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.
Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments.
Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth.
Turn melancholy forth to funerals;
The pale companion is not for our pomp. (1.1.12-16)
Here, Theseus orders his Master of the Revels to drum up some entertainment and a general party atmosphere. In Shakespeare's day, the Master of the Revels was the title of the royal court's official party planner. He was in charge of hiring entertainers and deciding which plays could be performed on public stages in and around London. He also had the authority to censor plays that were offensive or potentially rebellious in theme or content.
Here is the scroll of every man's name which
is thought fit, through all Athens, to play in our
interlude before the Duke and the Duchess on his
wedding-day at night. (1.2.4-7)
Here, we learn that the Mechanicals (craftsmen) want to perform a play to help celebrate Duke Theseus's marriage to Hippolyta. When Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream, craftsmen didn't usually run around putting on plays like this. Back in early medieval England, though, guilds of craftsmen got together each year and put on plays for the Corpus Christi festival. Shakespeare's "Mechanicals" are a shout-out to the medieval craftsmen who moonlighted as amateur actors each year.
Marry, our play is, "The most lamentable comedy, and
most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe."
A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a
merry. Now, good Peter Quince, call forth your
actors by the scroll. Masters, spread yourselves. (1.2.11-16)
Quince announces that the Mechanicals want to perform Pyramus and Thisbe, the classic story of two young lovers who meet a tragic end after trying to elope. It's obvious that Quince and Bottom don't know anything about the difference between the genres of comedy and tragedy. They imagine performing Pyramus and Thisbe as a "lamentable comedy" and Bottom even suggests the play will be "merry." As it turns out, their performance in Act 5, Scene 1 is pretty hilarious, but only because the Mechanicals are terrible actors and know nothing about staging plays.
We also want to point out that the basic story line of Pyramus and Thisbe echoes what happens to Hermia and Lysander in Act 1, Scene 1 when they're forbidden to marry. (Yes, Shakespeare also had Pyramus and Thisbe in mind when he wrote Romeo and Juliet.) Shakespeare likely read the story of Pyramus and Thisbe in Book 4 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, which was translated from Latin into to English in 1565 by a guy named Arthur Golding. You can check out our summary of Book 4 of the Metamorphoses here.