The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.22876  Thursday, 4 December 2003

From:           John Webb <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 3 Dec 2003 13:57:24 -0000
Subject:        Bottom, Weaving Metaphors, Language and Reality

One of the themes in A Midsummer Night's Dream concerns "dream" and
"reality". May I solicit list-members' views about whether Bottom the
Weaver, and specifically his craft as a weaver, is fundamentally
connected with this idea? This question might be significant because
Plato seemed to believe that language, and possibly the world itself,
were "woven".

These beliefs are not confined to Plato, though I don't know of their
actual cultural origin or extent. Plato discussed ideas about dream and
reality in his allegory of the cave. Plato used the metaphor of weaving
in two of his other works, Cratylus and The Statesman.

Cratylus is Plato's theory of language. Plato proposed that names are
not arbitrary labels, but are closely related to the objects they refer
to. Plato used a weaving metaphor to describe this process. The metaphor
that language is woven persists today.

In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks "what's in a name?" It is the [Capulet]
name that separates her from Romeo. This is a similar idea to one Plato
used, when he spoke of names as "instruments for separating" the
elements of what we see. There are some URLs detailing Plato's ideas at
the bottom of this note (I don't fully understand them).

Plato believed that name-making was a rare art: "It is not for every
man, Hermogenes, to give names, but for him who may be called the
name-maker; and he, it appears, is the lawgiver, who is of all the
artisans among men the rarest."

Plato also used the weaving metaphor in The Statesman. Here Plato
referred to the "kingly process of weaving". Plato stated that the
function of a king is to weave together the lives of citizens into a
fabric [of a dream?].

Do the two weaving metaphors used by Plato refer to the same thing? Is
the name-maker, in some sense, king?

The "bottom" was, in English, the core on which the weaver's skein was

Does Bottom represent, in some sense, the weaver of the dream of the

Incidentally, another word for "bottom" is "clew" (see under "bottom",
meaning 13, in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). Skeat's
Etymological Dictionary gives: "Clew, Clue, a ball of thread. The
original sense is a mass of thread, then a ball, then a guiding thread
in a maze, or a clue to a mystery, from the story of Theseus escaping
from the Cretian Labyrinth by the help of a ball of thread".

The moon occurs frequently throughout A Midsummer Night's Dream. This is
a well known symbol for the Other, also represented by Titania. From the
Platonic viewpoint, Bottom is the heroic masculine self, one who comes
to know the Other.

If anyone can fill out any of this, or take these ideas apart, I should
be interested to hear their views.

John Webb

Here are some references. Cratylus, full text:

Names separate the elements of reality:

The name-maker is the law-giver:

The Statesman, full text:

Kingly process of weaving:

Kingly science clothes the fabric of the state:

For those who have seen the film The Matrix, here's a comparison with

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