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, based on the ancient figure of Puck found in English mythology.

Puck is a clever, mischievous fairy, sprite, or jester. He is the first of the main fairy characters to appear, and creates the drama of the human lovers' story by splitting up a young couple lost in an enchanted forest. As a "shrewd and knavish sprite", he is an impish trickster and delights in pranks and practical jokes, like replacing Bottom's head with that of an ass.

Appearances in the play[edit]

The audience is introduced to Puck in Act 2 Scene 1 when one of Titania's fairies encounters Puck:

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?

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.
But, room, fairy! Here comes Oberon

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

Puck is the servant of the fairy king Oberon, who is angry with Titania the fairy queen. Oberon is jealous of Titania's fondness for her Indian slave boy. Puck is sent to fetch a flower that, having been struck by Cupid's arrows, now has the power to induce love in anyone who drinks its juices. Puck is then instructed by Oberon to use the love flower to fix the love entanglement occurring between the Athenian lovers who are on a merry chase 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 slave boy, allowing Oberon to take the child from her. Later, Puck is ordered by Oberon to fix the mistake he has 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 wonder if the events that occurred in the forest were real, or merely a shared delusion (or, to put it another way, 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, and suggests that anyone who might have been offended by the play's events should, like the characters, consider that the whole performance was just a bad 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 texts of Shakespeare's plays do not have cast lists, and can sometimes be inconsistent about what they call characters, but Puck's is a particularly awkward case. Both the Quarto and the First Folio call the character "Robin Goodfellow" on the first entrance, but "Puck" later in the same scene, and they remain inconsistent. The Arden Shakespeare calls the character "Puck," and amends all stage directions (but not actual dialogue) that refer to the character as "Robin" or "Robin Goodfellow".[1]


Puck by Carl Andersson (sculptor) [sv], Midsommarkransen, Stockholm, Sweden
Puck (c. 1810–1820) is one of Henry Fuseli's more sinister depictions of the character
School productions with now famous people
Fine arts
Other literature
  • Puck is a character in the children's-book series The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley.
  • In Neil Gaiman's comic-book The Sandman, Puck and other fairies watch Shakespeare's company of actors perform A Midsummer Night's Dream. After the play, Puck decides to remain in the "mortal" world and appear in later stories.[4]
  • The Berserk_(manga) also features a fairy by the name of Puck who serves as a light-hearted and often mischievous counterpoint to the seriousness of the series' protagonist Guts.


  1. ^ Arden Shakespeare introduction and text of A Midsummer Night's Dream
  2. ^ Burnett, Mark Thornton; Streete, Adrian; Wray, Ramona (31 October 2011). "The Edinburgh Companion to Shakespeare and the Arts". Edinburgh University Press. Retrieved 15 October 2017 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Rubenstein, Charlotte Streifer, American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions, G. K. Hall and Co. Boston, 1990 p. 248
  4. ^ Levenson, Jill L.; Ormsby, Robert (27 March 2017). "The Shakespearean World". Taylor & Francis. Retrieved 12 October 2017 – via Google Books.

External links[edit]