Elsewhere in Athens, a group of "Mechanicals" (a.k.a., craftsmen) meet up to practice a play they plan to perform at Theseus and Hippolyta's upcoming wedding.
Individually, they are Peter Quince the carpenter, Snug the joiner, Bottom the weaver, Flute the bellows mender, Snout the tinker, and Starveling the tailor. ( FYI—All of the men's names are a clever play on their professions. You can read more on this by going to "Tools of Characterization.")
Quince is the brains of the operation, and he'll lead the Mechanicals as they rehearse and then perform the chosen play, The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe.
Brain Snack: Pyramus and Thisbe is a story from Roman mythology about two young lovers who die tragically after running off to elope. Sound familiar? It's one of the major literary sources for Romeo and Juliet, which Shakespeare wrote around the same time as A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare got the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from Book 4 of Ovid's Metamorphoses.
Bottom, who is definitely not the brains of the operation, announces that it sounds like a happy piece of work for the wedding night. We're guessing that Bottom missed the whole "cruel death" part.
Quince proceeds to assign each man his role.
Bottom is to be "Pyramus," the male lead. Bottom asks if Pyramus is a lover or a tyrant. Quince responds that Pyramus is a lover who dies for love. Bottom promises to bring the audience to tears, though he thinks he'd be better at playing a tyrant. He's also sure he could put on a good Hercules. Bottom delivers some really bad poetry to prove the point.
Quince keeps reading down the role assignments.
Flute will be "Thisbe." Unfortunately, Thisbe is not the wandering knight Flute had hoped, but a woman in love (remember, in Shakespeare's day, women's roles were played by young men). Flute claims he can't do this role because he's sure his beard will grow in soon. Anyway, Quince points out that the peach fuzz is irrelevant; Flute will play Thisbe in a mask. Deal with it.
Bottom heartily volunteers to play Thisbe, too, and claims he can make his voice tiny, womanly, and beautiful.
Quince continues to assign the roles: Starveling will be Thisbe's mother and Quince, her father. Snout will play Pyramus's father, and Snug will play the part of the lion, which is nothing but roaring.
After hearing about the roaring, Bottom offers to play the lion, too, as he can roar quite fearsomely. Still, the terrifying noises might upset the ladies, so Bottom volunteers to roar as gently as a dove.
Quince cuts off all of this nonsense: Bottom must play Pyramus because he's the prettiest and most gentlemanly of the group.
Then there's a long discussion about what kind of beard Bottom should have for the role.
Bottom wonders if he should wear a "French-crown-colour beard" (a.k.a. a beard that's the color of a French gold coin or "crown").
Quince takes this opportunity to crack a dirty joke about there being so many bald "French crowns" in the world. (This is a reference to "the French disease," syphilis, a STD that causes your hair to fall out if it's left untreated.)
After this little exchange, Quince tells his crew to memorize their lines and meet in the woods tomorrow night. Since it's private and shielded from the Athenian court, it's the perfect rehearsal spot.
Brain Snack: 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. So, Shakespeare's "Mechanicals" are a shout-out to the craftsmen who moonlighted as amateur actors each year.