Before we explore the character of Quince / Prologue, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, let us just remind you how you can explore a Shakespearean character in any of our published plays. If you haven’t tried out our techniques of using ‘Parts and Cues’ and ‘Highlit Text’, then you’ll find it helpful to read the detailed explanation we give for the character Hamlet (click on Let’s Explore Hamlet).
However there’s a word of warning. Character portrayal in Shakespeare’s plays varies considerably over time. In the early plays (and A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a good example), the plays make use of stock characters. Stock characters had been a part of theatre since Ancient Greek times (see Stock characters in Wikipeidia); in Roman times, Plautus (known to have influenced Shakespeare e.g. The Comedy of Errors) had his own set of stock characters; and much closer to Shakespeare, commedia dell’Arte has a set of stock characters grouped into: the vecchi (the upper-class, or master); the zanni (the working-class, often comics); the innamorati (the young lovers). A Midsummer Night’s Dream uses many of these stock characters. Without trying to allocate every character, it’s clear that there are vecchi (Theseus, Hippolyta, Egeus, Titania, Oberon, etc); zanni (the mechanicals & Puck, etc) and innamorati (Hermia, Helena, Lysander, Demetrius).
In these plays, the drama comes, not so much from development of character, but from the conflicts that arise, and are resolved, between stock characters.
In Shakespeare’s later plays, the drama often comes from how characters develop during the play: Othello changes as Iago manipulates him; King Lear changes character and learns, as his situation changes from powerful king disposing of his power to mad man lost in a storm; in The Tempest one could make a case for saying the drama is primarily about Prospero’s struggle to find the best down-sitting for his daughter; forgive his enemies; and prepare for death.
Whatever character a player is portraying, the challenge is usually to make the character (stock or developing) appear to be a ‘real person’.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at the character of Quince – the ‘director’ of the mechanicals, who also plays Prologue in their play.
Quince / Prologue – the Elizabethan ‘director’
It seems unlikely that Elizabethan theatre companies had, what we call today, a ‘director’. Plays don’t seem to have been rehearsed long enough for the intense discussion between actors and director on character and other matters. And yet, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it seems clear that Quince has overall responsibility for getting the production of Pyramus and Thisbe together: he has selected the play and obtained (?written) the script; he has cast the play; he arranges a rehearsal; and shows much of the nervousness about the production that a director (at least this ex-director) does.
So perhaps it is not unfair to suggest that Quince, in his three scenes, shows us what Shakespeare (comically) thought about Elizabethan directors, and his acting ability when he plays the Prologue in their production:
- Quince (and the rude mechanicals) first appears in A1S2, when they all meet in a ‘production kick-off meeting’ to allocate parts for their production. Although Elizabethan theatre companies may not have had directors, they certainly had actors, and Bottom seems to demonstrate some of their worst failings, making it difficult for Quince to keep his self-control. To catch the undertones of this scene it’s best to read Quince’s lines in Highlight Text mode, to see his interactions with Bottom and the other players.
- The first half of A3S1, Quince’s next scene, is a rehearsal of Pyramus and Thisbe by the rude mechanicals in the Forest. Quince is less assured than at the kick-off meeting, as he worries about production matters, and then his actors start to ruin his finely-crafted prose. Again, it is best to read Quince’s lines in Highlight Text mode. Once Puck has put an Ass’s head on Bottom, Quince completely loses it.
- In A4S2, Bottom has still not re-appeared from getting lost in the Forest. The rude mechanicals meet and regret Bottom’s loss, until he finally arrives. Quince has only a few lines in this scene. They demonstrate how much he depends on Bottom as his lead actor, but don’t say much about his character. Once again, it is best to read Quince’s lines in Highlight Text mode.
- In A5S1, Quince is no longer the director. He has two speeches playing the Prologue to the play, so it’s best to read those lines in Parts and Cues mode. In the first speech, he seems to be suffering a bad case of actor’s nerves, as he completely messes up the punctuation of his speech. It might be worth working out where the full-stops are supposed to go He seems to recover his nerves for the second speech, which is just as well, as it allows us to understand his outline of the plot of the play that they are about to play.
The scenes above should help you to come to a view about Quince’s character. Of course, by reading the scenes above, you may well see things differently from what I’ve outlined above, but you should know what you think about Quince.