Puck (Shakespeare)

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Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow, is a character in William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream that was based on the ancient figure in English mythology, also called Puck. Puck is a clever and mischievous elf and personifies the trickster or the wise knave. In the play, Shakespeare introduces Puck as the "shrewd and knavish sprite" and "that merry wanderer of the night" and jester to Oberon, the fairy king.

Appearances in the play

The audience is introduced to Puck in Act II Scene I when one of Titania's fairies encounters Puck and says::

Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call'd Robin Goodfellow: are not you he
That frights the maidens of the villagery;
Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;
Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?
Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he? (Act ii., Scene i.)

Puck replies,

Thou speak'st aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.
I jest to Oberon and make him smile
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile,
Neighing in likeness of a filly foal:
And sometime lurk I in a gossip's bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab,
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her wither'd dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
And 'tailor' cries, and falls into a cough;
And then the whole quire hold their hips and laugh,
And waxen in their mirth and neeze and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there. (Act ii., Scene i.)

Puck is Oberon's servant and is sent by Oberon, who is angry with Titania the fairy queen, to fetch the flower that has been hit by cupid's arrows. Puck is then instructed by Oberon to use the love juice to fix the love entanglement occurring between the Athenian lovers who also happen to be running about in the forest. He mistakenly administers the charm to the sleeping Lysander instead of Demetrius. Puck provides Nick Bottom with a donkey's head so that Titania will fall in love with a beast and forget her attachment to the Changeling Boy, allowing Oberon to take the child from her. (Oberon does so successfully.) Later, Puck is ordered by Oberon to fix the mistake he (Puck) made, by producing a dark fog, leading the lovers astray within it by imitating their voices, and then applying the flower to Lysander's eyes, which will cause him to fall back in love with Hermia. The four lovers are then made to believe that they were dreaming what took place in the forest (hence the play's title A Midsummer Night's Dream). At the end of the play Puck makes a speech directly to the audience:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends. (Act v. Scene i.)

Puck apologizes to (or perhaps mocks) the audience for anything that might have offended them and suggests that they pretend it was a dream. This monologue directly addresses the audience and ties them in to the play.

During the midpoint of the play, Puck delivers one of his most memorable lines, and in turn, offers comment on both the play and on lovers in real life: "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (Act iii. Scene ii.)

Portrayals of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream

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