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Lecture 4

ENGL 2P80 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Nick Bottom, Main Plot, Snoring

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Mathew Martin

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ENGL2P80 A Midsummer Nights Dream and Nick Bottom
The main plot and the plot involving the artisans are loosely connected narratively
but they are connected through the fairies and Theseus’s wedding. In Act 5 the two
plots combine.
Nick and his artisans have been preparing for this play since act 1 scene 2. There are
3 plots, the main plot, the plot involving the fairies and the plot involving the fairies.
The two plots – main and nick – connected thematically tightly. Both plots explore the
idea of transformation, loss of identity and the relationship between subordinates and
oThey are di&erent in tone however, the main is serious, nicks is farcical. This is
key in understanding the plot of the play. The farcical subplot has the ability to
diminish the seriousness of the main plot, by showing just how silly the
characters and actions of them actually is when the perspective is slightly
shifted. The subplot usually provides an ironic perspective on the characters
and action of the main plot.
oShakespeare is using the subplot as a way of reinforcing the main plot. It
functions like a safety tub, it takes the pressure o& the main plot and the play
as a whole by releasing anxiety that builds up in the play. The anxiety is
anxiety that in one way or another has to do with theater itself.
Bottom and his fellow thespians:
oThey come from a lower social class than the characters in the main plot, they
are common tradesmen. – commoners
oThese artisans are amateur actors, not professionals. They all have day jobs
and they rehearse and perform their play for a special occasion, a one-time
performance to celebrate the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. They are not
good actors, but they are sincere and this makes it funnier not better. The
artisans are unskilled performers. They miss their ques, they mess up their
exits and entrances and their lines are full of unintentional sexual and anal
oShakespeare’s audience would have immediately recognized this as archaic.
oThe characters in the main plot, are all gentry if not nobility.
oThe play is recognizably old fashioned in its sing-song rhythm of its poetry.
oA play written in this style might have pleased audiences in the 1560’s in high
school or university, but Shakespeare’s audience would have expected much
oThe 6 amateur actor’s performance problems extend beyond their acting skills
and the old fashioned nature of the play that they are performing. They can’t
negotiate the boundary between theater and reality. They express concern at
rehearsals that they might act too realistic. On the other hand, they expect
their audience to take as adequate representations of reality using theatrical
devices. They should have been worried that its highly visible old fashioned
ridiculous theatricality instead.
Why does Shakespeare mock them?
oAs the audience laughs at the amateur actors it implicitly shows how good the
actual actors are. The professional actors of Shakespeare’s company are
playing these amateur actors, and these professionals can display all their
skill, not only can they act well but they can also act badly well. Through the
bad acting, the professional actors assert their di&erence from and their
superiority to amateur actors.
oThe primary venue for this play was the public theater, as with all
Shakespeare’s plays. It may have also been performed at an aristocratic
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