A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written by William Shakespeare, is comprised of interwoven storylines and characters from European folklore. The presence of several distinct plots makes it challenging for readers and viewers to identify the protagonist of the play. The importance of roles is distributed evenly, which complicates the task of hero identification. However, there is a character with the potential to affect both the plot and the atmosphere of the comedy. Puck, who is a fairy from the woods, can be considered the most significant character in the play. There is also evidence suggesting that Puck represents Shakespeare within the work. This paper will provide a character analysis of Pluck and discuss his contributions to the comedy.
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Motivation for Puck’s Introduction
Unlike most of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has an independent storyline consisting of several love stories. The external plot is based on the history of the wedding preparations of Theseus and Hippolyta. The comedy opens with the order of the duke to organize a holiday for Athenian youth and closes with a play by Athenian citizens. An internal conflict forms based on a love triangle of Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius. The driving force behind the comedy is Egeus’s desire to marry his daughter to Demetrius, but it is complicated with the intervention of surreal forces (Kehler 128). In this context, it is not evident who the protagonist is and what spectators should concentrate on. The real meaning of the play is also subtle, and this fact uncovers the genius of Shakespeare.
Most artists portray a person in complete isolation from nature, focusing only on the actions of people. As a result, people appear more disengaged than they are as if they consist of a pure spirit without a body that connects them to the external world (Zeller). Therefore, people who commit evil deeds seem to readers and spectators as more guilty than in reality. Shakespeare addresses the issue by incorporating external forces into the play. However, rather than depicting them as surreal phenomena, the author portrays them as characters in the comedy. It is tempting to state that King Fairy has the leading role. However, as indicated by Lysandra, most events often go not as planned, but the word “fairy” is associated with favorable outcomes (Shakespeare 25). On the other hand, there is Puck, who can be blamed for all mistakes and failures. Thus, Oberon’s servant is a necessary component in Shakespeare’s narrative.
Puck in the folklore of the Frisians, Saxons, and Scandinavians is a forest spirit (similar to the ancient Pan), which scares people or makes them wander around the forest. He is also considered an analog of Hauskobold, since, according to the legend, if he is left with food, he can help with the housework (Larkin 8). In England, he is also called the Hobgoblin and Robin Goodfellow. In folk tales and superstitions of the Scandinavian tribes, Puck appears as a rather frightening, almost demonic creature (Larkin 7). In English folklore, it is a funny elf, trickster, and joker fairy.
Shakespeare’s use of a mythical creature in his work is intentional to emphasize the ubiquitousness of events associated with Puck. Whenever people find themselves in challenges and problems, they often blame third parties and external influence. The author does not invite readers to start believing in myths. He only indicates that humans are always in search of a scapegoat they can use to put all the blame onto. Puck perfectly meets this requirement because, since ancient times, the creature is blamed for a variety of misfortunes. For instance, he is believed to be behind occasions when people get lost in the woods (Larkin 8). This trick is considered his favorite, which is why the character is often associated with forests.
Puck’s Role in the Play
Puck is one of the main servants of Oberon, the King Fairy. The character is introduced into the play as someone who will resolve the conflict occurring between Oberon and Titania. Puck is sent to find a flower juice of which can make a person fall in love with the first person they see upon waking up. Oberon considers this as revenge on Titania, who refused to accept an Indian boy as a knight. At first glance, Puck is an ordinary jester and an assistant of Oberon, and cannot make significant contributions to the plot. However, the author chose the character to serve another role besides being Oberon’s servant.
Throughout the play, interpretations and opinions of Puck provide spectators with a different perspective on the events happening in the play. It seems like Shakespeare wanted to avoid ambiguity and thus made Puck interpret on some occasions. The character provides detailed information on why Oberon and Titania, the King and the Queen of fairies, are disputing. The plot would be more challenging to follow without background knowledge provided by him. Puck also makes comments as if the role of the character is to entertain the spectators. Therefore, it can be considered that Puck plays a central role despite the lack of character development in the play.
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Puck is the one who makes A Midsummer Night’s Dream a comedy. The character’s remarks about the nature of people and the trait of always playing tricks on other people add the entertaining component to the play. These tricks and jokes do not provoke indignation because they are mostly harmless. On the contrary, they provide viewers with a sense that the work should be perceived with humor.
Most readers may describe Puck as a mischievous character, but his most significant trait is his loyalty. He is committed to serving Oberon and follows all his orders without questioning King Fairy’s authority. When demanded to find the magical flower, Puck takes his leave to fulfill this objective. When Oberon demands that Puck punish Demetrius for mistreating Helena, Puck takes on the task without any hesitation. Despite being attributed with titles that are not so honorable, Robin Goodfellow is a favorable servant.
Although Puck has the role of an assistant, it does not mean that the character lacks personal opinion. Conversely, Puck has skills of reasoning and critical thinking, although they are often fallacious. He engages in critiquing common people’s actions, such as falling in love. His intellectual capacity is demonstrated by his choice of words when speaking and when grumbling about other people. Related to how the audience may think of the characters of the play, Puck manifests these opinions in the form of verbal reasoning.
Aside from all other character traits, the comic element in Puck’s personality is the most significant in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Starting with simple jokes on ordinary people and misleading them in the woods and ending with a dramatic performance with turning Nick Bottom’s head into a donkey’s body part, Puck’s tricks fill the play with a unique atmosphere. He commits such deeds not because of jealousy or ill will, but because they provide the character with genuine pleasure. While fairies are generally associated with righteousness, Puck’s interpretation of virtue may be slightly different.
Although Puck is primarily associated with mischievousness and controversial manners, he is not evil. In some folklore, Puck is associated with the devil, but in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his representation is of Robin Goodfellow. He intends no harm, and this statement is proven when he mistakes Demetrius with Lysander and purs the magic flower juice into Lysander’s eyes. To correct his fault, Puck finds Demetrius and accomplishes his task. As a result, both Lysander and Demetrius fall in love with Helena, which makes Puck worry. His concern for someone else’s fate shows that a Puck is a good fellow, as his name suggests. His other traits, which may contradict this goodness, are only a sign of his versatility.
Shakespeare does not provide a detailed description of Puck, but the character’s action may tell a lot upon closer inspection. Puck is granted powers that ordinary humans do not possess. It is seen that he misuses his power and plays tricks on people. However, at the same time, although capable of accomplishing greater evil, he restricts himself to harmless jokes. Therefore, in a sense, it is possible to compare Puck with a child who is willing to attain powers despite not knowing how to put them to good use. At the same time, Puck has become well-known because of his notable trickery, which incentivizes him to continue doing what he does. Shakespeare does not explain why causing trouble provides fairies with pleasure. However, Puck says that he enjoys when items change “preposterously,” which means that he likes to turn things around (Kehler 370). He does not explain why exactly he attains pleasure from such activities, which is similar to how children often cannot explain the reason behind their certain actions (Maudie). He becomes aware of the consequences when King Fairy points at his mistake.
Significant development takes place when Oberon tells Puck that he mistook Lysander for Demetrius. Similar to how a parent teaches his child responsibility, Oberon orders Puck to correct his error (Maudie). Giving guidance is considered to be a way to demonstrate to a child what responsibility is (Maudie). Oberon takes a similar approach, explaining to Puck why he made a mistake and how to correct it. After this event, it seems that Puck slightly changed his attitude toward trickery.
Puck is often depicted as a male creature in fiction and mythology. Interestingly, Shakespeare does not speak of Puck’s gender. No reference could indicate the gender, and no pronouns were used when referring to Puck. Shakespeare might have intentionally chosen this strategy to provide viewers with the freedom to manipulate the interpretation of the story. When spectators consider Puck to be male, he can be perceived as a child in pursuit of powers that he does not yet know how to use. Alternatively, viewers may think of him as a direct representation of Robin Goodfellow and Puck from traditional folklore. However, if the audience perceives Puck as a female character, the dynamics of the play changes significantly. Many alternative interpretations of Puck’s decisions may emerge based on knowledge of woman psychology.
The ending of A Midsummer Night’s Dream leaves plenty of room for contemplation. At the end of the play, Puck emerges before the audience to apologize if any of the characters or spectators were treated unfairly and unfavorably. Puck suggests that everything that was portrayed is a mere dream and that he intended no harm to any of the characters or viewers. On the one hand, the last monologue further proves that Puck is not an evil character but always pursues favorable outcomes. On the other hand, it also promotes the idea that Puck is Shakespeare’s manifestation in the play.
The soliloquy may serve as the explanation as to why Shakespeare chose Puck as the central character. If Puck is thought of as Shakespeare’s representation in the comedy, many questions could be answered. First, Puck is a ubiquitous character that appears in mythologies of many nations. Similarly, Shakespeare’s presence in literature is universal, and his works involve many literary techniques that are used intensively all over the world. Furthermore, Puck often takes the role of the interpreter, as if the character is serving the position of Shakespeare’s alter ego. Puck knows more than other characters and can provide the audience with much more in-depth insight than other participants of the play. This evidence suggests that Puck might be the author of the comedy. As already mentioned, Puck’s presence is what makes the play a comedy. His contribution to the work goes beyond the plotline and involves elements such as the audience’s perception, the overall atmosphere of the play, and how the story ends.
The most interesting part of the last monologue is when Puck asks for forgiveness before the audience. It is reasonable to ask why the character does it. It would have been understandable if Puck asked the affected characters themselves. However, Puck wants to ensure that the spectators like the play and perceive it as a comedy without making harsh contemplations about Puck’s attitude. This part of the soliloquy suggests that Shakespeare is asking the readers and viewers to assess the play, and if they do not like it, he asks to be patient. Shakespeare may be hinting at writing another comedy if the audience does not enjoy the play. These pieces of evidence suggest that Puck is the manifestation of the author in the play. The author is omnipresent, well-known, and always thinks of his readers.
Puck has a significant role in A Midsummer Night’s Dream because of several factors. First, the character is in the middle of the story, where several plotlines meet with each other. Being initially dispatched to attain the magical flower, Puck meets Demetrius, Lysander, Helena, and Hermia, connecting several lines into one. Furthermore, the comic element of the play is entirely created by Puck’s tricks and jokes. The character also interprets some of the events and provides the audience with background information. Puck almost serves as the author of the story, and the last monologue only proves this claim.
Kehler, Dorothea, ed. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Critical Essays. Routledge, 2001.
Larkin, Alexandra. “Forgotten Fairies: Traditional English Folklore in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.” The Criterion, vol. 2018, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1-12.
Maudie, Kelly. “Teaching Children Responsibility.” University of Missouri Extension, 2020. Web.
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Shakespeare, William. The Comedy of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. University Microfilms, 1969.
Zeller, Johannes. “Nature and Its Relationship to the Individual in the 19th Century American Literature.” GRIN Verlag, 2020. Web.