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Act 1, Scene 2

Peter Quince, an Athenian carpenter, greeted his amateur acting company as they trouped into his workshop. Philostrate had announced to all Athens that a play would be performed in front of the Duke, on his wedding day, as part of the wedding celebrations. Any group of citizens could submit their idea and one would be chosen when the time came.
Quince surveyed his would-be actors. ‘Is all our company here?’ he said.

Nick Bottom was a weaver. He was thick-set, sturdy and rugged, and as enthusiastic as anyone could be about the art of acting. ‘It would be best to call the role, man by man, according to your list,’ he said.

Quince lifted a sheet of paper from his workbench. ‘This is the list of everyone in Athens thought fit to take part in the play to be performed before the Duke and the Duchess on their wedding day, at night,’ he said.

He was about to begin the roll-call when Bottom raised his hand. ‘First, good Peter Quince,’ he said, ‘say what the play’s about, then read the names of the actors, and so bring it to an end.’

‘Well, our play is “The sad comedy and cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe.”‘

Bottom nodded wisely at the assembled company. ‘A very good piece of work, I assure you,’ he said, ‘and very entertaining. Now, good Peter Quince, call the names out from your list. Gentlemen, spread yourselves out.’

Quince adjusted his spectacles and cleared his throat. ‘Answer as I call you,’ he said. ‘Nick Bottom, the weaver?’

Bottom 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 a declamatory pose:

‘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.
High stuff!
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 coming.’

‘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 falsetto, ‘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, Thisby.’

Bottom drew himself up. ‘Well, carry on,’ he said.