Bottom’s Dream

April 30, 2006 at 9:11 pm 2 comments

William Shakespeare

Listen

Bottom
[Awaking] 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. 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 called 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.

– Midsummer Night's Dream Act IV Scene 1

A personal favourite.

Which of us has not experienced this? Which of us has not had a vision or an idea fill our heads with wonder, and then fade into the ordinary when we have tried to describe it? Every authentic act of prose or poetry is an attempt to overcome precisely this tongue-tiedness, to reach past the heaviness of language to the transcendent imagination, to the splendour of our dreams.

There's something very touching about this speech. It is a speech that captures perfectly that sense of transitory wakefulness, that moment when you are both wide awake and still dreaming, that instant before you fade back into the everyday. It is a speech that manages to be both deliciously funny and gently sympathetic, that combines the tender with the ridiculous in a way that is the essence of good comedy.

But most of all, it is, somehow, a very vulnerable speech. There are many, many instances in Shakespeare where he writes of dreams and visions with great skill. Here he resists that temptation, and chooses, instead to be simpler, more artless, even foolish. And it is precisely this vulnerability, this helplessness in the face of great beauty, that makes Bottom's Dream ring so true.

Entry filed under: English, William Shakespeare. Tags: .

Macbeth Act IV Scene 1 All the world’s a stage

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cheshire Cat  |  April 30, 2006 at 11:42 pm

    The artlessness is done with incomparable skill.

    Reply
  • 2. Falstaff  |  May 1, 2006 at 6:27 pm

    cat: Yes, it is, isn’t it.

    Reply

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