I’ve read this play several times and have seen it performed more times than I can recount, but I still enjoy it every time. And reading it again this time was no exception. It’s fun, witty, and never gets old. Anyway, I figured for this post I would take a look at Puck as a manifestation of the trickster archetype.
Tricksters are archetypal characters who appear in the myths of many different cultures. Lewis Hyde describes the Trickster as a “boundary-crosser”. The Trickster crosses both physical and often breaks societal rules. Tricksters “…violate principles of social and natural order, playfully disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis.”
When Puck (also known as Robin Goodfellow) first appears in Act II, one of the fairies immediately recognizes him as the trickster.
Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call’d Robin Goodfellow: are not you 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 not you he?
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.
But, room, fairy! here comes Oberon.
(Act II: Scene i)
One of the powers of the trickster is the ability to change form. When Puck encounters the troupe of unskilled actors gathered in the woods, he decides to use his shape-shifting ability to taunt the actors.
I’ll follow you, I’ll lead you about a round,
Through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier:
Sometime a horse I’ll be, sometime a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.
(Act III: Scene i)
It is important to point out that the trickster, although sometimes playful, is also something to be feared. The trickster’s pranks can often lead a person into a dangerous situation.
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.
Here comes one.
(Act III: Scene ii)
The trickster is definitely one of my favorite archetypal characters, and I find myself connecting to manifestations of the trickster whenever he appears in a book. And Puck is such a great incarnation of the trickster. He is, without question, my favorite character in this play.
7 responses to “Puck as Trickster Archetype in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare”
Very nice post, Jeff. I love the Trickster as well – he is so ubiquitous in all cultures – the jester, the Coyote of the Native Americans, the Greek Hermes, etc. And now with the Chinese year of the Fire Monkey, I think he is stronger than ever. And that’s an amazing thing.
Hi Monika. Thanks for your comment. Interesting point about the Chinese year of the Fire Monkey. I wonder if that is contributing to all the topsy-turvy craziness that is going on in US politics right now. Could someone like Trump be a leading candidate if the Trickster was not involved?
Funny you should say that: http://thebaffler.com/blog/donald-trump-trickster-god
Wow! Thanks for sharing that, Monika. I was reluctant to read it at first, because I am trying to avoid reading Trump-related stuff (especially things people post on Facebook). That said, I think this may be spot on. That said, if DT is the Trickster personified, then I can say that I do not like this manifestation in the least.
Like you, upon reading, I am always captivated by this type of character the most!
Great minds think alike 😉
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