A Midsummer Night's Dream: Wordplay, Puns & Malapropism

Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

William Shakespeare's play ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' uses wordplay, puns, and malapropisms to amuse the audience. Read further to explore these techniques and how they are used in the play.

A Midsummer Night's Dream Synopsis

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare is a comedic play set in Ancient Greece. During this play, several characters fall in and out of love due to tricks that fairies play on them. By the end of the play, the fairy's magic has been reversed, and the characters only remember the events that occurred while they were under the spell as if it had all been dreamed.

The events of the play include a subplot, or smaller storyline, which has a group of characters called the Mechanicals preparing a play for the rest of the characters of the larger play - A Midsummer Night's Dream. These Mechanicals are ridiculously unqualified actors, and much of what they do and say provides humor for the audience. The Mechanicals converse in prose, where the fairies and other characters in the play speak primarily in verse.

William Shakespeare
author

Wordplay

What would a comedy be without the author having some fun? Shakespeare is famous for his use of literary techniques, structures of writing which help tell a story. More specifically, Shakespeare manipulates language to amuse, entertain, and even provide satire - use of humor to point out people's vices - for his audience. This is known as wordplay.

There are several different forms of wordplay Shakespeare uses in this comedic play. Some of these techniques include oxymorons, paradox, puns, malapropisms, etc. This lesson will focus on puns and malapropisms in the following sections.

Puns

One specific use of wordplay Shakespeare uses in A Midsummer Night's Dream is the technique of puns. Before jumping into how Shakespeare uses puns, let's go over what a pun is. A pun is the humorous use of a word to suggest another meaning of the word which is similar in sound but different in definition. There is an example of a pun in the sentence ''let us eat a salad.'' The pun is the use of ''let us'' when the reader or listener may hear ''lettuce,'' which is a prime ingredient in most salads.

The first pun example from the play comes in Act 3, Scene 1. During this scene, Bottom, one of the Mechanicals, states, ''I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me; \ to fright me, if they could.'' The word ''ass'' is a pun because it means fool and is another word for a donkey. Through fairy magic, Bottom's head has been changed to the shape of a donkey's head without his knowledge. So without him knowing it, he said they want to make him into a donkey through trickery, which a character really did!

Later in Act 5, Demetrius says of Bottom, ''No die, but an ace, for him.'' Here the word ''ace'' refers to the number one. However, back in Shakespeare's time this would have sounded like ''ass.'' In this way, Demetrius also uses a pun to joke about Bottom being a donkey.

Malapropism

The other form of wordplay we will go over in this lesson is malapropism. Just as with puns, let's first take a look at what makes a malapropism prior to jumping into examples. A malapropism is the misuse or confusion of two words which sound similar but have different meanings. A malapropism is similar to a pun. However, instead of implying another word as with puns, malapropisms state the incorrect word. Malapropisms also use absurd words which sound similar but have no place in the context of the sentence. An example of a malapropism is ''Rainy weather can be hard on the sciences.'' In the previous sentence, the word ''sciences'' is present instead of the word ''sinuses.''

The first example of malapropism occurs in Act 1, Scene 2. In this scene, the author has Bottom use many malapropisms when the character says,

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