Thisby!’
This doesn’t make any sense as one cannot see a sound or hear an object. This is called synaesthesia. However, he carries on regardless as he doesn’t notice his mistake.
Most of the funny mistakes are made by bottom. He also confuses ‘Nina’s Tomb’ and ‘Ninny’s Tomb. Ge gets this wrong earlier in the main play when they are rehearsing and quince corrects him. ‘Ninny’s Tomb’ is more amusing and adds comedy to the scene as a Ninny is slang word for and idiot.
There are other literary effect that makes the prologue sound funny. One is exaggerated alliteration. This is used quite frequently in the play.
‘Whereat, with blade, with bloody, blameful blade,
He bravely broach’d his boiling bloody breast’
It is inappropriate and over-exaggerated. Alliteration is also over-used later on in the play by Pyramus:
‘…gracious, golden, glittering, gleam’
When Pyramus says this, he is supposed to be thanking the moon for shining, but he is also about to discover Thisbe’s clothes with blood on them. This part of the play should have been quite serious, but, the alliteration is out of place and just makes it sound humorous. The actor would probably have had trouble saying it as it is such a tongue twister. This would make it sound even funnier.
There are other times in the play where inappropriate language is used by Pyramus and Thisbe. When Pyramus finds part of Thisbe’s clothes, and when Thisbe finds Pyramus dead, they both make mistakes in their speeches. Pyramus calls Thisbe a ‘dainty duck’, which is hardly flattering. He then carries on with his dying speech. It is completely over the top and too dramatic. This is typical of bottom as he is very dramatic. Earlier in the play he makes over-dramatic speeches and wants to play all the parts. He is very big headed and feels he can do it all much better than anyone else.
When Thisbe finds Pyramus dead, she delivers a touching speech that isn’t quite right.
‘These lily lips,
This cherry nose,
These yellow cowslip cheeks…’
These images and comparisons aren’t particularly attractive or flattering. She goes on to use similes to compare his eyes to leeks and say his hands are the colour of milk. This doesn’t give the audience a particularly nice image of him which makes a touching speech amusing. Her speech isn’t as dramatic as Pyramus’ but it is altogether more moving. Pyramus’ speech is over-dramatised which makes it loose credibility.
The actors also inappropriately communicate with the audience by answering them when they shout things out. Bottom does this the most as he is rather over-confident and thinks nothing of it. It also shows that they are inexperienced, as it is common for the audience to comment on the play.
Theseus ‘the wall, methinks, being sensible, should curse again.’
Pyramus ‘No, in truth sir, he should not. ‘Deceiving me’ is Thisbe’s cure: she is to enter now.’
Bottom has told the audience what is about to happen. Theseus wasn’t being serious when commenting; he was joking and didn’t expect to be answered. Bottom however, took his comment too literally and felt he needed to explain himself. This is not professional and makes the play more slapstick. He is breaking the rules of acting and drama by speaking directly to an audience member.
He is also breaking the barrier between illusion and reality, a continuous them throughout the main play. The Mechanicals are presenting a play to The Lovers. The play isn’t reality, but when Bottom speaks up, he changes this and connects with reality. He also mentions cues, which shows that the play is in fact a play and spoils the illusion.
There is another part, earlier in the play, where The Mechanicals forget that they are performing a play and take it too literarily. They fear that they will startle the ladies by having a lion in the play, so they add a part where the lion tells the audience that he is actually a man pretending to be a lion. The actors feel that this is appropriate whereas the audience see it as funny. They misjudge the audiences’ intelligence, as it would have been quite obvious that a man was playing the lion. However, it is seen as humour added into the play.
Also, when rehearsing the play, the mechanicals realise that the play mentions the moon. They will be performing the play indoors, so there will be no moon. They decide to have a person act out ‘moonshine’. There is also a wall in the play so, instead of making a wall as a prop, they have a person play ‘wall’. They don’t seem to realise that the point of a play is to portray a story. They think that the script has to be kept exactly as it is, and instead of improvising and using props, they try to actually get moonshine and a wall into the theatre.
When they have a man playing the wall, it makes a speech saying that he is a wall. This blurs the lines between reality and illusion, once again. The main play is a mixture of reality, magic, dreams and illusion. This is emphasized in the play as the play is not actually real, it is an act put on for entertainment. The title of the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is saying that what happened in the woods was a dream, but it wasn’t, it was fairies working magic and playing with the humans.
Shakespeare also uses inversion. He dresses a man as a woman, again confusing reality and fantasy, but also making it humorous, like a pantomime dame.
A modern director would have more opportunities than a director in Shakespeare’s time. Shakespeare’s theatre only had one entrance to the stage, limited props and scenery and the audience would have been right in the actor’s faces, making it impossible to cover up mistakes. The director would have to make sure that the play went perfectly as the audience were not afraid to shout out if they didn’t like something.
A modern director also has the choice about what time period to set it in, whereas a Shakespearean director would not have this option. Shakespeare was deliberately mimicking his own audience but the modern audiences are not set out in the same way so it may not have the same effect.