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ACT III, SCENE 1
Nick Bottom, Peter Quince, and the others have come to the woods to rehearse their play. They reach the spot where Titania, who is under the magic spell, is asleep. Peter Quince declares that it is "a marvelous convenient place" with a green space to serve as a stage and a hawthorn bush for a "tiring-house." The craftsmen discuss some of the problems in staging the play and work out the solutions. They are about to start the rehearsal when Puck arrives. He resolves to be "an auditor" and perhaps "an actor too" if the need arises. When Bottom retires after speaking his lines, Puck follows him to cause mischief, by making him into an ass. When Bottom re-enters he is wearing an ass's head. Not realizing that the strange creature is Bottom, all the others run away while shouting, "We are haunted!" Puck follows them to help them "through bog, bush, brake and briar." Bottom, not understanding how strangely he appears, wonders why his friends have behaved so strangely and run away. He decides his fellow craftsmen are trying to trick him, "to make me afraid." To prove that he is not scared, he starts singing; in the process, he awakens Titania who immediately falls in love with him. She orders her fairy attendants to care for him and take him to her bower.
This scene centers on the craftsmen rehearsing the play that they are going to present to the Duke to celebrate his marriage to Hippolyta. There is a great deal of humor in the scene, more than in any other scene of the play. Bottom keeps finding fault with the plot of the play, and with a self-assurance typical of a conceited man, he tries to resolve all the problems, but in foolish ways. He fears that the ladies "cannot abide" if Pyramus carries a sword and kills himself; therefore, he suggests that a prologue be written to explain that Pyramus is not really killed and that he is not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver. Tired of his chatter, Quince address Bottom as Bully Bottom.
Next Bottom tries to solve the problem of the lion, which might frighten the ladies. Since he is determined to play the part of the lion, Bottom suggests that he wear only half of a lion's mask, so that half of his real face is exposed, thereby, not scaring the females in the audience. He also insists that the man who is to represent moonshine should announce himself as moonshine. He also solves the problem of the wall by suggesting that the character that plays the wall should wear some plaster, loam, and rough cast and hold his fingers out to represent the crack in the wall through which Pyramus and Thisbe could speak.
Even though this part of the scene provides much humor, it also throws light on the practical difficulties faced while producing a play in Shakespeare's time. The Elizabethan stage consisted of a raised platform divided into two parts, the front and the inner stage, with a second story, which served as a stage balcony. There were no drop curtains or other stage properties, and change of scenes had to be described and not represented. In the hands of amateurs, like the craftsmen, a tragedy quickly degenerated into a farcical comedy. By giving a detailed account of the rehearsal, Shakespeare parodies the inadequate stage productions of his time.
The rehearsal almost becomes an "anti-masque," which is characterized by "grotesque and unruly" characters and "action ludicrous." The stage direction refers to Bottom, Quince, Snout, Starveling, and Flute as "Clowns," not as craftsmen. Their antics are a sharp contrast to the movements of the dainty fairies in the previous scene. Moreover, when Titania, the dainty fairy queen, falls for Bully Bottom, the theme of love is parodied into the theme of love is blind.
Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to intensify the humor of the scene. Nick Bottom is unaware of the ass's head the Puck has placed on him. As a result, he does not understand the remarks of his companions, and his angry retort is hilarious. Snout remarks, "O, Bottom, thou art changed. What do I see on thee?" The unaware Bottom shouts back, "What do you see? You see an ass head of your own, do you?" When Quince tells him that he is transformed, Bottom remarks, "I see their knavery! This is to make an ass of me." Additional humor is reached through the use of malapropisms. Bottom, as Pyramus, speaks about a flower of "Odious Savors" when he obviously means "odorous." Flute, as Thisbe, wants to meet Pyramus at "Ninny's tomb" instead of Ninus' tomb.
As the scene has shifted from the sophisticated city of Athens to the woods, the play has become more light-hearted and humorous. It has also become more complicated through Puck's mistake and Oberon's revenge; as a result, the audience is more involved in the action and wonders what the outcome of all the confusion will be.