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A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

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What does Puck's soliloquy mean at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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In Puck's speech at the end of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, just as in the "parabasis" of ancient Greek Old Comedy, a character breaks the "fourth wall" and speaks directly to the audience. This also breaks the illusion of the actor pretending to be a character, because the voice is, to a degree, a hybrid of the character and the playwright himself. 

Just as in the traditional parabasis, in which the playwright urges the audience to rank the comedy they are watching higher than its competitors, so too in this speech does Puck talk self-reflexively about the play itself and the audience response to it. Here, Puck refers to the imaginary characters of the play and its events as "shadows" and apologizes if they have given offense. He deflects potential criticism of the play's frivolity by saying that first, the play is like a dream and has no permanent ill effects. Second, in the future he will make amends (i.e. if the audience didn't like this play, Shakespeare would write another one they might like better). 

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I guess you can paraphrase Puck's final soliloquy that ends the play as follows: If the actors and events that you have seen have upset you, I recommend that you imagine it was all a dream and that you were asleep when you saw all of it. Audience, please don't get upset with me. If you pardon us, we will make everything OK. I am an honest kind of guy, and I promise that if you don't boo us, we will make it up. If not then you can call me a liar. So farewell to you all. Please clap your hands if we are friends and I will make it all OK. One of the points that you must realise in this soliloquy is that it touches on a major theme of the play - that of dreams vs reality. In Act V scene 1 we see the lovers debating about whether what happened to them was a dream or real, and here Puck echoes those thoughts to end the play on a very whimsical note. If we are offended by what happened, much better to pretend it was all a dream.

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