Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Puck is one of Shakespeare's most enjoyable characters. In "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Puck is a mischievous sprite and Oberon's servant and jester.

Puck is perhaps the play's most adorable character and stands out from the other fairies that drift through the play. But Puck is not as ethereal as the play's other fairies; rather, he is coarser, more prone to misadventure, and goblin-like. Indeed, one of the fairies describes Puck as a “hobgoblin” in Act 2, Scene 1.

As his “hobgoblin” reputation suggests, Puck is fun-loving and quick-witted. Thanks to this mischievous nature, he triggers many of the play's most memorable events.

Is Puck Male or Female?

Although usually played by a male actor, it's worth noting that nowhere in the play is the audience told whether Puck is male or female and there are no gendered pronouns used to reference Puck. The character's alternate name is Robin Goodfellow, which is also fairly androgynous.

It is interesting to consider that Puck is regularly thought to be a male character based solely on his actions and attitudes during the play. It is also worth pondering how it would affect the play's dynamic (and its outcome) if Puck were cast as a female fairy.

Puck's Use and Misuse of Magic

Puck uses magic throughout the play for comic effect-most notably when he transforms Bottom's head into that of an ass. This is the most memorable image of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and demonstrates that while Puck is harmless, he is capable of cruel tricks for the sake of enjoyment.

Puck is not the most mindful of fairies. For example, Oberon sends Puck to fetch a love potion to use it on the Athenian lovers to stop them bickering. However, since Puck is prone to making unfortunate mistakes, he smears the love potion on Lysander's eyelids instead of Demetrius's, which leads to some unintended results.

Puck never really accepts responsibility for the mistake-made without malice, but his error nonetheless. He continues to blame the lovers' behavior on their own foolishness. In Act 3, Scene 2 he says:

Captain of our fairy band,
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!

All a Dream?

Later in the play, Oberon sends Puck out to fix his mistake. The forest is magically plunged into darkness and Puck imitates the voices of the lovers to lead them astray. This time he successfully smears the love potion on Lysander's eyes, who falls back in love with Hermia.

The lovers are made to believe that the entire affair was a dream, and in the final passage of the play, Puck encourages the audience to think the same. He apologizes to the audience for any "misunderstanding," which re-establishes him as a likable, good character (although not exactly a heroic one).

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.

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