Bottom stood up and snapped to attention. ‘Ready!’ he exclaimed. ‘Tell me the part I’m to play and then carry on.’
‘You, Nick Bottom, are to play Pyramus.’ Quince put his finger on the next name but before he could call it Bottom interrupted.
‘Who’s Pyramus? A lover or a great hero?’
‘A lover, who kills himself, most heroically, for love.’
Bottom smiled. ‘That will bring out some tears if it’s performed well. If I do it the audience will have to look to their eyes. I’ll storm my passion and rave my grief mightily. And so on and so forth. But my real gift is for playing heroic parts. I can be a great Hercules, or a reveller, enough to bring the house down.’ He placed his hand over his heart and took up an acting pose. Then he recited in his deepest voice:
‘The raging rocks,
And shivering shocks,
Shall break the locks
Of prison gates;
And Phoebus’ car
Shall shine from far
And make and mar
The foolish fates.
Good, isn’t it? Now name the rest of the players.’ He smiled round at the company. ‘That was the Hercules style, the heroic method. A lover is more tear-jerking.’
Quince waited until he was sure Bottom had finished then adjusted his spectacles again. ‘Francis Flute, the bellows-mender?’
Francis Flute had been hiding nervously behind his friend, Tom Snout. He raised his hand tentatively, and in a high-pitched voice, registered his presence: ‘Here, Peter Quince.’
Quince looked over his spectacles at the young bellows-mender. ‘Flute, you must take on Thisbe.’
‘Who’s Thisbe,’ said Flute. ‘A wandering knight?’
‘It’s the lady that Pyramus loves.’
Flute shook his head vigorously. ‘No, please, don’t make me play a woman. I’ve got a beard just starting.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ said Quince, kindly. ‘You can play it in a mask. And you can speak in as tiny a voice as you like.’
Bottom clasped his hands together. ‘If I can hide my face, let me play Thisbe too,’ he said. ‘I can speak in a wonderfully high voice.’ He put his hands round his mouth to form a trumpet and lowered his voice to a deep bass: ‘Thisne, Thisne!’ he called. Then he ran to the other side of the workshop. ‘Ah!’ he exclaimed in a high strained voice, ‘Pyramus, my lover dear! Your Thisbe dear, and lady dear!’
They all stared, speechless, as he looked from one to the other for approval. Quince shook his head and tutted. ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘You must play Pyramus. And you, Flute, must play Thisby.’
Bottom drew himself up. ‘Well, carry on,’ he said. If anyone allowed him to he would play all the parts.
Quince put his finger on the next name on his list. ”Robin Starveling, the tailor?’
Starveling raised his hand. ‘Here, Peter Quince.’
‘Robin Starveling, you must play Thisbe’s mother. Tom Snout, the tinker?’
‘Here, Peter Quince.’ Snout smiled.
‘You, Pyramus’ father. Myself, Thisbe’s father. Snug the joiner, you the lion’s part. And I hope the play’s all cast now.’
Snug looked bewildered and he slowly mouthed the word ‘lion’. He put his hand up and Quince nodded. ‘Have you written the lion’s part out?’ said Snug. ‘I’m a very slow learner.’
‘You can make it up,’ said Quince reassuringly, ‘because it’s nothing but roaring. That’s all you have to do.’
‘Let me play the lion, too!’ cried Bottom. ‘I’ll roar so that it will do any man’s heart good to hear me.’ He opened his mouth wide and roared, pawing the air as he did so. ‘I’ll roar so well that the Duke will say, ‘Let him roar again! Let him roar again!’ ‘
‘If you did it too terrifying, like that, you’d frighten the Duchess and the ladies, and they’d scream. That would be enough to get us all hanged,’ said Quince.
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