Puck (A Midsummer Night's Dream)

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Vince Cardinale as Puck from the Carmel Shakespeare Festival production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, September, 2000

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, mischievous elf or sprite that 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" in some scenes it would seem that he is longing for freedom and he is also a jester to Oberon, the fairy king. Puck and Bottom are the only two characters who interact and progress the three central stories in the whole play; Puck is the one who is first introduced in the fairies' story and creates the drama of the lovers' story by messing up who loves whom, as well as by placing the ass on Bottom's head 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.

Appearances in the play[edit]

The audience is introduced to Puck in Act 2 Scene 1 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?

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.

In Puck, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, for the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery, the once-dangerous figure is rendered harmless

Puck is Oberon's servant sent by Oberon, who is angry with Titania the fairy queen because he could not have the Indian boy/slave, so Puck is sent 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 (Act 5 Scene 1) Puck delivers a speech in which he addresses the audience directly, apologizing for anything that might have offended them and suggesting that they pretend it was a dream:

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.

Name of character[edit]

The original text of Shakespeare's plays do not have cast lists, and can sometimes be inconsistent about what they call characters, but he is a particularly awkward case. Both the Quarto and the First Folio call him "Robin Goodfellow" on the first entrance, but call him "Puck" later in the same scene, and they remain inconsistent. The Arden Shakespeare decides to call him "Puck", and amends all stage directions (but not actual dialogue) that call him "Robin" or "Robin Goodfellow".[1]

Portrayals of Puck[edit]

Puck by Carl Andersson (skulptor) (sv), Midsommarkransen, Stockholm, Sweden

Film

Television

Theatre

School productions with now famous people

Fine arts

Books

Video Games

Music

References[edit]

  1. ^ Arden Shakespeare introduction and text of A Midsummer Night's Dream
  2. ^ Rubenstein, Charlotte Streifer, ‘’American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions’’, G. K. Hall and Co. Boston, 1990 p. 248