In one of the most well-known lines from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream , the mischievous sprite Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, says to the fairy king, Oberon, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" The line is spoken as Puck calls upon Oberon to observe the foolish behavior of...
In one of the most well-known lines from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, the mischievous sprite Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, says to the fairy king, Oberon, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" The line is spoken as Puck calls upon Oberon to observe the foolish behavior of Helena, Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius—four young Athenian lovers. The quotation is ironic, as is the behavior of its speaker.
Puck is partially responsible for the absurd behavior of the lovers. Earlier in the play, Oberon seeks to end the bickering of the lovers through the use of a love potion. Puck is supposed to give the potion to Demetrius to make him fall in love with Helena. He accidentally applies the potion to Lysander's eyelids instead, causing Lysander to fall in love with Helena. This further complicates the conflict between the lovers. The love potion is meant to resolve the struggle between the humans, but because of Puck's error, the situation is not only not resolved, but it is exacerbated. It is ironic that Puck should refer to the four as foolish mortals when his mistake is partially to blame for their foolish behavior.
Puck's behavior is an ironic and comical subversion of the literary technique known as "deus ex machina." The Latin phrase translates to "God from a machine." It is used to describe a situation in which divine intervention in the lives of humans brings about a swift resolution to a seemingly insurmountable problem. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the irresolvable issue is the humorous bickering of the lovers. In an ironic twist to the plot device, the fairies' intervention in the humans' lives not only fails to resolve the conflict, but actually makes it worse.