PTS 10/061: What’s Good for the Goose …

Bottoming out THAT relationship …

BH Paton_Titania
JN Paton

PTS read-through:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act IV

Not for the first time in my read-through, the main thing I want to know is: ‘did they, or didn’t they?’

In this I was egged on by Cedric Watts, though I needed little encouragement, in truth.  Still, it’s convenient to blame him for my prurience.  If my answer is the same as Watts’: ‘of course!’, it begs a second question on which we differ:

‘Does it matter?’

First, let’s establish whether or not Bottom and Titania have made love.  Watts says:

Oberon, having discovered Titania ‘seeking sweet favours’ for Bottom, had become jealously angry:

I did upbraid her and fall out with her,
For she his hairy temples then had rounded
With a coronet of fresh and fragrant flowers (4.1.49-51)

This is evidence that Titania has been well gratified, and it certainly proves that Oberon has not been aware of all that Bottom and Titania have done together, for he is disconcerted to see that this coronet has been made – a crown for a king’s rival.

At Act 4, scene 1, when Bottom and Titania reappears, it’s clear that there has been an amatory interim. Bottom (her ‘gentle joy’) is now relaxed and at ease, ready for food and sleep, while Titania lovingly embraces him. They resemble a slightly absurd and intoxicated, yet patently gratified, honeymoon couple. [1]

I’m convinced.  There is something undeniably post-coital about the atmosphere here:  all that’s missing is Bottom lying back with that bittersweet cigarette and blowing melancholy smoke rings at the wood’s canopy.  Before drowsiness overcomes them both, Titania dismisses her court and tells Bottom:

‘So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist; the female ivy so
Enrings the barky fingers of the elm.
O how I love thee! How I dote on thee!’ [2]

In glossing this passage, Harold F Brooks, the Arden’s editor, gets hung up on Shakespeare’s botanical accuracy.  I’d rather concentrate on the image of the ivy, and its connotations.  The more I read The Dream, the more I see connections to The Tempest, and the ivy makes a memorable image there too, when Prospero complains:

now he was
The ivy which had hid my princely trunk,
And suck’d my verdure out on’t [3]

If these seemingly disparate metaphors have one thing in common, it is the idea of intimacy.  Prospero is complaining of his being eclipsed by his brother – aside from Miranda, there is no-one closer to him in terms of kin.  In this case – and I think it is a good example of the versatility of Shakespeare’s writing – Titania is talking about physical proximity, and the undeniably sexual entwining of limbs and bodies.  This intimacy is obviously not foreplay here, and so I suggest it must be post-coital.

Of course, always looking for something different to say, we might consider the idea that (as Prospero points out) ivy is a strangling, parasitic plant that eventually destroys its host.  I think this meaning is also appropriate here, when we consider the mythology surrounding the Queen of the Fairies and the fate of any men who fall under her spell.  Bottom receives better treatment; more on that later.

To my second question.

BH medusa caravaggio
Caravaggio’s Medusa

In looking at Act II I used the phrase ‘frisson of jealousy’ to describe the spat between Oberon and Titania, as they throw back and forth the names of mortals they’ve dallied with.  This intermingling of mortal and immortal is nothing new – classical mythology is chock full of immortals, usually men, who play away.  And, usually, it is the poor mortal who suffers – look at Medusa, incidentally another transformation. [4]



It’s also worth pointing out – as Watts does – that:

‘Titania was the ancient name of Circe, the seductive enchantress who turned men into beasts’  Watts, p.142

It’s what she does.

There’s scorn in the Act II exchange, accusations of hypocrisy, but we never sense that these dalliances are more serious than the argument over the Indian boy.  If we look again at Watts’ analysis, I think it’s important to point out that what makes Oberon ‘jealousy angry’ is the crown, not the infidelity.  I suggest that because they are immortals, these partialities are so brief as to be almost instantly forgettable.

Oberon might be quick to anger, but there’s no sense of grudge here:

Her dotage now I do begin to pity […]

And now I have the boy, I will undo

This hateful imperfection of her eyes. (IV,i,46, 61-62)

It was always about the boy, and having (perhaps distastefully) won this custody battle, Oberon removes the enchantment.  This is one reason, perhaps, why Bottom isn’t punished for his Promethean overreaching.  Another, of course, is that this is a wedding play, and such negative omens need to be avoided.  A third, just maybe, is that it would be unwise for a playwright to implicitly criticise a Queen (with Elizabeth quite possibly attending the first performance) for having a fling with a favourite of any description.

And so Bottom emerges unscathed from the:

‘ineffable fusion of the base and the exalted: of the mortal, human, animal, grotesque, and male, with the female, beautiful, regal, superhuman, and immortal.’   Watts, (p.141)

There’s a final resonant link between The Dream and The Tempest in Bottom’s awakening.  Compare Caliban’s beautiful lyrical speech:

‘in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.’ (The Tempest, Act III sc ii)


‘I have had a most rare  vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream’ (IV.i.203-206)

Bottom expresses his wonder more simply, perhaps, but there’s still a beauty to this passage.

I’ve one final, unrelated observation to make about act IV, and it concerns Helena.

When I read The Comedy of Errors I felt that Shakespeare had left his plot resolutions very late in Act V.  Not so here, where all business is resolved so that we can kick back and enjoy the Mechanicals’ entertainment.

But first, Helena seems to have finally gotten her man.  However, it is only through another enchantment that Demetrius declares:

The object and the pleasure of mine eye,
Is only Helena. To her, my lord,
Was I betroth’d ere I saw Hermia:
But, like in sickness, did I loathe this food:
But as in health, come to my natural taste,
Now I do wish it, love it, long for it,
And will for evermore be true to it. (IV.i.169-175)

I wonder if the magic will last …


[1] Cedric Watts, ‘Does Bottom Cuckold Oberon?’, in John Sutherland and Cedric Watts, Henry V, War Criminal?  And Other Shakespeare Puzzles, (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2000), p.139.  All future references given in the body of the text.

[2] William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Arden Second Edition), ed. Harold F. Brooks, (London: Methuen Drama, 2007), IV,i,41-44.  All future references given in the body of the text.

[3] William Shakespeare, The Tempest (Arden Third Edition), ed. Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T Vaughan, (London:  Methuen Drama, 2011)

[4] ‘Medusa’, Encyclopedia Mythica,, (accessed 23 February 2018)

[5] ‘Circe’, Encyclopedia Mythica,, (accessed 23 February 2018)


Abel Guerrero, ‘What’s Good for the Goose:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act IV’, The Boar’s Head, East Cheap, [accessed Day Month Year].

Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

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