What is the ongoing pun that Shakespeare uses in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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While some scholars deny it, Cedric Watts of Sussex University argues that Nick Bottom the weaver's last name, Bottom, actually does mean buttocks, backside, or posterior. In addition, Watts argues that the slang term ass was used to refer to both the posterior and as a derogatory term referring to a stubborn, conceited, or foolish person. Therefore, Watts argues that Bottom's name is an ongoing pun that refers to the stubborn, foolish, and conceited qualities suggested by the slang term ass, which is also a term we use to describe a donkey. In addition, since the names of the mechanicals refer to the jobs they hold, and since Bottom is a weaver, the name Bottom also "refers to the bottom, or skein, around which yarn is wound" ("Character Analysis"). Therefore, Bottom's name is an ongoing pun that refers to both a skein of yarn and to the stubborn, foolish qualities and conceit the slang term ass refers to and still further to a slang term used to describe a donkey.

While the Oxford English Dictionary argues that the term bottom did not come to be recognized as referring to posterior until the 1800s, Watts finds evidence in Thomas Dekker's play The Shoemaker's Holiday (1570-1632), that the name Mistress Frigbottom also refers to posterior, as well as other evidence. Hence, Watts argues that when Puck gives Bottom the head of a donkey, Quince's exclamation, "Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee! Thou art translated," Quince is proclaiming that Bottom's name now no longer simply refers to a skein of yarn or a posterior, it now refers to both a stubborn, foolish person and a donkey (III.i.111). Thus, it is arguable that Bottom's name is the ongoing pun found in A Midsummer Night's Dream

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