The Performance of the Play Within the Play


   
One thing that I found particularly interesting about Act V was the witty way in which Shakespeare presents the performance of the play within the play. He creates an interesting dynamic given the interaction between the upper and lower classes (the audience and the players/mechanicals) which is appropriate given that the play takes place midsummer–one of the few times classes are mixed together. Shakespeare also works to make the performance of a tragedy, into a scene appropriate for a comedy. The way I see it, there are two main factors that make Act V the most humorous act in the play. The way in which the play is presented by the rude mechanics is comical, and a bit unorthodox. They begin the performance with a prologue that essentially states everything that is going to happen in the play which may have been necessary for the audience given the amount of interruptions that occur throughout the performance, although it is a pretty brief, simple play. Right away, before the actors even take the stage, there is criticism from the audience about the poor grammar in the prologue which is humorous given the accuracy of the criticisms, but it also works to illustrate the differences of education between the upper and lower classes.

After the first part of the prologue, Theseus remarks: “This fellow doth stand upon points.” Lysander and Hippolyta express that they find the prologue to be presented in an uneducated, ineffective manner which takes away from its intended purpose and sets a bad first impression for the players/rude mechanicals. Lysander says: “He hath rid his prologue like a rough colt; he knows not the stop. A good moral, my lord: it is not enough to speak, but to speak true” (V.i.114-16). Hippolyta follows with a similarly superior attitude stating: “Indeed he hath played on this prologue like a child on a recorder; a sound, but not in government” (V.i.117-19). Lysander and Hippolyta, in particular, seem to have negatively inferior views of the actors of the lower class even before the prologue, thus the improper grammar in the prologue does not help the actors gain respect. When informed that they are going to see a play performed by, according to Philostrate, “Hard-handed men that work in Athens here, / Which never labored in their minds till now,” Hippolyta reacts negatively while Theseus insists that it can’t be that bad if it is done by hard working men (V.i.66-68). Throughout the performance, the members of the audience make various comments on the production. Their feelings of superiority are shone through their comments at times and add to the humor of the scene. In the end, they enjoy the silly performance of the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe which, in a sense, shows the breaking down of barriers between the classes.

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One thought on “The Performance of the Play Within the Play

  1. Elizabeth Pinto

    I don't think I agree with the play at the end of the play breaking down barriers between the classes. The whole point of the play and the commentary on the play, in my opinion, was to build up and keep strong the divisions between classes. Lysander, Hippolyta, and Theseus are all above the mechanicals in understanding of how prologues should work and in how plays work in general. Putting someone as a wall, the moon, and having the lion say he's not meant to be scary all point out how ridiculous the 'actors' are and how little they really know about anything other than their crafts.

    Reply

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