This is a monologue taken from Puck’s opening scene. Referred to also as Robin Goodfellow, Puck is a one of the most powerful creatures in the play, second only to Oberon and Titania.
In the forest of Athens, Puck and a Fairy square off. Puck is a loyal servant to Oberon, King of the Fairies, however the Fairy serves Titania, his Queen. The reason for this division is a bitter feud over the possession of an Indian Prince, between Oberon and Titania that has been raging for some time.Their dispute of godly proportions has been so devastating on the environment, that it has altered the seasons of the world. So when Puck and this Fairy meet in the forest, it is probably not a social call.
This vivid speech of Pucks is an introduction to his non-human characteristics and a warning, wrapped up in a story, of just some of the magic he is capable of.
Language and Thought Breakdown
The very first line of the speech is a half line in response to the Fairy. This is a solid indication that Puck is coming in right on cue. He responds to the question “are not you he”? before leaping into this tale. After this point, Puck dives into an image-laden story, using the solid rhythm of iambic pentameter and an AABB rhyme scheme.
The perfect iambic structure of this speech gives it a great sense of forward momentum. It really feels like Puck is speaking at pace, able to conjure images effortlessly. The AABB rhyme structure is almost child-like, which is very suitable for Puck who appears to be child-like is his mischief and pranks. The amount of imagery is perhaps a suggestion of the physical engagement of the actor playing this character. He mentions imitating a horse, a person drinking beer and an old woman telling a story before falling over – it feels as if he’s painting the images in the minds of The Fairy and of the audience.
I want to draw your attention to something that caught my eye. You can see in the speech Shakespeare’s attempt to rhyme ‘Crab’ with ‘Bob’ and ‘Cough’ with ‘Laugh’. On the surface, these words don’t appear to rhyme. However certain scholars who’s area of research is on language and accents have deduced that over time, the way in which people spoke was far different than today. They suggest that in fact, 450 years ago in London, with the accents used by the actor performing the role, that these words would indeed have rhymed! My suggestion would be to ignore this and simply use your own accent, however I thought it was pretty interesting.
Anyway! Let’s take a closer look at the text to see if any character traits about Puck are revealed.
Thought Change: /
Beat Change: Space
Feminine Ending: (F)
[FULL TEXT] Puck: Thou speak’st aright…
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. /
You are right;
I am that mischievous wanderer of the night.
I joke with Oberon and make him smile,
When I trick a fat, well-fed horse,
By neighing like a young female horse:
And sometimes I hide in an an old gossip’s cup,
In the shape of a roasted crab-apple,
And when she takes a sip, I bob against her lips
And make her spill beer all down her old wrinkled neck skin.
The wisest old woman, telling the most boring, sombre story,
Will mistake me for a three-footed stool,
Then I slip out from under her bum, letting her topple over,
And she cries ‘Tailor’! Falling into coughing,
As her whole audience holds their sides laughing,
Growing in hilarity to point of sneezing with laughter as they swear,
That they never wasted an hour having more fun.
But make way fairies, here comes Oberon.
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases
Aright: Right, correctly.
Bean-fed: Well fed, fat.
Beguile: Trick, to play a joke on.
Foal: A young horse.
Gossip: An old gossipy person, or an old friend.
Roasted crab: A type of tart apple that is only tasty when cooked. A crab-apple.
“Withered dewlap”: Loose folds of skin on the neck, usually of an animal like a cow. In this case, the woman’s old wrinkly neck skin.
“And ‘tailor’ cries”: Sitting on the floor was the typical posture for tailors to be in as they worked. Possibly a reference to sitting on her ‘tail’ as well. In this context, it is a cry of surprise at having fallen onto the floor.
Quire: Company, the audience of the story.
Waxen: Increase, grow.
Mirth: Amusement, revelry, joy and laughter.
It may read simply like a funny little story about tricking people, but in fact this speech establishes some of the powerful magic that Puck is capable of, specifically; shape shifting and mimicry that he will use to great effect in the second half of the play.
The speech also gives us a sense of Puck’s attitude. He is not only mischievous and cheeky but perhaps a little dark… even sadistic. Puck performs these tricks and acts of ‘mischief’ for the pleasure of his master. While it all seems like fun and games, there aren’t any signs of remorse about making others look foolish and it begs the question – is there something more sinister at play here? We discover that Puck will do almost anything that his master bids him to do and as the play progresses, we see that Puck will toy with mortals for his own pleasure also – to the point where he stumbles across a group of strangers, fixes the head of a donkey to one of them and terrorises the group into fleeing, purely for his own amusement.
The ‘Puck’ is derived from English mythology. In mythology, ‘The Puck’ wasn’t just a little woodland sprite up for a good time, but a demon and thief of children. So while it’s valid to portray Puck as fun-loving and cheeky, I think it’s worth considering what more is at play here. What is at the heart of this character? Why does he do what he does? How far will he go to get what he wants? Asking these questions can open up doors to choices that perhaps you did not first see straight off the page. Good luck with this one!