Illustration of a donkey-headed musician in between two white trees

A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

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Act I, Scene 2 Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Act 1, scene 2, opens with six craftsmen assembled at the home of Peter Quince, a carpenter. They meet to discuss plans for putting on a play at the upcoming wedding of the duke and duchess. Although Quince is ostensibly in charge, Nick Bottom, a weaver, keeps butting in to give Peter directions and to comment on the play and characters. Bottom tells Quince to explain the subject of the play and then tell each man what role he will play. Quince follows Bottom's instructions.

The play will be an enactment of "the most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe." This is humorous, since "lamentable comedy" is an oxymoron: a tragic outcome shouldn't be considered a comedy at all. But Bottom approves of the play, affirming that it will be "merry" indeed.

Quince assigns Bottom the part of Pyramus. Bottom hopes that the character is a villain, but he learns he is a lover who kills himself for love. Bottom avows that he can stir the emotions of an audience but that he would be even better cast as a tyrant.

Quince then assigns Flute, the bellows mender, to play the role of Thisbe. Flute is dismayed to learn that he will play a woman—after all, he's just starting to grow a beard. Quince assures him that no one will see his face, since he'll be wearing a mask. At that, Bottom volunteers to play Thisbe as well, since he can "speak in a monstrous little voice." Quince quickly quashes that idea.

Robin Starveling, the tailor, will play Thisbe's mother; Quince will play Thisbe's father; and Snout, the tinker, will play Pyramus's father. That leaves the role of the lion to Snug, the joiner.

Snug is worried about getting a head start on memorizing his lines because he is a slow study, but Quince assures him that he won't even have to practice because he can "do it extempore." He only needs to roar.

Hearing this excites Bottom. He declares that he can roar magnificently. But Quince points out the danger in such a performance. Scaring the duchess and other women in attendance could get the whole company hanged, Quince says (possibly just to dissuade Bottom from attempting to take over the lion's part as well). Bottom quickly changes his tune and insists that he "will roar you as gently as any sucking dove; I will roar you an 'twere any nightingale."

Quince tries to redirect Bottom by pointing out what a great role Pyramus is. Bottom then begins musing about what type of beard he should wear. Quince instructs the actors to meet the following night in the woods for their rehearsal. This scene ends with a planned meeting in the woods, just as scene 1 did, suggesting that the meeting between the craftsmen and the meeting between the young lovers could possibly overlap.

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Act I, Scene 1


Act II, Scene 1