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In the hilarious play within the play presented in Act 5 of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, confusions abound, including the following:
- Many examples of the use of wrong word choices occur in the prologue (lines 108-117). Examples are here highlighted in bold italics:
QUINCE. If we offend, it is with our good will. [no one offends with good will]
That you should think, we come not to offend,
But with good will. To show our simple skill, [see previous comment]
That is the true beginning of our end. [the phrasing here seems oxymoronic]
Consider then we come but in despite. [ironically, this means “in ill will”]
We do not come as minding to content you, [the sentence structure of this and of the next half line is garbled]
Our true intent is. All for your delight
We are not here. [this whole sentence is self-contradictory] That you should here repent you, [“repent” is inappropriate]
The actors are at hand and by their show
You shall know all that you are like to know. [this should say something like, “you will know all that you like to know”; instead it means “you will know all that you are likely to know”]
Quince’s prologue is a perfect example of the way language and meaning are mangled in the play within the play. It is precisely such mangling that helps make this interlude so funny.
- Further misuse of words occurs a bit later, in lines 188-193:
Flute. [as Thisbe] O wall, full often hast thou heard my moans,
For parting my fair Pyramus and me!
My cherry lips have often kiss'd thy stones, [“kissed they stones” can be read as having an obscene meaning]
Thy stones with lime and hair knit up in thee. [these words only enhance the obscene connotations of the preceding line]
Bottom. I see a voice: now will I to the chink, [it’s impossible to “see” a voice]
To spy an I can hear my Thisby's face. Thisby! [it’s impossible to “hear” a face]
In passages such as these, Shakespeare demonstrates his genius by writing lines so awfully bad that they seem awfully good.
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