Shakespeare's stage directions say "Enter the clowns." These, of course, are Bottom and company, who meet in the Athenian woods for their first rehearsal. The rustics reveal further their complete ignorance of theatrical conventions as they discuss some of the things that might go wrong in their performance. Starveling, for instance, suggests that they should "leave the killing out," since violence on stage might frighten the ladies. This presents a problem, however, since the play is a tragedy that must end with the death of Pyramus. Bottom offers a solution: a "prologue" must tell the audience that Pyramus is "not killed indeed," and moreover that the man onstage is not in fact Pyramus, "but Bottom the weaver. This will put them out of fear." Bottom gives a similar advice when Snout worries that the play's "lion" will frighten the audience. Bottom suggests that the actor playing the "lion" ought to recite an apology, reassuring the audience that he is not, in fact, a real lion. It is hard to decide which is funnier: Starveling's and Snout's conviction that the audience will believe that actors actually die onstage and that a man in a cloth lion costume is actually a man-eating beast - or Bottom's desire to ruin all theatrical effects by announcing the fictionality of the play itself.
As the conversation continues thus, Puck enters (using his powers of invisibility). He watches the "hempen homespuns," as he calls them, while they rehearse, and decides to have some fun with the man playing Pyramus. Using some of his magical fairy powers, he transforms Bottom's head into the head of a donkey. The other actors flee in terror at the sight, but Bottom is calmly oblivious: "This is to make an ass of me," he tells himself, punning inadvertently (he hasn't looked into a mirror). He begins to sing to himself so that he doesn't grow fearful, left all alone in the woods. Unbeknownst to Bottom, however, there is someone nearby: the sleeping Titania. Like Lysander, Titania wakes up and falls in love instantaneously, uttering elaborately poetic statements of her love to the "angel" Bottom as soon as she sees him: "I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again/ Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note; / So is mine ear enthrallèd to thy shape." The Fairy Queen then summons her delicate attendants to wait on the incredulous (and incredibly ugly!) Bottom. Puck hastens to tell Oberon the news of how well his wicked plan has worked.
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