In what ways does the comedy surrounding Puck differ from that surrounding Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the key differences between the comedy of Puck and Bottom, in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, has a great deal to do with the supernatural element.

Shakespeare's audiences (Elizabethans) firmly believed in the supernatural—in "hobgoblins" like Puck, as well as the existence of the devil—and that witches and ghosts served him to win souls to their eternal damnation. This is a pivotal point, for example, in the tragedies of Macbeth and Hamlet: the audience would have understood the choices each tragic hero faced, in terms of supernatural evil. At the same time, Shakespeare is credited with transforming the way his audiences perceived other supernatural creatures. Before, someone like Puck would have been vindictive and malicious. Here, Puck is playful—a trickster. 


...have not always had the kinder, earthier attributes that they now have. Prior to...A Midsummer’s Night Dream, fairies are originally thought to…resemble more gruesome creatures such as goblins and even elves. 

Shakespeare changed all of that, and we might assume that even "Tinkerbell" is the result of Shakespeare's introduction of a new vision of fairies. 

Elizabethans also believed that the woods were the domain of the devil—(e.g., Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown), and the forests comprised the fairy realm as well. In essence, humans did not belong in the woods. So when the goofy and silly Bottom and his similarly clueless friends find themselves in the forest with night coming on, they are fair game for Puck and the other fairies. Much of the humor exists as human and fairy worlds meet.

Puck serves Oberon, the king of the fairies—who sends his minion to find Cupid's love potion to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena. He tells Puck:

Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell.

It fell upon a little western flower, purple with love's wound...(170)

...Fetch me that flower... (II.i.168-170, 172)

Puck uses the potion on the "young Athenian" (the wrong one—though Puck insists it was accidental). Oberon paints it on Titania's eyes as she sleeps. Puck, meanwhile, has his fun with Bottom (as fairies were believed to do if one wandered into their realm) by giving him the head of a donkey ("ass")—which provides even more comedy—for the potion (as seen with Demetrius) will cause Titania to fall in love with the first thing she sees on waking:


What angel wakes me from my flowery bed? (III.i.120)

...mine eye [is] enthralled to thy shape;

And thy fair virtue's force perforce doth move me,

On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee. (131-133)

Puck and Oberon find it hilarious that Titania has fallen in love with a man bearing the head of an ass!

Titania praises Bottom; first he demurs, but then immediately (and comically) he accepts her attention. He is also humorously enthusiastic—he wants to play all the parts in the play the men will present to the Duke. Impossible to do, Quince must soothe him like a temperamental artist, for fear that the disappointed Bottom will quit—but like a kid, Bottom recovers quickly. It is noted that he...

...seems to represent the common experience of humanity.

Perhaps this is partly what makes Bottom so funny; and Shakespeare makes us laugh through him—e.g., noting when a man should remain silent, using a pun:

Man is but an ass

if he go about to expound this dream (IV.i.206-207)

Bottom is comical as an "everyday" kind of guy; Puck entertains with his impish, mischievous spirit.

lindseykc81 | Student

Puck's rolse as a comedian is largely played out as the instigator of pranks and mischief, given power by his status as a well known fairy associated with Oberon and Titania.  Puck is in control of the comedy and all of his jokes are intentional and clever, usually at the expense of another. 

Bottom, on the other hand, often does not even intend to be comedic.  Pranks happen to him and he is, quite literally, the butt of the joke.  His misfortunes and reactions to them are the entertaining part, despite his attempts to be taken dramatically or seriously. 

In the end, Bottom is a pitiful character who has been made fun of throughout the play and finishes knowing even less about what has been going on, while Puck comes out as orchestrator of the dream, letting you know that he intended each event to happen all along for your amusement.

Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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