In the stunning masterpiece by H.T. Green, we see the use of perfect artistic strokes, bright colors, and beautiful characters to engage its viewers. The painting explores the short and comical relationship between Titania, the Queen of Fairies, and Bottom, a man cursed with the head of a donkey. In the picture, the Queen, enchanted by the magic nectar, looks lovingly on the hideous creature, much to the amusement of the surrounding fairies. At the top of the painting, Puck flies by, looking proud at his devious creation, having planned the entire scandal in the first place. However, if we look past the beautiful technique, and begin to analyze the painting from a literary standpoint, we see that Green uses a technique known as dissonance – where there is a tension or clash resulting from unsuitable elements – in his painting to showcase the ironic and ridiculous relationship between Bottom and Titania in the play.
Here we began to analyze the absurd relationship between Titania and Bottom. Their love for each other is very odd compared to that between Lysander and Hermia plus Demetrius and Helena. The two couples are of equal social status, have equal amounts of wealth, and possess equal amounts of power. However, that cannot be said for Titania and Bottom. The Queen of fairies, a beautiful woman and creature of unimaginable power, ended up loving an ass – an ugly and hideous creature. Not only this, but the pair have noticeable differences. When Bottom was first introduced in the play, he was seen by the audience as a silly, ridiculous, and overconfident character. Bottom first demonstrates his foolishness when he and the other actors are practicing for their play, Pyramus and Thisbe. He is given the role of Pyramus who is “a lover who kills himself most gallant for love”( Act 1 Scene 2, line 22). Not being satisfied, he then eagerly asks to be Thisbe and the lion as well. “An I may hide my face, let me play Thisbe too. I’ll speak in a monstrous little voice… Let me play the lion too. I will roar that I will do any man’s heart good to hear me” (Lines 49 – 48, and 68 – 69). Bottom does not realize that it is impossible to play three of the most important characters at the same time especially when they appear in the same scene. Not only this, but after being assigned roles for the play, Bottom shouts, “We will meet, and there we may rehearse most obscenely and courageously.” (Lines 103 – 105 Act 1, Section 2). The use of the word ‘obscenely’ is wrong here as the word refers to something disgusting or immoral. Therefore, the audience is given the idea that Bottom is quite foolish. On the other hand, Titania is demonstrated as a strong and kind woman. She denies Oberon’s offer for the child and stands up to her husband, a contrast to the patriarchal dominance in the past. Titania also decides to rescue a boy that lost his mother, simply because the mother was a close friend of hers. ‘Set your heart at rest: The Fairyland buys not the child of me. His mother was a vot’ress of my order, And in the spiced Indian air by night Full often hath she gossiped by my side……But she, being mortal, of that boy, did die, And for her sake I do rear up her boy, And for her sake I will not part with him.’ (Titania; Act 2, Scene 1; Lines 125–129, 140–142).
The differences between the two characters stand out clearly. Therefore, when they are put together in a relationship, Shakespeare conveys that it is absurd and ironic. When Titania wakes up and sees Bottom, her description of him as a wise and beautiful angel is far from the truth. Being described as monstrous and strange just earlier by his fellow actors, this emphasized the ridiculous situation. After waking up, when Titania strokes Bottom’s ears and says the following, “Mine ear is much enamored of they note, So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape, And thy fair virtue’s force perforce doth move me on the first view to say, to sear, I love thee” (Act 3 Sc1 139 – 142). What’s absurd is that the face of the ass that scared the actors out of their minds just seconds earlier is now being cherished and embraced by the Queen. Another point made by Shakespeare is the change of roles for Bottom. Being someone that would easily boast about his skills, Bottom was described as overconfident and foolish. “I will roar that I will do any man’s heart good to hear me. I will roar that I will make the duke say, ‘Let him roar again. Let him roar again!” (Act 1 Scene 2 lines 68 – 71). However, when Bottom talks with Titania at her home, Bottom becomes a wise and sensible man. When Titania proclaims that she loves Bottom with all her heart, he replies with “And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company nowadays” (Act 3 Scene 1 lines 145 – 146). Through this sentence, he implies that true love like the one between Lysander and Hermia means little nowadays as they do not control their own life. In the eyes of the reader, Bottom is promoted to a character that speaks reason instead of rubbish while Titania has been reduced to a feeble fool who is beguiled by her ‘love’ of Bottom. This is extremely shocking and ironic since it was originally Titania who was a strong and reasonable woman, while Bottom was the fool. Another major difference is the social gaps between Titania and Bottom. Titania is regarded as a goddess by the fairies and the humans while Bottom was regarded as a clown by everyone around him. Titania acknowledges this when she says, “And I will purge thy mortal grossness so That thou shalt like an airy spirit go”(Act 3 Scene 1, sentences 162 – 163). Their massive differences in status and social rank makes the romance between them even more unusual.
The painting demonstrates this perfectly. It not only showcases the beautiful fairies and the tranquility of the forest which were described in the play, but also sends a clear message. Surrounded by beautiful fairies and a bright forest, many audience members will immediately focus on the donkey sitting by the tree at first glance. Strangely enough, all of the attention is also focused on Bottom, the ugliest and biggest creature, purposely drawn at the center of the painting. Green even uses the bright paint and beautiful background to allow the reader to think of Bottom as the ‘wise and beautiful angel’ that Titania describes him as. This is exaggerated by putting flowers on Bottom’s head. Why did Green draw out attention to Bottom? This is because Bottom looks as if to be out of place in the picture. One would imagine that a bright painting with vibrant colors would show something beautiful, and not an ass sitting by a tree. If Bottom was replaced by Oberon or some other handsome prince, no one would find any problems with the painting. Titania is also drawn to look at Bottom with fascination and ‘love’. The irony of this is that just seconds earlier, Bottom’s fellow actors had run away from him in fear of that ‘monstrous’ and ‘strange’ creature. Normally, a ‘monster’ like Bottom would have a background of darkness and fire while the background here is bright and soothing. The dissonance used in the painting all adds up to show that Bottom is unsuitable for the relationship between him and Titania.
Both the play and the painting convey a sense of ridicule for the relationship between the two characters. Titania even realizes this herself as after Oberon removes the potion from her eyes, she says, “My Oberon, what visions have I seen! Methought I was enamored of an ass … O, how mine eyes do loathe his (Bottom) visage now” (Act 4 Scene 1, lines 77 – 78, line 82). Green tries hard to show this dissonance in his painting. In fact, the entire scandal was written by Shakespeare to interest the readers. Without the ridiculous pairing between the two, the play would have been ordinary and boring. Instead, Shakespeare uses the massive differences between Titania and Bottom to make the audience feel absurd and laugh about it, therefore making the play more enjoyable. Green uses his painting and dissonance to showcase this ironic and absurd relationship between Bottom and Titania in the play.
- Shakespeare, William, Barbara A Mowat, and Paul Werstine. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. New York: Washington Square Press, 1993. Print.