In William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, how does the passage from Act 2, Scene 1 beginning "Either I mistake your shape" and ending "Here comes Oberon" contribute to the work as a whole?
Very early in Act 2, scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an unnamed fair recognizes a far more famous fairy named Puck. Their brief exchange, before the arrival of Oberon, contributes to the rest of the play in a number of different ways, including the following:
- The unnamed fairy quickly recognizes Puck, thus already suggesting Puck’s fame and his importance to the rest of the work. The fairies will play important roles in this play, and, of those roles, Puck’s will be the most important.
- The other fairy characterizes Puck as “shrewd and knavish,” thus already suggesting that Puck will play the role of a trickster. Puck’s role as trickster helps contribute to much of the humor and complexities of plot of the play as a whole.
- The fact that Puck is sometimes called “Robin Goodfellow” is just one of many details that help give the play a strongly English flavor, even though it is supposedly set in ancient Greece. Indeed, many of the details of the ensuing speeches also help give the play a strongly English flavor. The concerns of this play are not remote, mysterious, or exotic; instead, they seem homely and familiar.
- The reference to Puck “Mislead[ing] night-wanderers, [and] laughing at their harm” foreshadows much of the subsequent action of the play, although it also makes Puck perhaps sound a bit more menacing than he actually proves to be.
- Immediately after Puck is made to sound a bit dangerous and menacing, he is also called “sweet Puck,” thus suggesting the complexity of his character and thus foreshadowing the tone of his final appearances in the play.
- The questions posed by the first fairy give Puck an opportunity to characterize himself more fully – an important outcome, since Puck will indeed prove one of the most important characters in the play.
- When Puck replies, he immediately calls himself a “merry wanderer of the night,” thus echoing the other fairy’s earlier reference to “night-wanderers,” and thus helping to emphasize the whole play’s night-time setting and atmosphere.
- Puck’s speech immediately helps contribute to the light-hearted, comic, humorous tone that is indeed the main tone of the play as a whole.
- Puck’s speech is full of vivid imagery, thus helping to illustrate one of the traits that make this play one of Shakespeare’s most memorable works.
- Puck’s speech helps emphasize and foreshadow that much of the comedy in this play will consist of simple, light-hearted fun, with a large component of “unsophisticated” foolery. The tone of the play’s comedy is not harshly satirical or biting, and nothing in Puck’s speech here suggests that it will be. Consider, for instance, Puck’s proud admission that
. . . 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.
This is a play that will be full of playful mischief and laughable hijinks, and Puck’s speech already strongly suggests this aspect of the work.