365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

286. Character analysis: Puck

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“Thou speak’st aright; I am that merry wanderer of the night!”

Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, is one of Shakespeare’s best-known characters. This impish servant of the Fairy King, Oberon, is known for his mischief-making and unfortunate (though humorous) mistakes made in carrying out his orders. He is also one of the most fun characters to interpret, as there are so many possibilities in portraying him.

For one, is he really male? Though written as a male character and referred to as such, most productions these days seem to prefer casting women, or at least actors capable of some androgyny. Having Puck as an androgynous character helps play up just how mysterious this playful character is, and perhaps can be used as a way of illustrating how good he is at disguises.

Another thing about Puck that is interesting to explore is his relationship to Oberon. Some productions play Oberon as an older brother type, or as someone who keeps Puck as a kind of pet, so that the relationship between the two is an amiable one. Others portray him as a slave to Oberon, miserable and wishing he could escape, which makes the pranks he chooses to play on several characters have a much deeper meaning: he does them to keep his spirits up.

In some productions, Puck is an ever-present being, one who is observing and reporting all the goings-on, whether he is actually written into the scene or not. It plays up Puck’s role as a messenger and one who has a fascination with the foolish mortals. It is hard to tell whether he truly mistakes Lysander for Demetrius or whether he simply decides “this could be fun” – but feigns mistaking for the sake of the audience (whom Puck seems very aware of, considering he delivers the epilogue).

In whatever way Puck is portrayed, as male or female, as adorable pet or desperate slave, as mistaking servant or as savvy prankster, he remains one of the most beloved characters in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and possibly in all of Shakespeare’s canon. He represents the magic of the fairy land and the exciting possibilities for mischief on an enchanted summer’s night, and embodies the idea that there are always spritely little sprites hiding out in our lives, tweaking the circumstances here and there, sometimes for our own good and other times for their own amusement. He is, and will remain, an audience and reader favorite.

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Written by Caroline Mincks

July 14, 2010 at 12:02 AM

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