Puck has returned to his master, Oberon to tell him some news of his wife, Titania.
For months before the events of the story began, Titania and Oberon have been feuding. This terrible conflict between them has turned nature and the natural order of the world on its head.
To punish his wife, Oberon has asked that Puck retrieve a magic, purple flower. The “the juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid” will make anybody fall in love with the very next creature that they see. Oberon intends to use the flower on Titania.
At the same time, a group of ‘actors’ have been rehearsing a play in the woods, near where Titania happens to be sleeping. On his way back to Oberon, Puck sees them rehearsing and decides that he will play a trick on them, transforming Bottom, biggest buffoon of the lot, into a donkey. When Bottom appears as a donkey, his friends are terrified and flee, leaving him alone in the woods.
During the course of these events, Titania wakes up to see Bottom, the ass, instantly falling in love with him. Puck leaves to tell his master the news.
Puck is a great character to take on when you want to ease into your Shakespearian language. His dialogue is jam packed with amazing imagery but the sentence structure remains quite simple, even child-like at times which suits the character perfectly.
It is very common for Puck to speak with a lot of rhyme. Take note of the ends of lines in this speech. The monologue takes on an almost perfect poetic AB AB structure. The reason some of the words may not rhyme is because our accent has shifted greatly since the play was written and pronunciation of words has changed over 450 years.
In performance, I don’t suggest that an actor overly emphasise the rhyme. I would suggest, however, that it can act as a guide on how you deliver the text. It’s up for each actor to understand the sense of what they’re saying first and then choose where and what they want to emphasise.
From my breakdown below, note the thought and beat changes and regular rhyming verse. What does it tell you about the emotional state of the character? How do you think Puck feels about what he has just done?
Thought Change: /
Beat Change: Space
My mistress with a monster is in love. /
Near to her close and consecrated bower, /
While she was in her dull and sleeping hour, /
A crew of patches, rude mechanicals, /
That work for bread upon Athenian stalls, /
Were met together to rehearse a play /
Intended for great Theseus’ nuptial-day. /
The shallowest thick-skin of that barren sort, /
Who Pyramus presented in their sport, /
Forsook his scene and enter’d in a brake, /
When I did him at this advantage take,
An ass’s nole I fixed on his head:
Anon his Thisbe must be answered,
And forth my mimic comes. /
When they him spy, /
As wild geese that the creeping fowler eye, /
Or russet-pated choughs, many in sort, /
Rising and cawing at the gun’s report, /
Sever themselves and madly sweep the sky, /
So, at his sight, away his fellows fly. /
And, at our stamp, here o’er and o’er one falls; /
He ‘murder’ cries and help from Athens calls. /
Their sense thus weak, lost with their fears thus strong, /
Made senseless things begin to do them wrong; /
For briers and thorns at their apparel snatch; /
Some sleeves, some hats, from yielders all things catch. /
I led them on in this distracted fear, /
And left sweet Pyramus translated there: /
When in that moment, so it came to pass, /
Titania waked and straightway loved an ass. /
My mistress is in love with a monster.
Close by her private sleeping sanctuary,
When she was fast asleep,
A group of fools, uneducated workers,
That work for their food at Athens markets,
Had met up to rehearse a play,
To be performed at Theseus’ wedding day.
The biggest fool in this dull group of idiots,
Who was playing Pyramus in the play,
Left his scene and went into some bushes,
And at this moment I took advantage of him,
By fixing a donkey’s head onto his head:
Just as he had to respond to Thisbe,
And out of the bush emerges my performer.
When they saw him,
Like wild geese that see a creeping hunter,
Or red and brown Jackdaws, of all kinds,
Flapping and squawking at the sound of the gun,
Scatter and wildly fly all across the sky,
So at the sight of him, his friends ran away.
When I stamped, one of them fell head over heels,
He yelled “murder’! And cried for help from Athens.
Their common sense was so destroyed by their fear,
That they thought inanimate objects were out to get them,
Like shrubs and thorns that caught on their clothes,
From sleeves to hats, everything is taken of those that give in to fear.
I led them off in this crazy, diverted fear,
And left Pyramus, the half-wit, there transformed,
When at that very moment, it just so happened,
That Titania woke up and fell in love instantly with a donkey.
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases.
Mistress: A woman in a position of authority and control.
Close: Secret, private, secluded.
Bower: A pleasant and shady place in the forest.
Patches: Clowns, fools, idiots.
Rude mechanicals: Uneducated manual workers. Labourers.
Nuptial: Relating to marriage, a wedding.
Shallowest: Most foolish.
Forsook: Left, in other words: Left the scene he was playing in.
Mimic: Burlesque performer, with connotations of perhaps a clown.
Fowler: Hunter, one who hunts fowls.
Russet-pated: Reddish-brown in colour.
Coughs: Jackdaws – a breed of small bird.
The gun’s report: Sound of gunfire.
Yielders: Those who give in to fear. Also could be those who give up, i.e. their possessions.
Straightway: In other words; straight away.
Ass: A donkey.
The language of this piece suggests one thing to me: great energy. In performance, perhaps there is a level of joy and excitement here for Puck. Or maybe uncertainty; who knows what Oberon will think of what he has done? Titania is Oberon’s wife after all.
Titania has no idea she has been charmed with the flower in her sleep and believes her true love to be an ass – Bottom. These events triggered by Puck turn out to be a happy accident – for Oberon anyway. In fact, the plan “turns out better than I [Oberon] could devise”. So for Puck and Oberon this is ‘mission accomplished’. Puck has done what he loves to do: wreak havoc, but gone one step further and pleased his master Oberon with his efforts.
It may be of interest to know that historically Puck is quite a malicious and dark creature. In English folklore he was portrayed as a demon and thief of children. He sounds far more nasty than the joyous little sprite that we often see portrayed. I would encourage any actor to explore the darker side of a creature that scares people for fun and transforms them into animals. There’s a lot to be played with here, physically and with the language. Have fun with Puck – it’s a wonderful character!