If only we could always see things for what they are. Shakespeare often uses nature to reveal characters’ true nature, and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this technique, aided by a little magic, provides a lesson apropos to the current political environment.
Bottom is a bossy, rude, arrogant, and oblivious “weaver.” [Dramatis Personae]. He brings to mind Donald Trump because he is unaware of what an ass he is. Until, that is, he literally morphs into one, courtesy of some of Puck’s mischief. How nice it would be if simply sprinkling some fairie dust on Trump would force voters to see him more clearly.
Although Bottom’s name hints at his character, and amuses the audience, it also refers to his craft: “The names of the craftsmen are derived in one way or another from their work… Bottom is named for the bottom, or core on which thread is wound.” (I,i,footnote o.s.d.) The craftsmen’s dramatic troupe plan a play to celebrate the Duke and Duchess of Athens’ nuptials. Although Quince is ostensibly the producer and director, Bottom literally butts in and interrupts repeatedly, pushily trying to usurp him. He waxes melodramatic when Quince assigns him the role of Pyramus, but then proceeds to suggest that he himself play literally every other role in the play. He, like Trump, likes the spotlight, and is loathe to give others credit. “Let me play Thisby, too,” (I,ii,51-2) he cries. “Let me play the lion, too,” (I,ii,70) he wails. Neither of them play well with others.
His borderline bullying behavior continues in the wood, where the troupe goes to rehearse. He insists on including a prologue, and wants to write it himself. He tries to micromanage every detail of the production, down to the costumes.
Puck, as Oberon’s (King of the Fairies) mercurial, mischievous minion, sees Bottom for the boor (and awful actor) that he is. He pranks him by giving him an ass’s head.
In the Globe, this would have been an over-the-head mask. In the 1999 movie, make up and prosthetics transform Kevin Kline. His pointy ears surround, well, a sort of combover. He resembles Trump with his over-applied bronzer and fake hair helmet. Nature, with a little help from Puck’s prestidigitation, reveals here what the city smog, hustle, and bustle conceal. Ironically, the mask reveals the true persona.
With his ass-head, his troupe sees the real Bottom, and it scares them. They flee. If only the mesmerized masses would see Trump for what he is and flee. Titania (Queen of the Fairies), who is deluded with love potion (like some of Trump’s followers — the only rational explanation I can think of for his adoring groupies), falls for and fawns over him with blind admiration. Bottom eats this up (as does Trump), and refuses to accept or understand the troupe’s rejection (just as Trump does when taken to task over his misogyny and racism): “You see an ass-head of/Your own, do you?” (III,i,115-6), and:
“I see their knavery. This is to make an ass of/me, to fight me, if they could; but I will not stir/from this place, do what they can. I will walk up and/down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear I am/not afraid.” (III,i,120-4)
Titania’s adulation surprises Bottom, but he accepts it nevertheless, noting — quite apropos of the current candidate circus — “To say the truth, reason/and love keep little company together now-a-days.” (III,i,143-4) She encourages her entourage to treat him with graciously despite how clearly they can see his ass-headed-ness.
At least Bottom begins to notice his own unruly do: “methinks I am marvail’s hairy/about the face; and I am such a tender ass.” (IV,i,24-5). Trump has worse hair and less self-awareness.
Oberon (too close to “Obama” for comfort?) realizes that he has, in some ways, driven Titania into Bottom’s arms, and seeks to undo the travesty:
“I will undo/This hateful imperfection of her eyes./And, gentle Puck, take this transformed scalp/From off the head of this Athenian swain,/That he, awakening when the other do,/May all to Athens repair,/And think no more of this night’s accidents/But as the fierce vexation of a dream.” (IV,i,62-9)
Oh, that we could uncover Trump’s pate with the snap of our fingers and all wake up from the nightmare starring him. Fortunately, Titania does wake up with clear vision. “Methought I was enamor’d of an ass.” (IV,i,77) “O, how mine eyes do loathe this visage now!” (IV,i,79)
Finally, everyone else awakens from the dream. Even Bottom admits “Man is but an ass,/if he go about [t’] expound this dream.” (IV,i,205-6) If only Trump would abdicate thus. Interestingly, when Bottom awakens he, for the first time in the play, shows concern not to offend others: “eat no onions/nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath.” (IV,ii,42-3) Trump has had no such epiphany.
As Shakespeare ties up all the loose ends, Theseus (Duke of Athens) and Demetrius sum up the ills of politics then (and now):
Theseus: “I wonder if the lion be to speak.” Demetrius: “No wonder, my lord; one lion may, when/many asses do.” (V,i,153-4)
And Puck, in his plea for audience approval, reveals the irony of having elucidated reality through the devices of mask and dream:
“If we shadows have offended,/Think but this, and all is mended,/That you have but slumb’red here/While these visions did appear./And this weak and idle theme,/No more yielding but a dream.” (V,i,423-8)
Trump is an ass. How gratifying it would be to be able to remedy “The Donald” problem by just wiping our eyes to awaken from the nightmare that he is for our country.