What Fools They Be—An Analysis of Puck and Bottom
Puck and Bottom are the two fools of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Puck is a fool in the traditional sense of the word—it is his job to entertain Oberon, the fairy king, with his tricks and jokes. Bottom, however, is a fool in the contemporary sense of the word, as his stupidity often gets in the way of what he is trying to accomplish. However, both characters, despite their "foolishness," serve practical functions in the play and also make several intelligent observations about life and love.
Bottom is the first of the fools to appear in the play. We first meet Bottom in Act I, scene ii, when the "mechanicals" (the tradesmen who plan to put on a play for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta) are first beginning to plan their performance. Although Peter Quince is the stage manager of the play, Bottom quickly takes over and offers more than his share of advice. Bottom begins by telling Quince how to call the roll and how to organize the actors. He then proclaims the play, Pyramus and Thisby, to be "a very good piece of work ... and a/merry," although he is not even familiar enough with the play to recognize Pyramus' role (ll.13-14). All of this demonstrates an important aspect of Bottom's character: he is often full of good advice, but he has no idea how to use it. Bottom is also convinced that he is a superb actor and can act any part. In fact, he becomes so excited about his acting prowess that he volunteers to take on every part in the play. By the end of the scene, it is clear that the mechanicals are hopelessly incapable of putting on a good play, and Bottom only complicates the situation further.
Puck makes his entrance into the play in the next scene, Act II, scene i. It is Puck who explains the fight between Titania and Oberon, and his speech helps the fairy he is talking to recognize him. The fairy, who knows Puck's reputation, goes on to list just a few of Puck's pranks:
... [Y]ou are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Called Robin Goodfellow. Are not you he
That frights the maidens of the villagery,
Skim milk, and sometimes labor 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? (ll. 33-39).
Puck cheerfully admits to all of these tricks and more. He also states that he plays these tricks, in...
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Love's Course in A Midsummer Night's Dream
Romantic love appears in several different ways in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Hermia and Lysander demonstrate young love, while Helena's love is that of desperation. Demetrius' love is fickle. Theseus gains his "love," Hippolyta, as a trophy of war. Titania and Oberon, married for ages, inflict pain and trickery on each other regularly. While there is no one common definition of love that suits all of the characters, the romantic relationships in this play all comply to one simple rule laid out by Lysander in Act I—the course of true love does not run smooth.
The first romantic couple in the play is Theseus and Hippolyta. Theseus' opening lines in the play demonstrate his impatience for his wedding day to come. However, Theseus and Hippolyta do not have a "normal" courtship. When Theseus defeated the Amazons, he took Hippolyta, the Amazon queen, as one of the spoils of the war. Taking a member of a conquered royalty as a wife was a common practice in European wars, and it is not, therefore, unusual that Theseus decides to take Hippolyta for his wife. This, however, creates two problems for Hippolyta. Not only does she have to marry the man who is responsible for the defeat of her people, but also, as an Amazon, Hippolyta is devoted to the goddess Diana and had intended to lead a chaste life. Because of the loss to Theseus, Hippolyta must sacrifice her lifestyle and her throne. Although he has no regard for Hippolyta's sacrifices, he does not seem to hold any ill will towards his fiancée:
Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword,
And won thy love doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph, and with reveling (ll. 16-19).
Although Theseus does not intend to treat Hippolyta badly, he does not seem to hold a great deal of respect for her opinion, either. When Hippolyta and Theseus discuss the lovers' story in Act V, scene i, Hippolyta notes that even though the story is too fantastic to believe, all four lovers give the same information. Theseus, however, is still convinced that the events in the woods are nothing more than an "antique fable" (l. 3). Theseus shows his disregard for Hippolyta's opinion once again in Act V, scene i. Theseus, determined to hear the mechanicals' play, ignores the Philostrate's warning that no one will like it. Hippolyta tells Theseus that she cannot stand to watch the play if it is going...
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The World of Fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Elizabethan England
One of the most noticeable and entertaining elements of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is the presence of the fairies. Titania, Oberon, Puck, and the attendant fairies all affect the human beings in the woods, and provide glimpses into the fairy realm. Although Shakespeare applies several important aspects of the Elizabethan belief in fairies to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare alters the conception of fairies not only within the context of the play, but for all time.
Fairies in Elizabethan England were of the same basic size and shape as humans. People were often mistaken for fairies because the size of a fairy was thought to be that of a short human, so there would be no noticeable difference in physical size. Since Elizabethan fairies looked like humans, they, of course, did not have wings. Elizabethan folk also thought that fairies were beautiful and of dark complexion, which reflected their association with wickedness. They often dressed in green due to their association with nature. Shakespeare, who was of course familiar with these ideas of fairies, presents the fairies of A Midsummer Night's Dream as beautiful and associated with nature, but this is where the physical similarities to Elizabethan folk beliefs ends. In the play, Shakespeare describes his fairies as tiny creatures with wings, and this is the first time in literature that fairies are described in this manner. It is not the last, as the poets and playwrights of his time adopted Shakespeare's diminutive description of fairies.
Shakespeare also alters the Elizabethan conception of the identity and behavior of fairies. One of the most striking aspects of Elizabethan fairy behavior was that fairies were linked closely with the home and the farm. Elizabethan fairies loved cleanliness enough to reward humans for keeping their homes clear of dirt and clutter, and they often punished messy people. They also needed humans for beef, bread, drink, and bath water, which people, fearful of fairy wrath, willingly supplied. What fairies wanted most, however, was milk and cream. Because of this, fairies were often associated with the dairy industry, and were frequently possessed herds of cattle because of their fondness for dairy.
Fairy reward and retribution was often swift and significant because of their wickedness. The Elizabethans thought that fairies either were fallen angels, the souls of dead humans, or beings...
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