Internet Shakespeare Editions


The play-within-the-play: tragical mirth

The death of Thisbe. From the Roxburghe Ballads. University of Victoria Library.

A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth.

In Pyramus and Thisbe, Shakespeare parodies earlier plays, and presumably earlier acting styles. Bottom, who would have been played by the renowned clown, Kempe, claims to be especially knowledgeable about both acting (he wants all the parts), and props--even the kind of beard to perform in.

By Shakespeare's time, far more sophisticated plays were being acted before royalty--often by companies of child actors. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Francis Flute has to play the female part because he is the youngest--despite his protest: "Nay, faith, let me not play a woman. I have a beard coming" (1.2.48-49). (Click for more on child actors .)