How does observing another audience help one understand the relationship between audience and performers, such as the mechanicals' audience within Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream ?
The relationship between the audience and the performer refers to their roles with respect to each other. It is the performer's role to convince the audience that what they are performing is not only believable but entertaining. By convincing the audience that their performance is believable, the performer is breaking the boundaries between reality and illusion. The performer is showing the audience that what is truly an illusion can actually be perceived as reality. In contrast to the performer, the audience's role is to observe and to be entertained.
We are able to witness the roles of the performer and the audience, thereby witnessing the relationship, through observing the audience and their responses to the performers in the play within Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream. In Shakespeare's play, a group of Athenian laborers, referred to as the mechanicals, ambitiously decides to write its own play and perform it before the Duke of Athens on his wedding day. However, because the mechanicals are uneducated and inexperienced in performing, the mechanicals fail to create an entertaining and realistic illusion through their performance.
One example of their poor performance can be seen in Quince's opening prologue. Typical of his uneducated character, he mixes up words and even places punctuation where it does not belong, as we see in the line, "Our true intent is. All for your delight" (V.i.120). Clearly, a period does not belong in the middle of a sentence directly after a verb. Due to the poor delivery of his prologue, the other characters criticize his performance, saying, "[H]e hath play'd on his prologue like a child on a recorder,--a sound, but not in government" (129-130). Another example of a poor performance can be seen in Starveling's performance of the moon. He feels compelled to introduce himself as the moon, saying, "[T]he lanthorn is the moon; I, the man i'the moon; this thorn-bush, my thorn-bush; and this dog, my dog" (256-258). Not only is it ludicrous that he should speak as the moon, there are also no known reasons why the moon should bring on stage with him both a thorn-bush and his dog. Theseus points out the ludicrousness of Starveling's performance of the moon by saying, "Well, all these should be in the lantern; for all these are in the moon" (259-260). Hence, we see through the players' poor performance and the other characters' criticisms that the players failed to create a believable illusion.
Since the players fail to create a believable illusion, we see that the relationship between performer and audience is one of roles. The performer's role is to convince the audience of the illusion and the audience's role is to be entertained and convinced.