Before we explore the character of Puck, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, let us just remind you how you can explore a Shakespearean character in any of our published plays. If you haven’t tried out our techniques of using ‘Parts and Cues’ and ‘Highlit Text’ to explore a Shakespeare character, then you’ll find it helpful to read the detailed explanation we give for the character Hamlet (click on Let’s Explore Hamlet).
However there’s a word of warning. Character portrayal in Shakespeare’s plays varies considerably over time. In the early plays (and A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a good example), the plays make use of stock characters. Stock characters had been a part of theatre since Ancient Greek times (see Stock characters in Wikipeidia); in Roman times, Plautus (known to have influenced Shakespeare e.g. The Comedy of Errors) had his own set of stock characters; and much closer to Shakespeare, commedia dell’Arte has a set of stock characters grouped into: the vecchi (the upper-class, or masters); the zanni (the working-class, often comics); the innamorati (the young lovers). A Midsummer Night’s Dream uses many of these stock characters. Without trying to allocate each every character, it’s clear that there are vecchi (Theseus, Hippolyta, Egeus, Titania, Oberon, etc); zanni (the mechanicals & Puck, etc) and innamorati (Hermia, Helena, Lysander, Demetrius).
In these plays, the drama comes, not so much from development of character, but from the conflicts that arise, and are resolved, between stock characters.
In Shakespeare’s later plays, the drama often comes from how characters develop during the play: Othello changes as Iago manipulates him; King Lear changes character and learns, as his situation changes from powerful king disposing of his power to mad man lost in a storm; in The Tempest one could make a case for saying the drama is primarily about Prospero’s struggle to find the best down-sitting for his daughter; forgive his enemies; and prepare for death.
Whatever character a player is portraying, the challenge is usually to make the character (stock or developing) appear to be a ‘real person’.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at the character of Puck.
Puck, or Robin Goodfellow
- Puck (and the fairies) first appear in A2S1, where Oberon and Titania fight over an Indian changeling boy. However we also learn a lot about Puck in this scene. He has two main speeches (see them in Parts and Cues format). In the first, we learn a lot about the struggle between Titania and Oberon, but in the second speech, we get a good idea of what Puck is like. Robin Goodfellow is a traditional folk character, who behaves as Puck describes a rather badly behaved comic character.
- Puck appears in A2S2 and in A3S1, but his speeches seem aimed at moving the plot forwards rather than reveal his character. In A2S2 he puts flower juice on Lysander’s eyes, which results in him falling in love with Helena, and in A3S1, he puts an ass’s head on Bottom.
- A3S2 is Puck’s big scene. He brings Oberon up to speed with what has happened to Titania and Bottom, and then demonstrates and enjoys ‘what fools these mortals be’. It’s worth reading the whole scene in Parts and Cues mode, to focus on Puck, and then in Highlight Text to get the context of the whole scene.
- At the end of A5S1, after the Rude Mechanicals production of Pyramus and Thisbe, Puck has a major speech preparing for Oberon and Titania to bless the house of Theseus, and then, again, he ends the play by appealing for applause from the audience. See these lines in Parts and Cue format by clicking on the following link: Act Five Scene One – Puck.
The scenes above should help you to come to a view about Puck’s character. Of course, by reading the scenes above, you may well see things differently from what I’ve outlined above, but you should know what you think about Puck.
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