Character Directory

 

THESEUS

Theseus is the Duke of Athems. Theseus' wedding to Queen to Hippolyta is the climax towards which the play moves. He is a sympathetic lover, though, as a middle-aged man, he is not given to the passions of youth. He is responsive to Hippolyta's moods, noting, for example, her distress at the plight of Hermia in 1.1.122. Hermia's situation disturbs Theseus, too; it raises an issue that was important to Shakespeare—the relationship between authority and the law. Theseus is a model ruler who respects the laws of his domain, but he regrets the harsh consequences that they may entail for Hermia. He will attempt to help her by persuading Egeus and Demetrius with 'private schooling' (1.1. 116); but if that effort fails, he is committed to carrying out the law.

Theseus is a constitutional monarch, as the Tudor rulers of England declared themselves to be. Thus he is associated with Queen Elizabeth. A closer identification of the two is implied in 5.1.89-105, in which Theseus proclaims that he responds favorably to his citizens' speeches of welcome, even when, hopelessly tongue-tied, they fail to speak at all. Elizabeth was known to take great pride in doing the same thing, and this passage is thought to embody a compliment to the sovereign and thus to suggest that she was present to receive it at the first performance of the play.  Many modern productions double this role up with the part of Oberon.

EGEUS

Egeus is the father of Hermia. Egeus' angry demand for severe punishment of his daughter for refusing to marry Demetrius interrupts the blissful anticipation of marriage with which the play opens. Duke Theseus hopes to persuade Egeus to abandon his intentions, but we see in 4.1, when Egeus and the Duke discover the sleeping lovers in the enchanted woods, that his attempts have not succeeded. Egeus insists that Lysander be executed for having tried to elope with Hermia. His harshness makes him no more sympathetic to the Duke than to the audience, and Theseus takes evident pleasure in announcing, 'Egeus, I will overbear your will' (4.1.178). Shakespeare apparently took the name Egeus from Chaucer’s 'The Knight's Tale', in which Egeus is Theseus' father.

LYSANDER

Lysander is the lover of Hermia. When mistakenly anointed with a magical love potion, however, his affections are transferred to Helena. Lysander is the least distinctive of the lovers in the play. His love interest changed from one young woman to another and back again by the magic of Oberon’s herbs, Lysander is merely a pawn in Shakespeare's game of rotating lovers.

DEMETRIUS

Demetrius is the lover of Hermia whose affections are magically diverted to Helena. Chosen by Egeus to be Hermia's husband, Demetrius had wooed Helena earlier, before the opening of the play, but had abandoned her. In addition to fickleness, Demetnus shows in unpleasant shortness with Helena, who pursues him, but on the whole he is—like Hermia's beloved, Lysander—a colorless young man who exists merely to be manipulated by Oberon’s spells.

PHILOSTRATE

Philostrate is the Master of Revels under Duke Theseus.  Philostrate arranges the entertainment for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta and presents the Duke with a list of prospective acts. A pompous courtier, Philostrate argues against Theseus' selection of the artisans' production of Pyramus and Thisbe on the grounds that it is blatantly undignified. Shakespeare apparently took the name Philostrate from Chaucer’s The Knight's Tale', in which one character uses it as an alias.  In many modern productions this role is doubled with the part of Puck.

QUINCE

Quince, Peter is a  a carpenter and the director of the comical production o Pyramus and Thisbe, performed by several artisans of Athens. Quince organizes an Interlude to be performed at the wedding of Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta. Though overshadowed by his leading man, Bottom, he directs the performances of Snug, Flute, Snout, and Starveling, and he reads the Prologue himself. Despite the supposedly Athenian setting of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Quince and his fellows are typical English artisans, excellent representatives of the humorous workers Shakespeare was fond of creating.  Quince comically performs several of the tasks of a real Elizabethan acting company. Not only the director, he has also written the script and is responsible for the properties and staging. He is something of a pedant, given to such high-flown locutions as 'I am to entreat you, request you, and desire you . . .' (1.2.92-93), but he is a tactful director, flattering Bottom into accepting his role in 1.2.79-82, and a resourceful reviser, prepared to create additional dialogue in 3.1.  Less talented as an actor, he misreads his initial speech (5.1.108-117). (Quince's comical mispunctuation of the passage was a standard Elizabethan routine dating from the first English Comedy, Nicholas Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister [c. 1553].).  The name Quince refers to certain tools of the carpentry trade, wooden wedges called 'quoins' or 'quines'. Quince is thought to have been originally played by Richard Cowley.

SNUG

Snug is a joiner of Athens and a performer in the comical amateur production of Pyramus and Thisbe staged at the wedding of Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta.. Snug plays the Lion in the Interlude, which is directed by his fellow artisan Peter Quince.  Snug presents himself as 'slow of study' (1.2.63), and he is mute during the rehearsal scene (3.1), but he carries off his role commendably at the performance in 5.1. In the woodworking trades, Snug's name means 'tightly fitting', an appropriate name for a joiner.

BOTTOM

Bottom, is a weaver of Athens. His comical ignorance and his tendency to mangle language make Bottom a typical Shakespearean Clown. He is repeatedly placed in ludicrous situations, but his supremely good opinion of himself is unshakeable. As the leading player in the amateur production of Pyramus and Thisbe, Bottom cuts a silly figure as a know-it-all who is unaware of his true ignorance. Given the head of an ass by the fairy Puck, Bottom temporarily becomes the beloved of the magically charmed Titania, and his decorum in this extraordinary situation is ridiculous.  However, Bottom is a sympathetic figure as well. He is not pompous, and he is unfailingly civil to everyone. He is not patronizing to his fellow artisans when he lectures them (preposterously) on stagecraft, and he is courteous to his fairy attendants, Peaseblossom,, Cobweb, Moth, and Musterseed. His self-confidence, though humorous in its fog-like densrfy, is not entirely misplaced: he is a leader among his fellows, as they are quite aware, and we can believe he is surely an excellent craftsman. His comedy lies in the contrast between his circumstances and his lack of awareness, but he is not a victim. His courage makes him admirable as well as amusing. 

It is ironic that Bottom, who remains absurdly unperturbed, is the only mortal who actually meets any of the fairies. Yet in the end, he is plainly moved by his experience. Awakening from what he calls 'a most rare vision' (4.1.203), he discovers that he cannot quite recollect it. He expresses his bafflement in comically garbled terms that reflect, among other things, St Paul's description (1 Cor. 2:7-9) of the 'hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world'. We do not need to know the source to sense the power of these words. Bottom aptly observes of his vision, 'It shall be called "Bottom's Dream", because it hath no bottom' (4.1.214-215); he has sensed that something profound has happened to him.  Bottom's name refers to a tool of his trade, the core on which a skein of yarn is wound or, figuratively, theskein itself; its suggestions of the fundamental or basic element of something are equally appropriate to this representative of the common man. To 'get to the bottom' of a subject is to find its essential quality, and Bottom displays the combination of practicality, courage, and blind confidence that underlies much human achievement. The word had no anatomical connotations in Elizabethan English. 

Boult Minor character in Pericles, brothel employee responsible for training and advertising the kid napped Marina. The energetic Boult ('Performance shall follow' [4.2.59], he says proudly) pretends to be cruel and cynical. When he speaks of Marina's modesty, he declares that 'these blushes others must be quench'd with some present practice' (4.2.122-124).  However, though he threatens to destroy her innocence through rape, in 4.6, she recognizes that she can appeal to his inner revulsion at his profession, and tells him his job would shame 'the pained'st fiend / Of hell' (4 6.162-163). He can only plead, 'What would you have me do? go to the wars, would you? Where a man may serve seven years for the loss of a leg, and have not money enough in the end to buy him a wooden one?' (4.6.169-172). This brief, compelling outburst demonstrates the breadth of Shakespeare s humanity: he transforms a minor character's crisis into a striking commentary on a pervasive scandal of his times- the distressing status of military veterans. Boult agrees to help Marina escape the brothel, which we later learn she does. In addition to helping Marina, Boult also contributes to the comic relief from melodrama provided by the brothel scenes.

FLUTE

Flute is a bellows-mender of Athens and a performer in the comical amateur production of Pyramus and Thisbe staged at the wedding celebration of Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta. Flute plays Thisbe in the Interlude, which is directed by Peter Quince. In 1.2 Flute resents being cast as a woman, asserting that he has 'a beard coming' (1.2.43-44). His objection makes clear that in fact he is still a beardless youth. Flute's name, like those of his fellow artisans, refers to his trade; the flute is the nozzle through which a bellows expels air.  The name also suggests the high-pitched quality of the character's voice, and Shakespeare may well have selected the name, and then the occupation, to suit the player of Thisbe.

SNOUT

Tom Snout is a tinker of Athens and a performer in the comical amateur production of Pyramus and Thisbe staged at the wedding of Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta. Snout plays the Wall in the Interlude, which is directed by his fellow artisan Peter Quince.  Snout's name, like that of his fellow artisans, refers to his trade; a tinker's most common task was repairing the spouts, often called snouts, of kettles and teapots.

STARVELING

Robin Starveling is a tailor of Athens and a performer in the comical amateur production of Pyramus and Thisbe staged at the wedding of Duke Thesus and Queen Hippolyta. Starveling plays the Moonshine in the Interlude, which is directed by his fellow artisan Peter Quince. The least competent of the actors, Starveling can utter only two of his lines before reverting to prose to inform the audience what the rest of his verses would have said. Starveling's name refers to the proverbially skinny nature of tailors, and Shakespeare's choice of name and occupation probably reflects the presence in the acting company of John Sincklo, a strikingly thin actor who is presumed to have played the part.

HIPPOLYTA

Hippolyta's role is Small, but she is a sympathetic figure who contributes to the play's theme of domestic love. In 1.1 her distress at the prospect of Hermia’s punishment highlights the young lovers' plight. In 5.1 she disagrees with Theseus about the lovers' accounts of their experiences in the enchanted wood. He has doubted their story, but she observes that 'all the story of the night told over /. . . grows to something of great constancy / . . .strange and admirable' (5.1.23-26). Her mythical origins as leader of the Amazons are hinted at only fleetingly, in her recollected acquaintance with Hercules and Cadmus, in 4.1. Shakespeare took her name and gentle nature from a character in Chaucer’s 'The Knight's Tale'.  In many modern productions this role is often doubled with Titania.

HERMIA

Hermia is one of the four lovers whose adventures in the enchanted wood are the centre-piece of the play. In 1.1, when Hermia's father, Egeus, demands that she be punished for refusing to marry Demetrius, her civil but firm response reveals a determined nature. Her first words, a straightforward assertion other beloved Lysamder’s virtues, indicate that she will not easily be deterred.  When Lysander's love is magically diverted to Helena, Hermia is prepared to fight for her man, and she drives her friend away. Several remarks indicate that Hermia is a brunette with a dark complexion, and she has often been associated with the 'Dark Lady' of Shakespeare's Sonnets, which he was writing at about the same time.

HELENA

Helena is the lover of Demetrius. Helena is obsessed with Demetrius, who has betrayed her, and while she realises she is shaming herself, she cannot stop pursuing him, even to the extent of betraying her friend Hermia.  That she has lost her self-respect is evident in her first words, 'Call you me fair? That fair again unsay!' (1.1.181). When, through Oberon’s magic, both men woo her, she can only construe their praise as ridicule. Her frustration leads her to insult Hermia viciously in the four-way quarrel in 3.2. Her flawed personality has nothing to do with her finally winning Demetrius, as she knows; she treats the outcome as a miracle, saying, 'I have found Demetrius like a jewel, / Mine own, and not mine own' (4.1.190-191).

OBERON

Oberon is the Fairy King who works the magic that ensures the triumph of love that is the focus of the play. Oberon gives an unpleasant first impression in 2.1, quarrelling with his queen, TitaniaI, and resolving to 'torment' her (2.1.147) because she will not surrender to him a changeling he desires to raise. However, it is clear that he intends his revenge, a dose of a magic aphrodisiac, to be only temporary. Once he knows he will have his way, he is a gentle king, overseeing the confusions of the lovers' plot with good-natured amusement. When Titania, magically enchanted with the ass-headed Bottom, has surrendered the changeling, he feels sorry for her and lifts his spell, as he had said he would. For the remainder of the play, he is a benign figure, blessing the marriages and the palace of Duke Theseus.  Oberon was the traditional King of Fairies, and Shakespeare must have known of him from several sources, though the one most prominent in the play is a 13th-century French adventure tale, Huon of Bordeaux.

TITANIA

Titania is the Fairy Queen, wife of Oberon and, temporarily, the magically charmed lover of Bottom. Titania's infatuation with Bottom is Oberon's revenge on her for having persisted in keeping a changeling whom he wants.  She asserts that she will keep the boy in memory of his mother, who died in childbirth. She is icily haughty and insists on having her way, although, since she and Oberon are elemental forces of nature, their dispute is causing bad weather, as she vividly describes in 2.1.88-117. During her enchantment she is a vapid lover, and afterwards she merely serves a decorative role. Her chief qualities are regal pride and grand diction.  She is a highly stylized character, generally magnificently costumed, who symbolizes the supernatural at its most glamorous.

PUCK

Puck (Robin Goodfellow) is a fairy and aide to Oberon, the Fairy King. Puck is a powerful supernatural creature, capable of circling the earth in 40 minutes (2.1.176) and of manipulating the elements—for example, he summons a fog in 3.2—but he is more mischievous than awe-inspiring. He reminds us of a small boy when he boasts of his talents as a trickster in 2.1.42-57 and when he calls out,'I go, I go, look how I go!' (3.2.100).  Like Bottom, he is a humorous character, but where Bottom is a Clown, intended to be laughed at, Puck more closely resembles a Fool, like Shakespeare's jesters Touchstone and Feste. He is removed from the practical world and expresses himself through an idiosyncratic sense of humour. He prefers 'things that befall prepost'rously' (3.2.121). 

There is some malice in Puck's taste for pranks, and Puck reminds us that the fairy world is not all sweetness and light; this contributes to an undertone of potential evil that makes the comedy, while still benign, a more richly textured tale. He speaks in horrifying terms of the cruel and awesome world that is also the domain of the fairies (5.1.357-373), only to assure us that 'we fairies ... / Now are frolic'. However, when his error in anointing Lysander causes trouble, Puck is immune to Oberon's regret that this has happened, replying only, 'Then fate o'er-rules' (3.2.92). He is coolly indifferent to human suffering. 

While Puck explicitly calls himself a fairy in 5.1.369, quoted above, and elsewhere, there is some ambiguity in his relationship to the FAIRY in 2.1, and in 3.2.399 he is identified as a 'goblin'. Shakespeare did not care about such minor inconsistencies, and they do not interfere with Puck's effectiveness in the drama. They do, however, reflect the fairy lore known to Shakespeare, who combined in Puck two supernatural creatures that had earlier been thought of as separate beings: Robin Goodfellow, a name interchangeable with Puck in the 16th century, was a household spirit also associated with travellers; a 'puck' was not a fairy, but a small elf or goblin fond of playing practical jokes on mortals, especially at night. The puck was originally a Norse demon, identified in England with the devil.

PEASEBLOSSOM

Peaseblossom is a fairy attendant to the fairy Queen Titania. In 3.1 Titania assigns Peaseblossom to the retinue of the comical rustic Bottom, whom the Queen has been magically induced to love. Bottom has been endowed by Puck with the head of an ass, but he does not know of his new adornment, and Peaseblossom serves him in 4.1 by scratching his strangely itchy face.

COBWEB

Cobweb is a fairy, an attendant to the Fairy Queen Titania. In 3.1 Titania assigns Cobweb to the retinue of the comical rustic Bottom because the Queen has been magically induced to love him. Cobweb serves Bottom by hunting for honey in 4.1. His name suggests the spider's short-lived weaving; Bottom also refers to the ancient use of cobwebs to stop small cuts from bleeding (3.1. 176); perhaps the name suggests that Cobweb possesses medicinal lore.

MOTH

Moth is a fairy attendant to the Fairy Queen Titania. In 3.1 Titania assigns Moth to the retinue of the comical rustic Bottom, whom the Fairy Queen has been magically induced to love. As the smallest and least important fairy in the group attending Bottom, Moth is never addressed by his'temporary master and is given no particular task. His name means—and in Elizabethan English was pronounced—'mote' and suggests the tiny size of a speck of dust.

MUSTARDSEED

Mustardseed is a fairy attendant to the Fairy Queen, Titania.  Titania assigns Mustardseed to the retinue of the comical rustic Bottom, whom the Queen has been magically induced to love. Bottom has been endowed by Puck with the head of an ass, but he does not know of his new adornment, and Mustardseed serves him by helping to scratch his strangely itching face. The fairy's name suggests the several references to the tiny mustard seed in the Gospels (e.g., Luke 17:6).

 

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