An online dramaturgical casebook.

What’s in a name?

The Mechanicals

  • Nick Bottom
    A “bottom” is the wooden spool a weaver winds his thread on.
  • Architectural quoins.

    Peter Quince
    Derived from “quines” or “quoins,” wooden wedges used in carpentry.

  • Robin Starveling
    “Starveling” means someone skinny. Tailors were generally poor and unlikely to be well-fed.
  • Tom Snout
    “Snout” might refer to the spout of a kettle, the sort of thing tinkers would work on.
  • Snug
    Joiners, like carpenters, work with wood — but unlike carpenters, a joiner doesn’t use nails. A joiner’s joints must therefore be especially snug.
  • Francis Flute
    “Flute” could refer equally to Flute’s profession mending bellows — devices that blow air — or to his high voice, as the youngest of the Mechanicals.

The Lovers

[From here] Of the four lovers, the names of Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena, are of course classical; Shakespeare would find lives of Lysander and Demetrius in North’s Plutarch. The name of Hermia, who corresponds with Emilia or Emily of The Knightes Tale, as being the lady on whom the affections of the two young men are set, may have been taken from the legend of Aristotle and Hermia, referred to more than once by Greene. The name cannot be called classical, and appears to be a mistranslation of Hermias.[7]

  • Hermia
    Greek. Feminine form of “Hermes,” meaning “messenger.”
  • Helena
    Greek. Variation of “Helen,” meaning “shining light.”
  • Lysander
    Greek. “Liberator.”
  • Demetrius
    Greek. “Follower of Demeter.”

The Nobles

  • Theseus
    Greek. “Orders.” See Theseus and Hippolyta.
  • Hippolyta
    Greek. “Loosener of horses.” See Theseus and Hippolyta.
  • Egeus
    Greek. “Protection; shield.” Variation of “Aegeus,” Theseus’ father.
  • Philostrate
    Greek. “Master.”
    [From here] The name of Philostrate also comes from Chaucer, where, as we shall see, it is the name adopted by Arcite when he returns to court in disguise, to become first “page of the chamber” to Emelye, and thereafter chief squire to Theseus. It is in this latter capacity that Chaucer’s “Philostrate” is nearest to Shakespeare’s character, the Master of the Revels.

The Fairies

  • Titania
    Greek. Variation of “Titan,” meaning “giant.” Ovid mentions the daughter of the Titans, named Titania.
  • Oberon
    Probably French or German. “Royal bear.” Oberon the elf seems to have first appeared in a 13th century French heroic song, Les Prouesses et faitz du noble Huon de Bordeaux.
  • Peaseblossom
    English. The flower of a pea plant.

    Peaseblossom.

  • Cobweb
    English. A spider’s web.
  • Moth
    English. Also “Mote,” in some versions of the text. A moth is a flying, often nocturnal insect; a mote is a speck of dust.
  • Mustardseed
    English. The spicy seed of a mustard plant.
  • Puck
    See [Puck].

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