Peter Quince's name is derived from "quines" or "quoins", which are the strengthening blocks that form the outer corners of stone or brickwork in a building.
Quince's amateurish playwriting is usually taken to be a parody of the popular mystery plays of the pre-Elizabethan era, plays that were also produced by craftspeople. His metrical preferences are references to vernacular ballads. Despite Quince's obvious shortcomings as a writer, Stanley Wells argues that he partly resembles Shakespeare himself. Both are from a craftsmanly background, both work quickly and both take secondary roles in their own plays. Robert Leach makes the same point. In performing the play, Quince recites the prologue but struggles to fit his lines into the meter and make the rhymes. The noble audience makes jocular comments, whilst the rest of the mechanicals struggle.
Traditionally, Peter Quince is portrayed as a bookish character, caught up in the minute details of his play, but as a theatrical organizer. However, in the 1999 film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, he is portrayed by Roger Rees as a strong character extremely capable of being a director. It is he who leads the search party looking for Nick Bottom in the middle of the play. Many interpret Quince to be an author surrogate, representing William Shakespeare, albeit a comical version of himself.
The character is named in the title of a Wallace Stevens poem, "Peter Quince at the Clavier", which is written in the first person as if spoken by Quince. The character also inspired the name of Commander Peter Quincy Taggart in the 1999 filmGalaxy Quest.
Snug is a minor character in the play. He is a joiner from Athens who is assigned by Peter Quince to play the part of the lion in Pyramus and Thisbe. When he is first assigned the part, he is afraid it may take him a while to finally remember his lines. Bottom offers to play the part of the lion, but he is rejected by Quince, who worries that his loud and ferocious roar in the play will frighten the ladies of power in the audience and get Quince and all his actors hanged. In the end, the lion's part is revised to explain that he is in fact not a lion and means the audience no harm. Snug is often played as a stupid man, a manner describing almost all of the Mechanicals. Snug is the only Mechanical to whom the playwright did not assign a first name. In Jean-Louis and Jules Supervielle's french adaptation, Le Songe d'une nuit d'été, Snug is renamed to Gatebois, where Georges Neveux's1945 adaptation used the English names. On the Elizabethan stage, the role of Snug and the other Mechanicals was intended to be doubled with Titania's four fairy escorts: Moth, Mustardseed, Cobweb, and Peaseblossom.
Nick Bottom provides comic relief throughout the play. A weaver by trade, he is famously known for getting his head transformed into that of a donkey by the elusive Puck. Bottom and Puck are the only two characters who converse with and progress the three central stories in the whole play. Puck is first introduced in the fairies' story and creates the drama of the lovers' story by messing up who loves whom, and places the donkey head on Bottom's in his story. Similarly, Bottom is performing in a play in his story intending it to be presented in the lovers' story, as well as interacting with Titania in the fairies' story.
Francis Flute's occupation is a bellows-mender. He is forced to play the female role of Thisbe in "Pyramus and Thisbe", a play-within-the-play which is performed for Theseus' marriage celebration. In the play Flute speaks through the wall to Pyramus. Flute is a young, excited actor who is disappointed when he finds he is meant to play a woman in their interlude before the duke and the duchess. Flute's name, like that of the other mechanicals, is metonymical and derives from his craft: "Flute" references a church organ, an instrument prominently featuring the bellows a bellows-mender might be called upon to repair. In Jean-Louis and Jules Supervielle's french adaptation, Le Songe d'une nuit d'été, Flute is renamed to Tubulure, where Georges Neveux's 1945 adaptation used the English names. On the Elizabethan stage, the role of Flute and the other Mechanicals was intended to be doubled with Titania's four fairy escorts: Moth, Mustardseed, Cobweb, and Peaseblossom.
Tom Snout is a tinker, and one of the Mechanicals of Athens. In the play-within-a-play, Tom Snout plays the wall which separates Pyramus' and Thisbe's gardens. In Pyramus and Thisbe, the two lovers whisper to each other through Snout's fingers. Snout has eight lines under the name of Tom Snout, and two lines as The Wall. He is the Wall for Act V-Scene 1. Tom Snout was originally set to play Pyramus's father, but the need for a wall was greater, so he discharged The Wall. Snout is often portrayed as a reluctant actor and very frightened, but the other mechanicals are usually much more frightened than Tom Snout. Snout's name, like that of the other mechanicals, is metonymical and derives from his craft: "Snout" means a nozzle or a spout, a feature of the kettles a tinker often mends.
Robin Starveling plays the part of Moonshine in their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe. His part is often considered one of the more humorous in the play, as he uses a lantern in a failed attempt to portray Moonshine and is wittily derided by his audience.