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A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

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Comparison of Bottom and Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Summary:

Bottom and Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream are contrasting characters. Bottom is a comical, overconfident weaver who becomes the unwitting subject of magical transformation. Theseus, on the other hand, is the Duke of Athens, embodying order, authority, and rationality. While Bottom represents the chaotic and humorous elements of the play, Theseus signifies structure and control.

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How might Bottom serve as a foil to Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

In literature, a foil is a character who by contrast accentuates the traits of another character in the story. A few famous examples would be how sports-mind Ron makes the bookish Hermione looks even more bookish, or how the gentle and considerate Watson makes Sherlock Holmes look even more cold and rational. 

Bottom is an idiot and a clown. He is a comedic character. He frequently misuses words, demands to play every character in his play, makes a fool of himself at every possible chance, and even physically becomes a jackass. 

Theseus, on the other hand, is the very model of intelligence and good judgment. He is named after the Greek hero, who through smarts and bravery defeated the Minotaur. The duke speaks well but plainly. He is articulate. He is anything but a fool.

By watching the two characters' opposite traits the audience can more easily see the qualities in the other. In fact, Bottom is only the most extreme example. Nearly every character behaves foolishly in some way while in the forest, which only makes Theseus' reasoned approach stand out more.

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How does Bottom's character differ from Theseus's in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Bottom is an artisan who would be considered "middle class" in today's society (or the "working class").  Theseus is an aristocrat.  He is the Duke of Athens.  The aristocrats and artisans use different dialects and there are differences in their behaviors, obviously.  Theseus is very logical and serious and is a good ruler.  Bottom is very much a "clown" in that he loves to have attention showered on him.  He loves to be the center of attention and believes he is a better actor than he is. 

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Compare and contrast the characters Bottom and Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Nick Bottom is one of the central figures of the play.  He is one of the workmen who get together in the woods at night to practice their version of the play, "Pyramus and Thisbe" with the hope of being chosen to perform it for Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding.  He has a high opinion of himself and his abilities as an actor, though he isn't really a very good actor.  We know this because he mispronounces words and he overacts which is evident when he performs the role of Pyramus before Theseus and the rest of the court.  It is because he and the other workmen are not good performers that Puck gives Theseus the head of an ass.  But it is with the changed Nick Bottom that Titania falls in love when she wakens.  After the spell is removed from Titania and she no longer loves Bottom, that Bottom - who was never aware that he had the head of an ass - says upon waking himself that he has had a rare dream, a dream that cannot and should not be explained.  Some things, he implies, are best not reasoned out.  His speech here in Act 4, sc. 1, indicates that he embraces imagination and realizes that some things are best simply accepted.

Theseus is the Duke of Athens.  It is his marriage to Hippolyta that brings many of the characters together.  Theseus, in his speech at the beginning of Act 5, sc. 1, implies that he does not have the imagination or the belief in imagination that Bottom has.  His words suggest that he thinks the four lovers made up their story about all having the same dream.  He doesn't see the plausibility of such an occurrence.  Theseus sees the imagination as something other people have and to understand them, sometimes a person has to accept that others use their imaginations.

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How is Bottom's character the opposite of Theseus' in Act 4 of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, each character is transformed by the night in the Athenian forest. While we typically think of Oberon and Theseus as paired characters, with Theseus' problems with Hippolyta resolved through Oberon's experience with Titania, seeing Bottom's reflection of Theseus is also useful. In fact, these three characters create something of a triangle by which we can understand power dynamics in love.

Bottom begins the play with an over-developed sense of his importance. Among the rude mechanicals, he acts something like a tyrant, wanting to play all the parts and to oversee the entire production. He begins as a poor or lowly character with dreams of greatness. For someone like Bottom, the highest good would surely to be someone like Theseus. In both characters, ego and insensitivity to others is a primary flaw.

Bottom's magical evening in the forest indulges him in the fantasy of being admired by the queen of the fairies, with attendants to wait on every desire. Bottom achieves what Oberon/Theseus want: a submissive and doting Titania/Hippolyta.

At the end of Act 4, Oberon has been chastened by Titania's humiliation, which we take to be a simulation of what is happening with Theseus in Athens. Bottom wakes of and speaks of his dream, which he describes in a mixed up version of St. Paul's expression of religious revelation. Bottom has been transformed and returns from his evening fully alert to others' needs and with a desire to serve them. This is why he is so invested in the lovers' understanding the Pyramus and Thisbe play. It is possible that Theseus is likewise humbled and generous, as he seems to soften in his attitude toward Hermia and Lysander.

These are not necessarily opposite qualities but they are divergent ways that the characters undergo their experiences in the forest and with the transformative power of change.

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How is Bottom's character the opposite of Theseus' in Act 4 of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Bottom is the kind of character we meet once in a while in our lives -- the attention-grabber, the "me, me, me" kind of person -- it is all about "me".  He wants to be everything in the play, Pyramus and Thisbe, but is quickly shut down by Quince, who is a very good reader of his actors' skills and limitations.  Theseus, in some ways, is also a "me" kind of guy, but only when it comes to Hippolyta.  Theseus wants only Hippolyta to orbit around HIM, while Bottom wants the entire world's attention.  Also, Theseus is at the top of the social scale in Athens, while Bottom is truly "at the bottom"; an actor, which in Shakespeare's day was not a very reputable profession, plus he is a weaver, which is a tradesman -- again at the bottom of Shakespeare's social world. 

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How is Bottom's character the opposite of Theseus' in Act 4 of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Both in class and personality, Theseus and Bottom are polar opposities.

First of all, Bottom is a manual laborer.  He speaks in verse and spends his days working with his hands, while Theseus is a Duke who does very little manual work. He does the thinking and the ruling while his servants do the work.

Personality-wise, Bottom is arrogant, emotional and has a big ego. He fights for the limelight on stage and wants the attention strictly to feed his own selfish ambitions. Theseus, on the other hand, is confident but not cocky. He has center stage, but not by fighting for it. He has it because he is a wise ruler who looks out for the people.

Finally, the two charaters have very different love lives. Bottom achieves love throught the magic of Oberon. Theseus grabs his love by kidnapping the queen of the Amazons after a battle in a foreign land.

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How is Bottom's character the opposite of Theseus' in Act 4 of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Bottom is the complete opposite of Theseus's character in that Bottom is conceited, irrational, and allows himself to be governed by illusions. In contrast, Theseus is one of our only rational characters in the story. Theseus represents a rational and noble-minded leader of Athens.

We especially see Bottom's conceit when, in his enthusiasm, he envisions himself playing every major role in Quince's play. Bottom has especially been asked to play the male lead, Pyramus, because Bottom is apparently the best looking and most well-spoken member of their crude little company, as we learn from Quince's lines:

You can play no part but Pyramus; for Pyramus is a sweet-faced man; a proper man ... a most lovely gentleman-like man. (I.ii.77-78)

However, when Flute hesitates to accept the part of the Thisbe, female lead, Bottom gets overly excited and asks to play that part as well, thinking that he could imitate a woman's voice well. He further gets overly excited when he wants to play the part of the lion, thinking that he could roar a tremendously loud and scary roar. Since, Bottom thinks he can play all roles better than the other players, we see that he is exhibiting conceit. Not only are his desires to play all major parts conceited, they are also irrational. There is no conceivable way that he can play both a lion and the character the lion scares away at the same time. Nor is there any possible way he could play both the hero and heroine who speak on opposing sides of a wall. Thus, since Bottom has let himself get carried away by his fantasies of himself, we also see that he is not only irrational but also allows himself to be governed by illusions.

In contrast to Bottom, Theseus is quite rational. We see him acting rationally in the very first scene with respect to Egeus's request to punish Hermia should she continue to refuse to marry Demetrius. While Athenian law decrees that a father has the right to either put a disobedient daughter to death or to send her to a convent, interestingly, Egeus is only asking permission to put her to death. Theseus, being noble and rational, puts the option of sending her to a convent back into the equation when Hermia asks Theseus what could happen to her, as we see in Theseus's response, "Either to die the death, or to abjure / For ever the society of men" (I.i.67-68). Literary critic George A. Bonnard also points out that Theseus is showing his rational side when he asks to speak with Egeus and Demetrius privately. We don't really know what advice Theseus is giving them, but since Lysander has just made an excellent case that he is the better match for Hermia, according to Bonnard, we can assume that Theseus is telling them both to give up on their persistence.

Hence, we see that Bottom and Theseus are exact opposites because one is conceited and irrational while the other is noble and perfectly rational.

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How is Bottom's character the opposite of Theseus' in Act 4 of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Bottom is the opposite of Theseus in many ways. Some are obvious and basic; some are more subtle. Start with the obvious: Bottom is a manual laborer. Theseus is duke of Athens. Bottom is a blustering fool. Theseus is not. Bottom is ruled by his ego; Theseus seems ruled by his rational mind. Bottom starts the play single, gets paired off with a queen, and ends up alone; Theseus starts single (technically), and ends up married to a queen. Bottom won his love through someone else's magic, and doesn't deserve it; Theseus won his love through force of arms.

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