Puck and Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
When James Joyce was a teenager, a friend asked him if he had ever been in love. He answered, “How would I write the most perfect love songs of our time if I were in love – A poet must always write about a past or a future emotion, never about a present one – A poet’s job is to write tragedies, not to be an actor in one” (Ellman 62). I mention this because – after replacing the word “comedy” for “tragedy” and allowing a little latitude on the meaning of the word “actor” – Joyce is subconsciously giving A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s argument about the role of the artist. That is to say, an artist must be removed from the action, or, at least, not prone to normal temptations. This emotional distance gives the artist the type of perspective that Theseus likens to a madman’s. It also, however, gives the artist a vantage point from which he can give the other characters’ experiences meaning. Therefore, I will argue that, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare sees the artist as someone who is removed from the play’s main action, but gives meaning to the play’s experience (for both the audience and the other characters). I will show this by examining the roles of the two counterpart artists: Bottom (who supercedes Peter Quince as Every Mother’s Son’s artist), and Puck (whose art is changing people’s hearts and minds). My first four paragraphs show how Shakespeare uses Puck and Bottom allegorically to represent two different components of the artistic mind. Secondly, I show how Shakespeare leaves them emotionally distant from the main action of the play. Lastly, I will show how they end up interpreting the play, thereby, giving it meaning.
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