Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2011
chudleigh My dear father –
dunscombe (working himself into a passion) See what Shakespeare – himself a player – thinks of the amateur actor. Look at him in the Midsummer Night's Dream – the Weaver Bottom – a conceited, pragmatical, imbecile idiot!
chudleigh And see how Shakespeare rewards him! Who falls in love with this idiot and imbecile? Titania, Queen of the Fairies.
dunscombe Yes, sir. And do you know why? Because Puck, before he shows this broken-brained weaver to Titania, raises him in the scale of intellect from an amateur actor to a donkey. Shakespeare knew that as a donkey he was presentable at the fairy court – as an amateur actor the thing was too impossible.(T. W. Robertson, M.P., 1870)
For all the popularity of the contemporary outdoor productions chronicled in the previous chapter, the amateur performance of Shakespeare continues to inspire embarrassment, anxiety and derision – much of it, like that of Dunscombe Dunscombe, MP, claiming to take its cue from Shakespeare's own depiction of amateur performance in A Midsummer Night's Dream. For Dunscombe, acting is a socially degrading pursuit, inappropriate to the status of his son: public exposure to the stares and critical opinions of an audience is a humiliation which ought to be reserved for members of the untouchable caste of professional players. But the passing of the Victorian social attitudes which make Dunscombe oppose his son's favourite hobby with such vehemence seems to have done little to rehabilitate the pursuit among the literati.