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In Act 5, scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the following exchange occurs between Theseus and Demetrius as they and the other “privileged” characters watch the amateur (and often incompetent) acting of the “mechanicals” in their unintentionally hilarious performance of a play about Pyramus and Thisbe:
Theseus. I wonder if the lion be to speak.
Demetrius. No wonder, my lord: one lion may, when many asses do.
Theseus refers to a performer who is dressed as a lion; Demetrius jokes about fools (“asses”) who speak. His joke anticipates the foolishness of the acting we are about to witness, even as it reminds us of the scene earlier in the play in which Bottom, who had been turned into an ass (a donkey) spoke to Titania.
The most obvious literary device used here is a pun on the word “asses,” which can refer both to donkeys and to foolish humans. Demetrius’s line also employs alliteration through the heavy emphasis on “w,” “l,” and “n” sounds. Finally, Demetrius’s line is nicely balanced, both by the colon and on either side of the colon.
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