A Midsummer Night's Dream Art and Culture Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to Folger's online edition.
Come now; what masques, what dances shall we have
To wear away this long age of three hours
Between our after-supper and bed-time?
Where is our usual manager of mirth?
What revels are in hand? Is there no play
To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?
Call Philostrate. (5.1.34-41)
A lot of literary critics have pointed out that, in terms of plot, the craftsmen's actual performance of Pyramus and Thisbe (Act 5, Scene 1) isn't even necessary because, by the time the Mechanicals perform their play, Shakespeare has already wrapped things up by marrying off all of his couples and assuring us of a happy ending. So, why does Shakespeare bother with the Mechanicals' performance? Is it just to torture his newly married couples by delaying their wedding night? Something else?
What are they that do play it?
Hard-handed men that work in Athens here,
Which never laboured in their minds till now,
And now have toiled their unbreathed memories
With this same play, against your nuptial.
And we will hear it.
No, my noble lord,
It is not for you: I have heard it over,
And it is nothing, nothing in the world,
Unless you can find sport in their intents,
Extremely stretch'd and conn'd with cruel pain
To do you service. (5.1.75-86)
When Philostrate refers to the Mechanicals as men who have "never labour'd in their minds till now," he suggests the craftsmen are incompetent actors because they're uneducated. Is this the play's overall attitude toward acting and the theater? It certainly seems that way, because the Mechanicals are clueless about common theatrical conventions (basic staging, use of props, and so on) and butcher the names of classical places and figures during the performance. Is Shakespeare being a snob or, is he depicting his profession as a craft that requires skill and intelligence?
The kinder we, to give them thanks for nothing.
Our sport shall be to take what they mistake;
And what poor duty cannot do, noble respect
Takes it in might, not merit. (5.1.95-98)
Here, we're reminded that, even though the amateur actors are pretty lousy, they certainly mean well. We can also see that, if you want to be an actor (like Bottom and Peter Quince do), then you've got to put yourself out there and be willing to humiliate yourself in the process.