Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream: Overview

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  • 0:02 Who Is Peter Quince?
  • 0:51 The First Meeting
  • 3:13 The Rehearsal
  • 5:24 The Performance
  • 7:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Richard Davis

Richard teaches college writing and has a master's degree in creative writing.

At first glance, Peter Quince is just a minor character in one of the many subplots of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' In this lesson, however, we'll take a closer look, investigating Quince's impact on the play's humor and our experience as an audience.

Who Is Peter Quince?

If you ever catch an episode of 30 Rock, you'll have a sense of how hard it is to deal with actors on a daily basis. In every episode, Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) has to deal with the antics of two eccentric actors, Jenna Maroney (played by Jane Krakowski) and Tracy Jordan (played by Tracy Morgan). This kind of story is by no means new, however. In fact, you can find a sixteenth-century equivalent to Liz Lemon in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The name of this Lemon-esque character is Peter Quince. Quince is a carpenter who has one ambition: to put on a play for the nobility of Athens. In order to do this, Quince assembles a group of other craftsmen to serve as actors. This seems simple enough, but one actor in particular makes Quince's task infinitely more complicated.

The First Meeting

In the second scene of the first act, we see Quince's group of actors meet for the first time in Quince's home. This scene also introduces the character Nick Bottom, a weaver with an inflated ego. Shortly after Quince calls the meeting to order, Bottom attempts to take control. Let's look at how the scene starts:

Is all our company here?

You were best to call them generally, man by man,
according to the scrip.

Here is the scroll of every man's name, which is
thought fit, through all Athens, to play in our
interlude before the duke and the duchess, on his
wedding-day at night.

First, good Peter Quince, say what the play treats
on, then read the names of the actors, and so grow
to a point.

Marry, our play is, the most lamentable comedy, and
most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby.

A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a
merry. Now, good Peter Quince, call forth your
actors by the scroll. Masters, spread yourselves.

Answer as I call you. Nick Bottom, the weaver.

Ready. Name what part I am for, and proceed.

From the very beginning of this exchange, we can see that Quince will have to work very hard to keep Bottom in line. Notice that Bottom starts giving orders before he even introduces himself. Still, Quince remains patient and tries to keep the meeting moving forward. Unfortunately, as Quince gives each actor his part, Bottom continues to make the meeting about him, volunteering to play every part himself. Although Quince is able to convince Bottom to stick to the part he was given, the meeting ends (just as it began) with Bottom cutting Quince off:

. . . But, masters, here
are your parts: and I am to entreat you, request
you and desire you, to con them by to-morrow night;
and meet me in the palace wood, a mile without the
town, by moonlight; there will we rehearse, for if
we meet in the city, we shall be dogged with
company, and our devices known. In the meantime I
will draw a bill of properties, such as our play
wants. I pray you, fail me not.

We will meet; and there we may rehearse most
obscenely and courageously. Take pains; be perfect: adieu.

At the duke's oak we meet.

Enough; hold or cut bow-strings.

The Rehearsal

In the first scene of the third act, Quince, Bottom, and the other actors meet in the woods outside of Athens to rehearse. Before rehearsal can begin, however, Bottom interrupts Quince:

Pat, pat; and here's a marvellous convenient place
for our rehearsal. This green plot shall be our
stage, this hawthorn-brake our tiring-house; and we
will do it in action as we will do it before the duke.

Peter Quince,--

What sayest thou, bully Bottom?

There are things in this comedy of Pyramus and
Thisby that will never please. First, Pyramus must
draw a sword to kill himself; which the ladies
cannot abide. How answer you that?

After Bottom brings up this concern about the play's violent content, two of the other actors (Snout and Starveling) join the conversation:

By'r lakin, a parlous fear.

I believe we must leave the killing out, when all is done.

Not a whit: I have a device to make all well.
Write me a prologue; and let the prologue seem to
say, we will do no harm with our swords, and that
Pyramus is not killed indeed; and, for the more
better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not
Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver: this will put them
out of fear.

Well, we will have such a prologue; and it shall be
written in eight and six.

No, make it two more; let it be written in eight and eight.

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