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Based on the Puck of English mythology, Puck is a mischievous fairy, sprite, or jester. He is the first of the main fairy characters to appear, and he significantly influences events in the play. He delights in pranks such as replacing Bottom's head with that of an ass.
Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call'd Robin Goodfellow: are you not he
That frights the maidens of the villagery;
Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern,
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;
Mislead night wanderers, laughing at their harm?
Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are you not he?
PUCK: Fairy, thou speak'st aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.
I jest to Oberon, and make him smile
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile
Neighing in likeness of a filly foal;
And sometime lurk I in a gossip's bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab;
And, when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her wither'd dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
And 'tailor' cries, and falls into a cough;
And then the whole quire hold their hips and laugh;
And waxen in their mirth, and neeze, and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there [2.1.32-57].
Puck (c. 1810-1820), Henry Fuseli's depiction of the character
Puck serves the fairy king Oberon. Oberon is angry with Titania, the fairy queen, because she will not let him have a particular "little changeling boy" (2.1.120). Oberon sends Puck to fetch a particular flower, whereof the juice "on sleeping eyelids laid / Will make or man or woman madly dote / Upon the next live creature that it sees" (2.1.170-72). Puck is told to apply some of it to the "disdainful youth" (2.1.261) in "Athenian garments" (2.1.264), but Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and applies it to Lysander. Oberon applies some of the juice to Titania, and Titania is waked by a singing Nick Bottom, whose head Puck has changed to that of an ass. Later, Puck is ordered to rectify his mistake with Lysander and Demetrius, and he creates a black fog through which he separates the "testy rivals" (3.2.358), imitating their voices until they are asleep. Puck has the final lines of the play:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended.
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I'm an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends [5.1.433-48].
Name of character
The original texts of Shakespeare's plays do not have cast-lists, and are not always consistent with characters' names. Puck's case is particularly awkward. Both the Quarto and the First Folio call the character "Robin Goodfellow" on the first entrance, but "Puck" later in the same scene, and they remain inconsistent. The Arden Shakespeare calls the character "Puck", and emends all stage directions (but not actual dialogue) that refer to the character as "Robin" or "Robin Goodfellow".
The Puck Building built in 1885-1888 in Nolita, New York City, features two naked statues of Puck by sculptor Henry Baerer. The building is named after and housed the 19th-century humor magazine Puck. The magazine was named after the character, and used a depiction and a quote of him as a logotype.
^Shakespeare's sources for Puck were assembled and analysed by Winifried Schleiner (1985). "Imaginative Sources For Shakespeare's Puck" Shakespeare Quarterly36(1): 65-68. doi:10.2307/2870083. JSTOR2870083.