Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Importance of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Puck or Robin Goodfellow is a
character from folklore
Cheeky sprite and Mischievous prankster, Puck plays an integral role in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Shakespeare’s Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, is based on a character of the same name from ancient English, Welsh and Irish folklore; ‘Puca’ (in Irish) being used to identify a half-tame woodland sprite or fairy.

Both the original mythological Puck and William Shakespeare’s incarnation are known for their mischievous antics. However, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck is much more than just a jester. 
In fact, it could be argued that he is the most influential character in terms of the confusion and outcome of the play.

Puck as Oberon’s Fool

Stanley Tucci as Puck
Parallels can be drawn between Puck, “that merry wanderer of the night”(II.i) and any number of Shakespeare’s fools; Feste in Twelfth Night, Touchstone in As You Like It and The Fool in King Lear. The use of clowns, jesters or fools was nothing new, even in the Elizabethan era.
Typically, Shakespeare’s fools are commoners, servants or citizens who are witty and able to run intellectual rings around their masters or ‘betters’. 
As mentioned in my post on the role of Shakespeare's clowns, often fools point out the ridiculousness of a dramatic situation. This is especially true of Puck, who mocks both the mechanicals and the lovers for the audience’s benefit: “Helena is here at hand;/And the youth, mistook by me,/Pleading for a lover's fee./Shall we their fond pageant see?/Lord, what fools these mortals be!”(III.ii)
Many of his pranks are ordered by, or concocted for the amusement of, Oberon. Thus, he is both servant and jester to the fairy king. In addition, his shenanigans, intentional and accidental, amuse and entertain us.

Puck is the Creator of Midsummer Madness

Puck by Joshua Reynolds (1789)
At the beginning of Act II, Puck introduces himself as a sprite with a talent for, and love of, mischief, “…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.” 
He is then quickly sent on two errands: a goodwill mission to encourage Demetrius to fall in love with Helena; and a ploy to humiliate the fairy queen, Titania.
In his attempt to achieve these goals, he unleashes romantic pandemonium. Mistaken identity leads to both Lysander and Demetrius lusting over Helena, leaving Hermia feeling heartbroken and betrayed, while Helena believes herself to be the butt of a joke, resulting in chaos in the Athenian wood. 
This, coupled with the transformation of Bottom, which prompts an infatuation in Titania, turns the play into a comedic farce.
It’s difficult to imagine any other character being able to affect this much destruction and yet still retain his or her likeable nature. Partly, this is due to an honest error, “This is the woman, but not this the man.”(III.ii) 
However, even his very deliberate humiliation of Titania is forgiveable due to his cheeky, almost childlike, sense of humour.

Puck’s Epilogue

The epilogue, which has echoes of the prologue from the mechanicals’ disastrous ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, could only ever be delivered by Puck. 
With tongue firmly in cheek, he apologises for any offence the play may have caused and suggests that, if the audience members have not enjoyed what they have seen, they simply pretend it was all a dream, “Think but this, and all is mended,/That you have but slumber'd here/While these visions did appear.”(V.i)
Here, he acts as ‘mender’, seeking to put right any wrongs that the play, and its characters, have committed. Apt, of course, as he is also the character that fixes the woodland bedlam (albeit one that he was responsible for creating).


  1. Wonderful! Puck is one of my favorite characters.

    1. Hello again, Katherine.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Puck's among my favourites, too. He is one of Shakespeare's most fun characters. I think we're all drawn to those who are naughty, but good-hearted; just the right side of bad.

      Thanks again!