Explore the character of Puck and his role in the play, especially in Act 3 Scene 2
We are first introduced to Puck in the second act, through a fairy servant of Titania’s, who
recognises him to be Robin Goodfellow, the ‘cruel and knavish sprite’ servant-companion of Oberon,
showing us that Puck and Oberon together represent the comedic convention of Servant and
Master. Puck’s first dialogue in the scene is commanding in tone, asking the fairy “wither wander
you?” The caesura in the line, prior to this question, draws attention to the question about to be
asked, and demands the fairies attention to whatever Puck has to say, giving the impression that
Puck thinks himself to be superior to this fairy by asking the question. His inflated sense of self
importance is also demonstrated later on in this encounter, when Puck says that his purpose is to
“make [Oberon] smile”, rather than to serve him and do Oberon’s dirty work, however his perceived
role is undermined by Oberon himself, whilst he is plotting to put the “love juice” on Titania’s eyes,
however Puck’s perceived role conflicts with his servant master relationship with Oberon, although
the reason for the inflated sense of self importance is in itself from the relationship with the King of
Fairies Oberon; to serve him is to be the most respected and highest ranking fairy servant in the
wood. Oberon continues in a semi-soliloquy type speech for some time about his plan, before asking
Puck if he remembers where to find the plant, and Puck replies “I remember”; a short sentence,
showing Oberon to be completely consumed in his plan, and Puck only to be there for his services,
however in juxtaposition to this impression of insignificance of Puck to Oberon, he also relies on him,
to fix the situation with the Athenian mortals in the wood. Puck and Oberon’s Servant and Master
relationship shows an alternative side of Puck than the one he projects himself; submissive and
obeying, as opposed to expressive, confident and a little arrogant.
The Servant and Master relationship between the two, which allows for Puck to be in control of
some things, including the mortal lovers’ situations, gives the opportunity for Puck to adopt the
comedic role of Lord of Misrule, although his role also in some ways parallels Philostrate’s role of
Master of the Revels. As Master of the Revels, Philostrate is responsible for the entertainment to the
court, and determining which entertainments, for example musicians and actors, suitable for
Theseus, Hippolyta. Puck’s role mimics this, as he is responsible for organising entertainment, all be
it unofficial and personally for Oberon alone, as we can see in Act three, scene two when Oberon
says that Puck’s plan, which resulted in Titania falling in love “with an ass” “falls out better than I
could devise”, showing that Oberon does find it funny. As Lord of Misrule, Puck is given the power to
provide entertainment for Oberon, and in doing this, himself. When he says “That must needs be
sport alone; / and those things do best please me / That befall prepost’rously”, Puck is showing an
enjoyment at the mortals’ expense, particularly in the use of the word “sport”, however this is not a
bad thing, as continuing his Master of the Revels position, his light-heartedness encourages the
audience to also enjoy the situation. The shorter, seven syllable lines that continue in the dialogue
from Oberon squeezing the “love juice” onto Demetrius’ eyes at first from Oberon seem mysterious
as they take on an incantatory, chanting, spell like quality, however when Puck continues this it
changes from mysterious to light-hearted, and sing song like, changing the tone from mysterious to
hilarious.
Since Puck’s first appearance in the play, he provides farcical comedy to the play, further lightening
the tone and mood. His description of the things he does in the village, including making a maid fall
on “her bum, down topples she, / and tailor cries”, is a very physical image, and the syntax of the
line, with the later part saying “down topples she” gives the impression that Shakespeare would
have wanted the character playing Puck to re-enact this, the syntax allowing for the maximum
physical comedy to be extracted from the line. Farce in theatre is “a comedy that aims at
entertaining the audience through situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant, and thus
improbable”, and this links to the physical comedy, which through exaggeration becomes
particularly entertaining. This promise of physical comedy is repeated throughout the play, adding to
the farce, just as in Act III Scene II, with “I go, I go, look how I go, / Swifter than an arrow from the
Tartar’s bow,” which again gives the promise of physical comedy when acted on stage. Later in the
scene, we again see Puck adding an element of farce to the play, with the chasing of the two
Athenian men around the wood, pretending to be each one in turn. His constant use of insults, such
as “villain”, “coward”, “child” and “recreant” goads on the characters, a deliberate act which links to
Puck’s role as Lord of Misrule; deliberately attempting to cause an argument, for the sake of his and
the court’s amusement, however his use of insult could infact show his genuine dislike of the
humans. It begins with Puck’s reaction to the mortals’ confusion, caused by his magic, suggesting
Puck’s disapproval or disregard for them; “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Throughout the most
turbulent scene of the play (act three scene two), Lysander and Demetrius do not exchange any
insults between each other, and despite the fact that they are arguing, they never act anything but
gentlemanly, at least to each other, so the introduction of these insults is not part of the character of
either of the Athenian men, who Puck is trying to imitate, suggesting that he is deliberately insulting
the men.
Some critics believe that Puck and Oberon are coupled in the play, just as Theseus and Hippolyta,
Lysander and Hermia, and Demetrius and Helena are, although unlike these, in a purely nonromantic way, however I disagree with this, as I believe Puck to be a standalone, individual
character. Obviously, they do have moments of being the Servant and Master duo, however from
the outset, Oberon and Titania are the main coupling, despite the fact they are separated for a
majority of the action, so when they are together, Puck remains as the only character without a
partner, which, although making him independent and able to cause such mischief to the town, it
has also made him attention seeking, accounting for the use of hyperbole in lines such as “swifter
than a Tartar’s bow”, and also “I’ll put a girdle round about the Earth / in forty minutes”, which show
him to be almost childlike his exaggerations and need for attention from the figure of authority;
Oberon.
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Explore the character of Puck and his role in the play