In "A Midsummer Night's Dream", what ways does Shakespeare differentiate his rusic tradesmen from the aristocrats?

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Megan Clauhs eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the major differences between the mechanicals and the aristocrats is the way in which they speak. Take, for instance, their introductory scenes: the aristocrats speak almost entirely in verse, whereas the only verse spoken in the mechanical scene are quotes from another play. But even those quotes are incorrect; Bottom says "Ercles" instead of "Hercules" and "Phibbus" instead of "Phoebus" (1.2.10). A recurring joke throughout the play is that Flute cannot say "Ninus' tomb" and instead keeps calling it "Ninny's tomb."

Shakespeare also distinguishes between the two groups based on their perception of comedy and tragedy. When performing Pyramus and Thisbe, the mechanicals seem wholly invested in their performance, even writing prologues to explain that they do not mean to offend anyone and to assure the ladies that the lion is not really a lion (5.1.100). The aristocrats of Theseus's court, however, cannot stop mocking the players and interject frequently throughout the performance:

DEMETRIUS

Well roared, Lion.

THESEUS

Well run, Thisbe.

HIPPOLYTA

Well shone, Moon. Truly, the moon shines with a
good grace.

(5.1.247-252)

plcramer eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The rustic tradesmen, commonly referred to as the "rude mechanicals," in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream include Peter Quince, Snug, Flute, Snout, Starveling, and most importantly Bottom. They are differentiated from the aristocrats, like the four lovers Lysander, Hermia, Helena and Demetrius, in that they always speak in prose (apart from their lines in the play) while the aristocrats generally speak in verse. This prose vs. verse distinction is one Shakespeare uses in many of his plays to signal to the audience the different classes of his character. The aristocrats generally speak in iambic pentameter, a type of poetic meter, unless speaking to a person of a lower status, in which case they might switch to verse.

The language used by Midsummer's rude mechanicals is also notable for how littered with malapropism it is. Malapropism is when someone uses a word that sounds similar to the word they mean but actually has a totally different connotation. This kind of verbal misstep is not one any of the aristocrats in the play would ever make.

surfpoetess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You should notice that the tradesmen aspire to be greater than they are. This is apparent in their choice of play, their attempts to use words and language far above their level, and their misunderstanding of the audience. It is this desire to be greater that provides the humor in the play, not only for you - the audience - but for the royals in the play itself and for the fairies. In contrast, the aristocrats in the play are simply themselves. This is reflected in the beauty of their language and ways of interacting with others. 

morrol eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way that Shakespeare makes the distinction between tradesmen and aristocrats is with their language. While the tradesmen tend to use bawdy, course language (especially bottom), and misuse words, the aristocratic lovers and fairies speak in poetry. Another differentiating feature was likely the costuming used. Shakespeare describes the ass head to be used in the play, and the other tradesmen costumes would have been as coarse. In contrast the lovers and fairies would be vested in finer clothing.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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