Puck

Who is Puck?

In the play, Puck seems to be some sort of servant or jester to the King of the Fairies, Oberon. He runs errands for him and tries to order others around on his instruction.

However, Puck also seems to be significantly different from the rest of the fairies. All the other fairies we see (Mustardseed, Peaseblossom and the rest of Titania’s crowd, for instance) seem to be entirely subservient and docile. Puck, on the other hand, is mischievous and likes to entertain himself, even Oberon expects him of engineering the mix up of Lysander and Demetrius for his own amusement.

When Puck is first introduced the fairy mentions other names he is known by: Robin Goodfellow and the hobgoblin. This would have made more sense to Shakespearean audiences as Robin Goodfellow was a knave of English folklore who possessed powerful magic and skills, but who was mischievous when he got an opportunity or if someone crossed him in some way. A hobgoblin is a cross between a human and goblin: small and hairy, with some magic and mischief about their character.

The name Puck is believed to be an older form of the same sort of myth.

Role in the Play

I studied ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ twice when I was at school: for GCSEs and AS-level, which really shouldn’t be allowed. However, I always found Puck the difficult character to discuss in essays; he barely has any relationship with any of the other characters (only speaking to a fairy and Oberon), nothing happens to him and he speaks in confusing poetic lyrics throughout.

Now I’m old and grey (my eyebrow hairs), I can acknowledge my prior weakness, but I’ve also got a better idea of how you’d discuss him. Think of Puck as something like a narrator: he progresses events with his explanations and he addresses the audience directly. Also, be aware of his role in English folklore and how he is used as a Shakespeare key humorous tool (above even Bottom… although it is impossible to prefer Puck to Bottom).

Puck as Narrator

Puck as a Story Maker

Puck as a Humorous tool

Summary of Involvement

Act IIAct IIIAct IVAct V

Act II Scene I

– Puck warns another fairy to divert Titania, lest she come across Oberon and the pair are in the middle of a row about who owns the Indian boy. Puck reveals he is Oberon’s servant, but also jester keeping him amused.

– Oberon gives Puck the task to collect the dew of a flower so he play a trick on his wife. Later, when Puck returns with the dew, Oberon instructs that it should also be used to enchant Demetrius to fall for Helena.

Act II Scene II

– Hermia and Lysander are making their way through the forest as the elope. While they rest, Puck arrives and mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and uses the dew on him. Lysander awakes and see Helena and falls madly in love, abandoning Hermia in the forest.

 

Act III Scene I

– As Bottom and company rehearse their dreadful play, Puck arrives ready to make mischief. As they rehearse near Titania, he decides he will bewitch her to fall for Bottom… who he makes even more desirable by replacing his head with that of an ass (Shakespeare and his clever word play!). Puck helpfully directs him to where Titania sleeps.

Act III Scene II

– Puck reports back to Oberon about his successful matchmaking for Titania. However, when he tells Oberon he has been successful with Demetrius he is interrupted by the appearance of Demetrius and Hermia and Oberon highlights his mistake.

– Puck leaves to find Helena so the mistake can be rectified and returns promptly. However, they watch the arguments between the couples unfold before bothering to sort it out. Oberon questions whether Puck has done this deliberately for his own amusement, but Puck makes excuses about Oberon’s instructions being fairly vague, although he admits that he has enjoyed the fall out.

– As Demetrius and Lysander threaten to fight for Helena (complete switch around), Puck leads them away and corrects his mistake after each of the lovers falls asleep after searching hopelessly for each other.

 

Act IV Scene I

– Oberon and Puck observe Titania asleep next to the monstrous Bottom and Oberon knows he’s gone too far. Puck is instructed to make her see with her own eyes again, which puts Titania in a bit of shock although she thinks of this all as a dream.

 

Act V Scene I

– Puck brings the play to an end and addresses the audience to involve them in the play and (like Bottom) assures us that if there is anything we’ve found offensive or difficult to think about we should dismiss the play as a dream.

 

 

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

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