[Wakes] When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer.
My next is ‘Most fair Pyramus.’ Heigh-ho! Peter
Quince! Flute, the bellows-mender! Snout, the tinker!
Starveling! God's my life, stolen hence, and left me
asleep! I have had a most rare vision. I have had a
dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was.
Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream.
Methought I was—there is no man can tell what dream.
Methought I was, and methought I had, but man is but
a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had.
The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath
not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to
conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. I
will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream. It
shall be call'd ‘Bottom's Dream,’ because it hath no bottom;
and I will sing it in the latter end of a play, before the Duke.
Peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I
shall sing it at her death.
Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 204-221
Nick Bottom is part of a group of (very) amateur players who have decided to perform for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. They are rehearsing a play based on the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, two thwarted lovers. They have come to the forest to practice without interruption, but have indeed been interrupted by the fairies and other mischievous creatures of the woods.
The king of the fairies, Oberon, has played a trick on his wife, Titania, as revenge for her supposed infidelity. Using a magic flower, he has anointed her eyes so that she will fall in love with the first living creature she sees. As fate would have it, she first sees Nick Bottom, who has been given the head of an ass by Robin Goodfellow (or Puck). Despite the ridiculousness of the situation, Titania becomes passionate toward Bottom, adorning him with love and decoration.
Seeing nothing odd in this, Bottom goes along, enjoying every minute of it. Around him, the true action of the story—the mix-up of the loves of Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena—continues until Puck corrects all so that the right partners come together.
Bottom, on waking up, cannot decide if what has happened is a dream or has actually occurred. Thinking that he has merely falling asleep while he was waiting for his cue, he rehearses his lines although the other players are nowhere near (having run off once they saw the ass’s head on their companion).
Bottom, in his puzzlement, says that “man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream.” There is no point in explaining it. He considers thinking it through and coming up with an explanation, but cannot bring himself to believe the nonsense of it. Rattling off a paraphrase from the Bible (I Corinthians 2:9), “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him….”, he states that “the eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not see, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was.”
Rather than analyze his situation further, Bottom decides he will get Peter Quince, another one of the players, to write a play based on his dream, and call it “Bottom’s Dream,” continuing with the biblical passage that “the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God,” this depth signifying that there is no “bottom.”
He continues to rattle on, oblivious to what he is saying, musing that he will have the group perform it for the Duke and perhaps on Hippolyta’s death, signifying that he is still half asleep. Bottom soon returns to his fellows, who are overjoyed to see him, supposing something tragic had happened to him.
Nick Bottom could very well be called the “head clown” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream . His over-the-top performance provides the most comic backdrop against which the rest of the characters play. As such, he is a marvelous foil to the “serious” (though still comic) episodes of the misalliance of...