While I read A Midsummer’s Night Dream I had a very difficult time understanding who the “rude mechanics” were and what their role in the play really was. It seemed as if they played a rather small, insignificant role, and perhaps that was Shakespeare’s plan all along, but I cannot be sure of that. I remained uncertain for majority of the play what their role was, but after reading the final act of the play, I had come up with a new idea – maybe they were just there to make an audience laugh.
Act 1 Scene 2 is where my trouble began, because the first scene was primarily about lovers quarrels. Shakespeare wrote of who loved who, who was supposed to love who, and all things about the many lovers we read about in the play. But then this scene we meet a group of rather different characters. These characters were the ‘actors’ putting on a play (within the bigger play) for the Duke and Duchess on the night of their wedding. When Quince announces who will be in the play, it seems almost sarcastic:
“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.” (1.2.4-5).
It seemed as if he was saying “here all the people all throughout Athens who are good enough.” It just didn’t seem right to me, and to be honest, it still confuses me as to why these people were chosen, was it a joke? Or were these people honestly good and interested in acting?
As the play continued, the presence of the rude mechanics began to diminish. The play went back to being about the lovers, and I went back to being confused about where the other part of the story went. Put in simpler terms, I wanted to know more about the play within the play. When we finally get back to the rude mechanics, they’re rehearsing their play, and they spend a lot of time altering the play, and making it so that they won’t be killed by the Duke for it being scary, or rude. So does them doing this mean they’re playing with the mechanics of the play? Is that why we’re able to call them “rude mechanics”? All of this is evident in Act 3 Scene 1 – “I believe we must leave the killing out, when all is done.” (3.1.13-14). A main point of their play was that there was a suicide at the end, and they want to take it out? I found that rather rude. It wasn’t until Act V, that I began to figure out that these characters known as the “rude mechanics” were meant to be used for nothing more than comedic relief.
In Act V, they act out the play for the Duke, but prior to acting it out, Egeus tries to get the Duke to not choose this play, but by doing so, it seems as if he’s mocking the rude mechanics.
“A play there is, my lord, some ten words long,
Which is as brief as I have known a play.
But by ten words, my lord, it is too long,
Which makes it tedious. For in all the play
There is not one word apt, one player fitted.
And tragical, my noble lord, it is.
For Pyramus therein doth kill himself.
Which, when I saw rehearsed, I must confess,
Made mine eyes water—but more merry tears
The passion of loud laughter never shed.” (5.1.61-70)
Here, Egeus is insulting the play, he is essentially saying how bad it and its actors are. It was then that I realized that this play was essentially a joke, and although I felt that to be comical, I couldn’t understand why Shakespeare added it into the play.
It was a great sense of comedic relief however, when Pyramus (Bottom – also confusing to keep switching names in a play) said “Since lion vile hath here deflowered my dear” (5.1.281) It was comedic because Bottom says “deflowered” which means to have taken a woman’s virginity. It is assumed that he meant to say “devoured” or eaten. So I now see why these characters are seen as the comedic relief for the play, because that was not the only instance of word confusion.
So although I’m still confused about why the entire play within the play happened, at least it was funny to read.