A Midsummer Night's Dream Act III, Scene 1
by William Shakespeare

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Act III, Scene 1 Summary

Act 3, scene 1 opens with the craftsmen meeting in a clearing in the woods to rehearse the play that they will be performing for the duke. Bottom worries that the high-born ladies in the audience will be offended by some of the play's more violent incidents, like the scene when Pyramus kills himself. He decides that the best solution is to write a prologue that he can recite to the audience before the play starts, in which he will warn the audience that "we will do no harm with our swords." To make it absolutely clear that Pyramus will not be really killing himself, Bottom says that he should tell the audience that he (who will be playing Pyramus) isn't really Pyramus at all. This is of course an utterly absurd solution, as it destroys the illusion and suspension of belief upon which the play depends.

The next problems that the craftsmen discuss are how to "bring moonlight into a chamber" for the scene where Pyramus and Thisbe "meet by moonlight" and how best to represent the wall through which Pyramus and Thisbe communicate. Quince and Bottom come up with a solution, suggesting that they simply have actors play both the moon and the wall. At this point Puck enters the scene, promising mischief. The other characters remain unaware of his presence.

The problems of staging having been ingeniously solved, the craftsmen now set about rehearsing the play. The actors, however, make a mess of it: muddling their lines, speaking before they're supposed to, accidentally reading the cues, or speaking the wrong words altogether. Bottom then enters as Pyramus, but to everyone's surprise, his head has been replaced with the head of an ass, a trick by the mischievous Puck. Bottom has no idea that Puck has done this to him, and neither do the others. At the sight of Bottom's new head, the others become alarmed and flee the stage, shouting, "Pray, masters! Fly, masters! Help!" Puck, unseen by the others and still unsatisfied, says he will run after them, taking the shape of " a horse" or "a hound, / A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire."

After the others have left the stage, Snout and Quince enter one at a time and remark to Bottom that he is "translated." Bottom is suspicious and suspects that the others are playing a trick on him. He decides to stay where he is and sing a song so that the others know he is...

(The entire section is 622 words.)