A Midsummer Night's Dream


Act 3

Summary: Act III, scene i

The troupe of amateur actors gathers in the woods to practice their play. Before launching into an inept and highly comic performance of their lines, the actors discuss a number of concerns about the production itself. Bottom worries that the ladies in the audience will be upset when they see Pyramus kill himself with a sword. He suggests that Peter Quince add a prologue to the play explaining that Pyramus is not actually killing himself, but that he is only an actor named Bottom. Quince agrees enthusiastically with this solution. Snout fears that the ladies will be frightened by the lion in the play, so the actors decide that he should have only half of his face made up as a lion while the other half remains human. This way, he can identify himself as an actor and avoid scaring the ladies. Next, Quince brings up the necessity of having moonlight shining down during the play and, after checking a calendar, the actors discover that there will be a bright moon on the evening of their performance. Thus, they can leave a window open. Finally, Quince wonders how to depict the wall through which Pyramus and Thisby secretly converse. Rather than building a set, the actors agree that one of them must play the role of the wall and stand between the lovers. Highly satisfied with these absurd solutions to their production problems, the actors begin their rehearsal.

Invisible to the actors, Puck enters the scene wondering what a group of common folk are doing so near Titania’s bower. He observes their bumbling performance and finds Bottom’s portrayal of Pyramus so funny that he rewards it with one of his impish pranks: He turns Bottom’s head into the head of a donkey. Totally unaware of the change, Bottom is perplexed when the other actors run away from him suddenly, terrified. He decides that they are just trying to scare him and vows to stay in the forest and amuse himself by singing until they return. Bottom wanders into Titania’s bower, and she is awakened by his singing. Of course, having been anointed...

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