Comparative Essay on the Characters Nick Bottom and Puck from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Comparative Essay on the Characters Nick Bottom and Puck from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

In William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, two of the most important characters by the name of Nick Bottom and Puck have many things in common such as their light-hearted nature and the way they behave throughout. However, they also have their differences. Puck is known to be a fairy, considered to be of a higher status whereas Bottom is a craftsman, by no means greater than the Athenian citizens. While Puck is responsible for all the mischief and deception throughout the entire play, Bottom ironically, was the one who was turned into an ass by Puck. Although they seem to be so similar yet contradict each other, they have given the audience a complete fresh view about the surreal world of dreams and visions.

Bottom’s soliloquy and Puck’s monologue are both similar in the fact that both speeches include images of sleeping, dreaming and visions.
Bottom: “God’s my life! Stolen hence, and left me asleep! I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream.” IV, i, 203-205
Puck: “While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream.” V, i, 415-417

The purpose for this is first, obviously, to “fulfill” the title of the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare has used visual imagery on these themes to allow the audience to visualize yet subtly deceive as if they themselves were dreaming.

Another crucial reason why Bottom and Puck’s speeches contain imagery on sleeping and dreaming is because Shakespeare himself is a person who’s very inquisitive about the nature of dreams, how dreams and visions are so astounding that they are beyond human logic and explanation. After all of the events on deception and dreaming Shakespeare has planted in the play, Bottom and Puck then recollect those events through the mentioning of sleep, dreams, visions and even time and try and provoke to the audience that these surreal events are a mysterious force and that they’re unexplainable. In other words, these speeches are “educating” to the audience that people do not know everything, as earlier mentioned from the previous paragraph.

Conjointly, another correlation between the articulations of Bottom and Puck is their contradictory use of words.
Bottom: “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.” IV, i, 210-213

Bottom has deliberately spoken such contradictory terms and juxtaposition because he’s trying to prove that people do not know everything. He’s trying to explain that if each sense, for example sight, only has the capability to do what sight does and nothing else, people do not have the attainability to reach omniscience because in order for people to be omniscient, they must have senses that could go way beyond the average human. (To reach the level of being pansophical, people must have sight that could not only see, but to touch, hear, smell and taste as well.) Bottom has ingeniously used contradiction in his words, to additionally “educate” the audience furthermore about people’s unattainability to know everything.

Puck: “And, as I am an honest Puck, if we have unearned luck, now to scape the serpent’s tongue, we will make amends ere long, else the Puck a liar call.” V, i, 420-424

Indifferently to Bottom, Puck also has used a diverse amount of contradictions. In this small quote alone, the audience is immediately encountered with images of contradiction such as “honest” and “liar”, and also “luck” and “make amends” get contrasted or lose its contentful effect with the demonic image of the “serpent”. Even though the purpose for Puck to express this epilogue is to apologize to the audience for any offense or harm done, not all of the imagery he presented is pleasant and sweet.

Puck’s use of contradiction can be used as a symbolism for human life. He’s trying to depict or portray that human life is full of contradictions. There will be times when the audience is honest and ethical, but yet at the same time, could express out aspersion and calumniation. There will be times when people will care for others, bless blessings over one another and heal nations, but in the brink of time, can start a chaotic movement that could devastate the entire world. Puck himself is also a contradiction. At times he seems to be extremely happy and optimistic; however, he’s also responsible for the deception that’s occurring around the Athenian lovers. Overall, the purpose for Puck using contradicting imagery is that he is trying to explain that the human life itself is full of contradictions and there will be times when the unexpected will arise.

One of the perhaps most inconspicuous similarities that Bottom and Puck have in common is their use of bible allusions. However, the quantity of the amount of allusions differs quite significantly. While Puck only has one, Bottom has four.
Bottom: “God’s my life! Stolen hence, and left me asleep! I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was.” IV, i, 203-206

This is the first biblical allusion the audience will encounter with in Bottom’s soliloquy. In the quote, he’s explaining to the audience that he’s ended up fallen asleep. The significance of Bottom using the term “God” in there is that it leaves out hints or clues that he is using biblical allusions. What Bottom spoke in the above quote is a parallelism to the biblical book of Revelations, the last book in the Bible. The prophet John, the author of Revelations similarly had envisioned numerous times, and the dreams and visions he had seen was way beyond the ability of human understanding. The most profound example would be John’s envisioning of the four men of the apocalypse. Although there has been some description about it, but the actual concept behind it and the time it will take place still remains an enigma.
Bottom: “Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream……but man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had.” IV, i, 206-207 & 209-210

In this paragraph, Bottom is elucidating that because this dream is so surreal and paranormal that if any mortal tries to offer an answer to this dream, they will be nothing but a fool. In addition, Bottom is trying to allude 1 Corinthians 3:18. In the Bible, the passage is written:

“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.” -King James Version

Namely speaking, if any man is trying to explain this dream, he may seem to be wise, but in the end, he’s just trying to prove himself that he’s nothing else but a fool, or a “patched fool” in the perspective of Bottom. That was why Bottom was alluding from the Bible, because he’s getting evidence of doctrinal concepts of a higher power, and he acts as a messenger, trying to teach the audience through his reawakening speech.

Bottom: “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.” IV, i, 210-213

Bottom has created a parody and pastiche out of the original scripture of the Bible in 1 Corinthians 2:9-2:10. It is written:

“But as it is written: eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” -King James Version

From the bible passage, it explains that there will be events where the eye will not be able to see, or the ear to hear or the mind to conceive. It furthermore explains that these things we do not understand or comprehend is revealed by the power of the Holy Spirit, for only the Holy Trinity does. Bottom meticulously swapped the wording in his speech to allow the audience have a laugh and yet to gradually understand that what he spoke is a bible allusion, which explains that the audience do not know everything.
Bottom: “And I will sing it in the latter end of the play, before the Duke. Peradventure, to make it more gracious, I shall sing it at her death.” IV, i, 216-218

This is the final and the most significant bible allusion in Bottom’s soliloquy. This is a parallelism to the book of Acts, whereby, the apostle Paul went through his many voyages and entering in the presence of people of monarchy and high nobility, and teaching them the Gospel. In the play, Bottom will do a parodic version of it, where he will act in front of Theseus and Hipployta, the Duke and the Duchess. In a sense, the audience will then realize that the purpose for this allusion is that Bottom acts as a messenger similar to that of Paul, to “educate” them all like how Paul “educated” the monarchs and noblemen in those days.
Puck: “And, as I am an honest Puck, if we have unearned luck, now to scape the serpent’s tongue, we will make amends ere long, else the Puck a liar call.” V, i, 420-424

Unlike Bottom’s soliloquy, Puck’s monologue only contains one bible allusion, and that is the image of the “serpent’s tongue”. The “serpent” is the form in which Satan morphed himself into in Genesis 3 to tempt Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil.

Puck has used this allusion was because Puck in mythology is a mischievous sprite that played pranks on people. Therefore, even though Puck tries to befriend with the audience, his devious nature has made him in parts of his monologue to be of a rather malicious or malevolent side. Shakespeare has purposefully done this because he wants to show or provoke to the audience through his use of imagery that life is full of blessings and curses, loyalty and doubt as previously mentioned.

Despite all of the similarities between Bottom and Puck’s speeches, they also have many differences. One of the most key differences between the two is their speaking format, or structure of their speeches.

Bottom on one hand, speaks in prose or a stichic. He doesn’t speak in any specific rhythm. Another key feature is that his structure of his speech does not rhyme. This is because Bottom is a craftsman, therefore, he is considered to be of a lower status. This associates with the fact that he has a lack in education and hence, does not have the capability to speak in rhyme with such proficiency and fluency.

Another reason Bottom does not speak in prose is because of the message inside his speech. As previously mentioned, Bottom’s soliloquy contains many contradictory use of words and bible allusions to “educate” to the audience. Therefore, Bottom has to speak in prose to show the seriousness and how solemn this message is. By showing his solemnity, the audience then understands that his speech will be solemn and that whatever he expresses or speaks will be of serious matter.

Puck on the other hand speaks in rhyme or quatrains. He being a fairy is considered to be of a higher status. People or beings with higher status are generally well educated and therefore, it shows that Puck has the ability to speak in rhyme. Another reason why Puck speaks in rhyme and rhythm is because these two elements are generally associated with light-heartedness. By speaking in rhyme, Puck creates an ethereal or celestial atmosphere like that of a dream. An atmosphere like this is to generate calmness and mellowness over the audience, allowing them to feel more relaxed. When they are in that mood, Puck could then “educate” the audience with slight criticism without expecting to be “hissed”.

The second difference between Bottom and Puck is that while Bottom is speaking to himself, a soliloquy, Puck speaks or addresses to the audience.

Bottom reflects himself because he feels as if he’s in a dream. He can’t decipher the audience whether or not they exist, or that they’re just shadows that move around with the light. (Hence, Puck addresses the fairies and characters of the play as “shadows”.) This is why Bottom reflects, because he doesn’t know that the audience is around and that he feels that he is all alone. Through his soliloquy, it also tells the audience about the other side of Bottom, that he infact, while me may act like a fool, could also be a man of insight.

Puck on the other hand realizes that the audience does exist, as he is a fairy, which knows more than the ordinary mortal throughout the play. This is why he is addressing to the audience. He’s breaking the fourth wall to explain to them that they should not laugh at Bottom directly. Bottom’s soliloquy generates laughter because a foolish person like him is trying to attempt to reflect on the human life and about things beyond human understanding.
Puck: “If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended, that you have but slumbered here, while these visions did appear.” V, i, 412-415

Although Bottom’s soliloquy is indeed wise and insightful, some of the audience may still joke or laugh at him. This is why Shakespeare deliberately made Puck to address to the audience. He starts off with an apology to hope that he could gain sympathy from the audience, but then he criticizes them that they have slept through the play, while Bottom was performing his soliloquy. In other words, Puck speaks this is because he’s trying to elaborate on the fact that even though this play is meant to be comedic and light-hearted, sometimes, they must take it seriously as well.

The third difference between Bottom and Puck’s speech is their tone. Although both have a light-hearted and carefree nature, but when they speak their speeches, the tone they use and the overall atmosphere changes.
Bottom: “Heigh-ho! Peter Quince! Flue the bellows-mender! Snout the tinker! Starveling! God’s my life! Stolen hence, and left me asleep!” IV, i, 200-204

Bottom starts off with an epiphany, a sudden realization that he was left alone in the forest, and that all of his other fellow craftsmen are gone. It was when he realized that they’d left him alone to sleep in the forest, which he then became nostalgic and remembers what happened yesterday, or in his terms, his “dream”. He later went on to explain that what he’s been through was a dream, to create a subtle atmosphere of mellowness, as dreams are “sweet” and “surreal”. It also produces a hint of laughter as it creates dramatic irony, Bottom, having been in love with Titania was genuine, was actually thinking it was just a dream. (Although Titania having being in love with Bottom was still an act of dues ex machina, the fact that Oberon put Cupid’s flower on Titania’s eyelids.)
Bottom: “Methought I was - there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had - but man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had.” IV, i, 207-210

He then starts to shift the tone into a more serious and sincere tone. This is because he’s going to be reflective on his “dream”. He seems to be amazed by his “dream” and has a sudden realization that people, whom may seem to know everything, will not be able to explain or interpret dreams. This is very contradictory because in the pervious acts, Bottom seems to be and act like a person who reaches the limit to omniscience. Up to this point, he’s indirectly being a bit judgmental to the audience with this trait or attribute. He’s trying to portray or judge to the audience that they themselves aren’t omniscient.
Bottom: “I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream. It shall be called “Bottom’s Dream” because it hath no bottom.” IV, i, 213-216

From here, Bottom again shifts the tone to a more oratorical tone, where he speaks more confidently and eloquently. From here, he realizes that because this “dream” is so deep in content and inexplicability, he therefore says to himself that he should go forth to Peter Quince and write a ballad for it, for it is filled with deep content and hence, he is very ardent and exuberant at this point of his soliloquy.
It is shown that Bottom is perhaps the most humane of all mortal characters in the play. From his soliloquy it can be proven that he has shifts in his tone as he progresses towards the end of it, the majority of it being very reflective and nostalgic. It is a very significant detail because it shows the wise and insightful side of him. Although foolish most of the time, Bottom is proving the audience wrong when he speaks his soliloquy. This indicates that a person generally associated with ignominy can outsmart the audience, people who treat Bottom as a laughing stock.

Puck’s monologue is significantly different. He first starts of being very apologetic, because he tends to realize that the play may seem to offend others. This also gives off a bit of humour because it contains a slight, prestigious form of irony. This is because puck in mythology is a mischievous sprite or fairy which does pranks to human mortals.
Puck: “That you have but slumbered here, while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream.” V, i, 414-417

He then shifts his tone and tries to coax to the audience that what they’re seeing from this play is nothing more than a dream. He’s trying to create an atmosphere of etherealness through the use of the word “slumbered” which means sleep. This also subtly addresses to the audience that none of this is real and that somehow, as if by magic, they have the somnambulistic power to arrive at this place. He’s literally trying to break the fourth wall, trying to connect with the audience.
Puck: “No more yielding but a dream” V, i, 417
Puck: “We will make amends ere long” V, i, 423

While Bottom is trying to be apologetic for the “chaos”, “hostility” or “deception” caused, at the same time, he’s similarly trying to parallel to Bottom’s speech, by trying to use imagery of sleep, dreams and visions and most importantly, time. The first quote represents the past, showing a hint of nostalgia, while the second quote shows that he’s contemplative. It shows that he’s using all this imagery and speaking in different tones at different specific times to show that these things, like what Bottom previously mentioned are unexplainable, that they remain enigmas but yet play a key role in everyone’s daily lives.
Puck: “So good night unto you all. Give me your hands if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.” V, i, 425-427

Puck finally slows down the climax by not being so reflective and to once again address to the audience. He then speaks in a cheerful and sentimental tone to finish off his final quatrain. Notice that he also addresses Robin Goodfellow (Puck himself, his alternative name) in third person because if he speaks in first person like “I” or “me”, it will alert the audience and it can create a sense of doubtfulness to whether or not this play really is a dream. He also ends his soliloquy with “restore amends” or to “make things right” is because it will leave the audience behind with a pleasant ending, or “dream”.

Puck and Bottom both are similar yet distant from each other. But their speeches exist for a purpose. On the superficial side, they seem to be just acting and generating a few laughs out of the audience, but on the abysmal level, the two speeches complement each other to enlighten the audience. The speeches may seem to be a bit awkward combining the two together; however, they are able to link together the events of reality and fantasy, and to show to the audience that there are things that one is not able to comprehend, for they are beyond the capability of human understanding.

With the compelling discoveries in science in Shakespeare’s times, people have thought that they have the ability to reach the level of omniscience. This is why Shakespeare created these speeches, to show that there are things in which it is unexplainable, but in a parodic manner. Key examples are the imagery of sleep, dreams and visions Bottom and Puck both explicitly said. The speeches reveal that no science could explain how dreams and visions are formed in people’s minds, and how the dreams could lead to somnambulism and somniloquence. This was why Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the first place, to reveal the secrets of the celestial and immaterial world, and the enigma behind the explanation of the events.

What made the speeches more compelling is the ending verse of Puck’s speech. He has left the audience behind with deep thoughts and thinking:
Puck: “And, as I am an honest Puck, if we have unearned luck, now to scape the serpent’s tongue, we will make amends ere long, else the Puck a liar call.” V, i, 420-424”
From the above quote, Puck is trying to keep his promise to the audience by “making amends ere long” or restoring things to its normal condition. Although Puck seems to be very desperate for the audience to befriend him and to accept his peaceful offering and apology, yet, at the same time, his other images on deception and discernment creates doubts as to whether Puck is really sincere about his apologies, or like the characters in the play, ended up being deceived by him.
Puck was anticipating that the audience would forgive him for anything that offended them throughout the play and was hoping that they could “make amends”. Although one side of it is true, on the other hand, one could not leave behind with a complete celestial or heavenly view of the world. Although Puck ends his speech with a satisfying ending:
Puck: “So good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Robin shall restore amends.” V, i, 425-427 However, one mustn’t forget the previous imagery he used, such as the referring to the characters as “shadows” on line 412, or the “serpent” on line 422. Even though there are elements of dreams in the play, it wasn’t entirely ethereal. Although Puck’s speech does end the play with a satisfying ending, however, during the play, there are scenes of malice and trickery that one would not forget. Although the theme of Puck’s speech is not easy to find because it is represented subtly through the use of contradictory images, his speech in the epilogue has managed to express the theme of deception and contradiction to the audience. From this, the audience must remember that life is full of contradictions, and while we could enjoy the happy endings of dreams, it is important to notice that people in dreams themselves are the deceiver and the deceived.

From the beginning of the play, Bottom and Puck are representatives for characters to be of a foolish and pathetic nature. They were there to create atmospheres of laughter around the audience. When people laugh at them for the foolish things that they’ve done, whether unintentional or deliberate, they’ve shown the other side of themselves, proving them to be far wiser than any other character in the play. They’ve managed to enlighten the audience on the themes of deception, contradictions, the nature of human life and omniscience through their use of imagery, structure and biblical allusions. Sometimes, Bottom and Puck have shown obvious differences between each other, however, one must not forget that when the both of them “synergize” with each other, they have shown to the audience much more that one could ever imagine.