Roget’s thesaurus defines the word “ass” as “one deficient in judgment and good sense: a
fool”. In William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the ass is undeniably tied to the
character of Nick Bottom on many different levels. As the play is a comedy, Bottom’s central
role is to provide laughter. At the same time, however, through his role as the Ass, he acts as a
sort of symbolic center-piece that ties all of the action in the play together. Throughout the play,
Shakespeare has various characters making word-plays on the Ass, in relation to Nick Bottom
and otherwise. These many references combined with the physical Ass’ head that Bottom
receives point to the fact that the idea of the Ass, or the fool, is a central theme to the play and as
the play’s fool, Nick Bottom plays a crucial part in the structure of the play. Within his character,
love and foolishness are inextricably linked.
It can be deduced from just one reading of the play that they figure of the Ass is very
important. Not only does one of the main characters chance to have an Ass’ head for awhile, but
many of the other characters mention the idea of the Ass, or the fool, in passing. The first clue is
that Bottom’s very name is a synonym for another meaning of the word “ass”. This is a subtle
clue to the reader to pay attention. When Puck transforms Bottom’s head in the middle of
rehearsal and all of his fellows run away, Bottom is left shouting, “What do you see? You see an
ass head of your own, do you?” and “I see their knavery. This is to make an ass of me, to frighten
me” (Shakespeare 38). The irony of this situation is that...
... middle of paper ...
...he same time it also is a microcosm
for the story of the four lovers and serves to point out the folly of their situation. This is the same
way that Bottom functions as a character: in his folly he illustrates the folly of others in love, and
of the human race.
Nick Bottom, the Ass and the fool of the play may serve as comic relief, but in that
comic relief he also serves a much larger role. He is very fitting to wear the head of the Ass and
in so doing he illustrates the heights of foolishness that humans can reach, in life and in
love. Perhaps he is so comical because everyone who sees him in action can relate to his idiocy.
Perhaps everyone has a little bit of a Bottom in them.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Russ McDonald, ed. New York, New
York: Penguin Putnam Inc, 2000.
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