Theatre students are often told what not to prepare for an audition because some pieces have been done so many times they lose their meaning. Of Shakespeare’s entire canon, the two most often forbidden texts are Puck and Helena monologues from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Therefore, the two roles are often the most sought-after and coveted in the play when in production. However, in the 1999 film version, Kevin Kline as Bottom gets top billing. According to the rules of Elizabethan hierarchy, Bottom, being of the merchant class, is literally at the “bottom” of the social spectrum. The Athenians and fairies rank higher on the great chain of being. Kline’s billing is not merely a result of stunt-casting: Athenian Helena is played by television star Calista Flockhart and the fairy queen, Titania, is played by Michelle Pfeiffer, both “stars” at the time. The movie is considered “The Kevin Kline Version” because, compared to the text alone, the plot changes, cinematic adjustments, and Kline’s performance flesh out Bottom’s character, creating a protagonist for an otherwise ensemble cast.
The director and screenwriter, Michael Hoffman, took liberties with Shakespeare’s text to help establish Bottom as the protagonist. Before we even meet Bottom in the film, we meet his wife, a character not seen or mentioned in the text, searching the streets for her “worthless dreamer” of a husband. No other mechanical characters have established back-stories, so Bottom already stands out among his scene partners. Later in the film, there is a dialogue-free scene in which Bottom comes home to his wife, who shows her status over him by silently berates him for his afternoon dalliances. ...
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...nces like to have a clear hero of their stories. The combination of the director’s artistic vision, cinematic choices, and Kline’s performance singles out Bottom as the main-character. The film’s time is not spent mostly on Bottom’s story; actually, the Athenian lovers take up the most actual screen time. Bottom represents the bridge between the real world of the merchants and lovers and the fantastical fairy kingdom. He comes from the lowest class of society and rises to be something the queen of the fairies loves and values. In a world in which no one breaks from the Chain of Being, Bottom is able to venture into a world grander than his own for a short time. When he returns, he holds the nobility he gained from his experience within, transcending all classes to become the perfect hero for our modern conception of the play, hilariously valiant and imperfect.
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