Studying The Play Within the Play in A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Play Within the Play is also referred to as the Interlude. It comes at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and stands well as a short play on its own.
The Mechanicals are one of three groups of characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream. (The other two are Royals and Faeries.) Mechanicals are working-class peasants and subjects of King Theseus.
Peter Quince has gathered his friends together to rehearse a play he has written to be performed at Theseus' wedding festivities. They have one evening to polish their performance; the wedding and celebration is the next day.
For the purpose of discussing the Play Within the Play, jump ahead to Act V.
- Peter Quince, a Carpenter. He is the playwrite and narrates the Prologue.
- Nick Bottom, a Weaver. He plays Pyramus, a young lover and main character.
- Francis Flute, a Bellow-Mender. He plays the female Thisbe, who is in love with Pyramus.
- Tom Snout, a Tinker, plays the Wall that separates Pyramus and Thisbe.
- Snug, a Joiner, represents Lion.
- Robin Starveling, a tailor, represents Moonshine.
Introduction to the Play
Act V of A Midsummer Night's Dream begins with Theseus choosing what entertainment he would like to see between dinner and bedtime. Philostrate, his Master of Revels (i.e. Party Planner) tries to talk him out of watching "A Tedius Brief Scene of Young Pyramus and His Love Thisbe, A Very Tragical Mirth." Philostrate warns:
A play there is, my lord, some ten words long,
Which is a brief as I have known a play;
But by ten words, my lord, it is too long,
Which makes it tedious...
This insult sparks Theseus' interest. As a benevolent king, Theseus expresses appreciation for the intent. Throughout the performance of "Pyramus and Thisbe," however, the Royals comment and make fun of the play; they do not attempt to speak quietly and the Mechanicals hear and respond.
Quince enters first to narrate the prologue, the Royals waste no time discussing his skill level:
Theseus: This fellow doth not stand upon his points.
Quince stumbles through and Snout enters as Wall. His body quite literally represents a stone wall. Later in this little show, Wall will stick out his hand and make a circle with his thumb and forefinger. This is the chink through which the lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe, speak.
Pyramus is the main character and young lover. Bottom plays Pyramus with flamboyance and gusto. Bottom responds to the Royals' ridicule with explanations:
... "Deceiving me" is Thisbe's cue: She is to enter now, and I am to spy her through the wall...
After the laughable exchange between Pyramus and Thisbe, he tells her to meet him at 'Ninny's tomb'; he is supposed to say 'Ninus' tomb.'
The next scene is at Ninus' tomb and Lion and Moonshine enter. Starveling, who plays Moonshine, is a sensitive soul, and his feelings are deeply hurt when the Royals comment on his performance. Starveling drops character, calls out, "All I have to say is..." and storms off.
Later, the Royals will call out things such as "Well shone, Moon!" so we can infer that they meant no harm and are trying to make it up to him.
Thisbe enters, Lion roars, Thisbe screams and drops her shawl (or 'mantle.') She runs off and Lion chews on her shawl before exiting. Enter Pyramus and he, of course, thinks that Lion has killed Thisbe. Pyramus kills himself, which is an hysterical scene as he keeps dying and getting back up to continue in his death throes. Nick Bottom is a ham.
Thisbe enters and finds him. She delivers her entertaining monologue and stabs herself. It is not long before Bottom and Flute are up again, and Flute offers to perform more. Theseus declines:
No epilogue, I pray you; for your play needs no excuse.
All is done with joviality and the Royals give hearty applause. This scene ends on an upbeat and positive note.