a play within a play

Showing the staging of a play within a play is a motif used by Shakespeare and many other dramatists. Perhaps the most well-known example is to be found in Hamlet, where the young prince arranges that a travelling troupe of actors should act out the story of a king who is poisoned, parallelling the crime that has been committed in the also fictional world of the play. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bottom, Quince and the other artisans act out the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe in honour of the weddings in the final act.

Nesting a play within a play establishes several fictional levels, complicating the structure of the play. It also mirrors the play's real audience in the play itself, which can give a meta-perspective on both the act of watching and listening to a play and to acting a play.


The acting of Pyramus and Thisbe, V i 108