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As Titania sleeps on a cushy bed of flowers, the Mechanicals (craftsmen) enter the woods to practice their play, Pyramus and Thisbe.
Bottom points out that the play has a lot of content that isn't appropriate for Theseus and his bride. Bottom is also sure that the ladies won't like the fact that Pyramus draws his sword and kills himself.
Starveling suggests they just leave the killing out (despite the fact that the double-suicide is the whole point of the play).
Bottom comes up with a marvelous solution. Quince should write a prologue to let all the delicate ladies know that the action isn't real and the characters are only actors. If the women know Pyramus isn't Pyramus, but really only Bottom the weaver, they'll be comforted.
Then the Mechanicals quibble over whether the play's lines should be written in the usual style of verse, a line of eight syllables alternating with six. Bottom suggests they write it in the style of eight and eight.
Snout then brings up another question: Will the lion in the play frighten the ladies?
Starveling admits the lion frightens him. Bottom adds his two cents, saying the group should think twice before bringing a lion in among ladies.
Brain Snack: According to the editors of the Norton Shakespeare, this might be an allusion to something that happened at a real-life court entertainment in 1594, when a tame lion was supposed to pull a chariot across the stage. The lion was replaced by an African man so the audience wouldn't be scared.
To remedy the situation, Bottom suggests that the actor playing the lion should show his face through his costume. Also, Snug, in the Lion's costume, should tell the ladies that he's not really a lion.
With that settled, Quince brings up two more issues. They need moonlight, because Pyramus and Thisbe meet by moonlight.
Quince suggests that maybe they could have the guy playing the moon carry a lantern, and be dressed up as the man in the moon, who usually has a dog with him in folklore. (Dogs on stage in Shakespeare's time were guaranteed comic gold.)
The last problem is that they'll need a wall, because, without one, there's no hole in the wall through which Pyramus and Thisbe can talk, which is also a major part of the story.
The group decides to have a man dress up as a plastered wall. Also, the guy playing the "part" of the wall should use his fingers to make an O-shaped hole so Pyramus and Thisbe can whisper to each other through it.
With all the important casting and staging stuff out of the way, the Mechanicals begin to rehearse.
Puck sneaks up to the scene, delighted to have so many fools around. He decides to watch and participate.
The men begin to rehearse the play with lots of misspeaking. Flute, as Thisbe, says all his lines at once, instead of waiting for cues. (This play's going to be a disaster.)
Just as the Mechanicals are clearing up that issue, Bottom comes back onto stage from having taken a break. He now has a donkey's head where his own should be, thanks to one of Puck's tricks.
As you might expect, this donkey-Bottom hybrid is frightening. All the other men run away in a panic. Puck follows them, leading the Mechanicals in circles about the dark woods and chasing them in the guise of scary things: a headless bear, hounds, and flames.
Snout informs Bottom that he has been transformed.
Bottom doesn't believe it and calls Snout an "ass-head."
Quince comes back, also claiming Bottom has changed. Bottom then announces that he sees that they're just trying to make "an ass" of him.
Bottom insists he won't move from this place, and will even sing a song to prove he isn't scared.
Bottom's singing wakes Titania (who has recently had the magic love juice sprinkled in her eyes).
Titania sees Bottom and instantly falls head over heels in love...with an ass.
Titania begs Bottom to sing some more.
Bottom, a little taken aback, tells her she has no reason to love him. He does add that reason and love aren't related these days. He philosophizes on this for a bit, and Titania praises him for being both wise and beautiful.
Bottom says he isn't wise, but only needs enough wit to get out of these woods. Titania informs Bottom that he'll stay whether he wants to or not. She loves him and he will remain with her.
Titania promises to have her fairies tend to him – they'll bring him jewels from the deep sea, he'll sleep on flower petals, and she'll rid him of his "mortal grossness" so that he'll be as airy as the fairy spirits.
Titania summons her fairies: Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed.
She charges them to tend to her new lover with all the best nature has to offer. The fairies bring in grapes, figs, mulberries, bee's honey, and glowworms to light her bedchamber. In addition, the fairies should fan the moonbeams away from Bottom with the wings plucked off of butterflies.
Bottom then does what Bottom does best—he rambles on and cracks a bunch of lame jokes.
Titania orders the fairies to tie up Bottom's tongue and bring him to bed silently. (Gross.)