Bottom – Character Analysis

'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

Bottom the Weaver
The Scottish comedian Jock McKay is helped into his costume to play the part of Bottom the weaver in a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, by other members of the cast, 1938. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Bottom provides a lot of the comedy in the play – indeed his very name seems to be constructed as an amusement for the audience. This is especially true today, where the word “bottom” has a more specific connotation that in Elizabethan England, as John Sutherland and Cedric Watts confirm:

[The name] obviously suggests "buttocks" to modern audiences. Holland, p. 147, says that there is no proof that "bottom" had that meaning when Shakespeare was writing. I think it would be unwise to underestimate Shakespeare's associative talents, particularly where the human body is concerned. "Bottom," at that time, could certainly refer to the base of anything and to the capacious curvature of a ship, so an association with "buttocks" seems natural enough.
(Sutherland and Watts, Henry V, War Criminal? and Other Shakespeare Puzzles. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, 213-14)

He is the classic comic fool: the audience laughs at his ridiculous character as opposed to laughing along with him. He is full of self-importance and believes he can play any and all of the roles in the mechanical’s play:

BOTTOM
That will ask some tears in the true performing of
it: if I do it, let the audience look to their
eyes; I will move storms, I will condole in some
measure. To the rest: yet my chief humour is for a
tyrant: I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to
tear a cat in, to make all split.
The raging rocks
And shivering shocks
Shall break the locks
Of prison gates;
And Phibbus' car
Shall shine from far
And make and mar
The foolish Fates.
This was lofty! Now name the rest of the players.
This is Ercles' vein, a tyrant's vein; a lover is
more condoling.

Unfortunately, the play is so bad it's good and the nobles laugh at, it finding the performances ridiculous and therefore amusing rather than enjoying it as a piece of drama.

Bottom demonstrates his bumptiousness when Titania falls in love with him, he can’t quite believe his luck but takes on the role of King quite quickly when she asks her fairies to attend on him:

BOTTOM
I shall desire you of more acquaintance, good Master
Cobweb: if I cut my finger, I shall make bold with
you. Your name, honest gentleman?

PEASEBLOSSOM
Peaseblossom.

BOTTOM
I pray you, commend me to Mistress Squash, your
mother, and to Master Peascod, your father. Good
Master Peaseblossom, I shall desire you of more
acquaintance too. Your name, I beseech you, sir?

MUSTARDSEED
Mustardseed.

BOTTOM
Good Master Mustardseed, I know your patience well:
that same cowardly, giant-like ox-beef hath
devoured many a gentleman of your house: I promise
you your kindred had made my eyes water ere now. I
desire your more acquaintance, good Master
Mustardseed.
(Act 3 Scene 1)

Bottom is confident despite his shortcomings and, in some ways, that is a very admirable quality. We all know people like Bottom and this adds to our enjoyment of his character.

Bottom’s lack of self-awareness allows him to be a likeable comic character who is also irrepressible and will continue to amuse even after his play has ended:

BOTTOM
Not a word of me. All that I will tell you is, that
the duke hath dined. Get your apparel together,
good strings to your beards, new ribbons to your
pumps; meet presently at the palace; every man look
o'er his part; for the short and the long is, our
play is preferred. In any case, let Thisby have
clean linen; and let not him that plays the lion
pair his nails, for they shall hang out for the
lion's claws. And, most dear actors, eat no onions
nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath; and I
do not doubt but to hear them say, it is a sweet
comedy. No more words: away! go, away!
(Act 4, Scene 2)