In William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, why does Nick Bottom want to play all the parts?

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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 In Act I, Scene II of William Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, a troupe of actors are gathered to discuss and begin preparations for a play to be held on the occasion of the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta, the duke of Athens and his Amazonian bride-to-be. Peter Quince is handing out acting assignments for the play, Pyramus and Thisbe, to individual members of the cast, among whom is Nick Bottom. Bottom, it will soon be seen, considers himself an actor par excellence, capable of performing virtually every role in the play to perfection. As Quince assigns characters to each of the actors, he approaches Nick and informs him that he, Bottom, is going to portray the character of Pyramus, prompting Bottom's profession of his intent to perform the role, and all others, brilliantly:

That will ask some tears in the true performing of it: if I do it, let the audience look to their
eyes; I will move storms, I will condole in somemeasure. To the rest: yet my chief humour is for a tyrant: I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to tear a cat in, to make all split. The raging rocks
And shivering shocks
Shall break the locks
Of prison gates.

As Quince continues to hand out roles to the other actors, Bottom continues to profess an ability to portray each of those characters flawlessly, as when he urges of Quince,

Let me play Thisbe too, I'll
speak in a monstrous little voice. 'Thisne,
Thisne;' 'Ah, Pyramus, lover dear! thy Thisbe dear, and lady dear!'

This continues, until Quince has finally had enough, telling Bottom:

You can play no part but Pyramus; for Pyramus is a sweet-faced man; a proper man, as one shall see in a summer's day; a most lovely gentleman-like man:
therefore you must needs play Pyramus.

Nick Bottom is an eccentric, egocentric figure. His insistence on acting every role in the play, including that of a lion, reveals not just an arrogant, self-centered character, but a delusional one as well. After all, no one individual can portray every character in a play unless each character is on stage individually, which is not the case in this particular play. Bottom is sufficiently impressed with himself, however, that he is unable to grasp how ludicrous is his vision for the eventual production. Indeed, as the audience will see, so self-centered is Bottom that he remains oblivious to the fact that Puck has replaced his, Bottom's, head with that of a donkey.

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amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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He believes himself to be able to play all the parts...a one man show.  We all know folks like him, unfortunately.  This is part of what makes this play so darn funny, and when his head represents his personality and his name later in the play, we all walk away with very sore sides from laughter!

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Nick Bottom believes himself to be the best actor of this troupe of tradesmen.  His name even gives an indication as to what he's like (a bit of an ass) - and thus, Puck makes sure he gets the head of one for awhile!

lbarbieri's profile pic

lbarbieri | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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Nick Bottom is arrogant and thinks that he is the best thing since sliced bread. He wants all of the attention, therefore requests all of the parts. He even went as far as performing at the cast reading. His arrogance and conceded nature will make sense as the play continues.

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