Puck’s Motivating Force in a Midsummer’s Night Dream: Character Analysis

Puck’s Motivating Force in a Midsummer’s Night Dream: Character Analysis
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Without Puck, it is quite probable that William Shakespeare’s play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ would have turned out to be quite different. Here, an attempt will be made to determine what role Puck plays in the drama, but most of all to discover his own motivation in the goings-on. First, a brief description of his role and his antics will be made, then his motives will be investigated. A summarizing conclusion will include this student’s views.

Puck is well known as the hobgoblin who causes a lot of mischief in this, Shakespeare’s light-hearted comedy of errors, which is mainly about love-matches that do not always quite go to plan. The story is long and very complicated and contrasts between pairs of lovers; rough and homely craftsmen, called mechanicals by Puck; and exquisite fairies. The hobgoblin acts as a connector between these groups, making his mischief but never addressing anyone directly, except of course for the King of the fairies, Oberon. Oberon is Puck’s ruler and director, and Titania is his rightful Queen, but much will happen before the night is over between these two fairy lovers, as will happen between Hermia and Lysander, and Demetrius and Helena. Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, also plan to marry.

From the outset, Puck plans a bit of ‘fun’ where he sees things going too boringly close to plan. Where he sees trouble and strife, he decides to intervene to smooth things over, but it never goes exactly as he foresees.

The playwright places Puck in all the strategic places, making him interact with the audience, but most of all, to act as a link between the three coinciding plots: the elopement of Hermia and Lysander, together with Helena trying to win back Demetrius; Oberon’s plan to subdue Titania for her defiance; and the craftsmen choosing just that place in the woods to rehearse their play Pyramus and Thisbe, which they intend to perform at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.

It is not always clear why Puck causes so much trouble, but investigation reveals he is really a well-meaning hobgoblin, who wants to inject love and passion into the lives of those in whom he becomes interested. He is saddened by trouble, and always believes he can put things right. There is nothing he likes better than a spot of bother and has a nose for the plight of others. Puck is simply a hyperactive do-gooder with nothing better to do, in spite of Oberon’s intentions to keep him busy and out of trouble. Where unrequited love is concerned, Puck becomes very interested indeed: he loves fixing up the lives of unhappy lovers, and can come up with potions and spells he feels will do the trick. What he also likes to do is show up humans for their foolishness, feeling they are not as sharp as elves, fairies or goblins. He gets a lot out of leading them up the garden path:
“Up and down, up and down:
I will lead them up and down:
I am fear’d in field and town;
Goblin, lead them up and down.” (Shakespeare 1595)

His timing and planning, however, need a bit of work! The amount of confusion always exceeds his intent, and the characters always manage to inject their own misunderstandings. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

So Puck is not so clear-cut: his motives are mischievous when he wants to show how silly humans are, but well-intentioned when he takes pity. He loves being involved but relishes being invisible. He is restless and full of life but can understand both deviousness and emotion. This is a multi-faceted character that Shakespeare works very hard: a connector between plots, a go-between with the audience, and a facilitator of strategies that would not work if left to ‘mere mortals’. In this student’s opinion, Puck makes the play. His vivacious interaction and clever lines seem to bring the whole action off successfully, even if all he does sometimes is take advantage of a situation, a humorous opportunity, or another character about to stumble on another’s plan. 

Sources Cited: Shakespeare, William A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595) CreateSpace 2009