Peter Quince is a character immortalized in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. He is one of the six mechanicals of Athens who perform the play which Quince himself authored, "The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe" for the Duke Theseus and his wife Hippolyta at their wedding.
Oberon's Fairies also watch from a distance: Moth, Peaseblossom, Cobweb and Mustardseed. His name is derived from "quines" or "quoins", which are wooden wedges used by carpenters.
Quince's amateurish playwrighting is usually taken to be a parody of the popular mystery plays of the pre-Elizabethan era, which were also produced by craftspeople. His metrical preferences refer 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. The play itself spoofs Shakespeare's own Romeo and Juliet, written earlier.
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 (all except Bottom, who rather confidently improvises).
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 film Galaxy Quest.
- Louis Adrian Montrose, The purpose of playing: Shakespeare and the cultural politics of the Elizabethan theatre, University of Chicago Press, 1996, p.185.
- Stanley W. Wells, Shakespeare and the Elizabethans, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p.60-63.
- Robert Leach, Theatre studies: the basics, Routledge, 2008, p.119.
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