Illustration of a donkey-headed musician in between two white trees

A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

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How do Puck and Bottom compare and contrast in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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The biggest difference between Puck and Bottom can be seen in their levels of worldly intelligence. Puck very rightly turns Bottom's head into the head of the proverbial ass because Bottom is indeed acting like a donkey in terms of being an idiot. Due to Bottom's enthusiasm for the play and for his visions of himself as a performer, Bottom very idiotically asks to play all three lead roles of the play, Pyramus, Thisbe, and the lion. This is particularly idiotic because it will certainly be impossible and ridiculous for Bottom to play both lovers acting on opposing sides of the wall. It will equally be ridiculous to play a lion that scares himself when he is also playing Thisbe.

Puck, on the other hand, is actually very insightful and intelligent. Puck very rightly observes the ludicrousness of the four lovers' response to having their minds meddled with in the woods. Puck observes that it is absurd for Helena to instinctively disbelieve the sincerity of both men, and it is equally ridiculous for her to accuse her best friend of being in on the joke. We see Puck's wise response to the lovers' fight in the woods in his lines, "Shall we their fond pageant see? / Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (III.ii.115-116).

The one similarity between Bottom and Puck is that they actually both resemble the proverbial ass in that they are both equally stubborn. We see Bottom being inadvertently stubborn when he persists in his foolish ideas concerning the play. We see Puck being stubborn in his persistence of performing mischievous antics. While Puck claims that mixing up the Athenian men was a mistake, we know that Puck is notorious for his pranks. We see Puck claim his innocence in his lines:

Believe me, king of shadows, I mistook.
Did not you tell me I should know the man
By the Athenian garments he had on? (III.ii.365)

We also learn that Puck is a notorious prankster when we first meet him because his fellow fairy describes him as a "knavish sprite," meaning "mischievous spirit" (II.i.33).

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How does Puck's character compare and contrast with Bottom's character in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Puck and Bottom are nearly as different as day and night, but one similarity is that both have a compassionate and sensitive nature.

We see Puck's compassionate and sensitive nature when we see that he is moved by what he perceives to be Demetrius's hatred of fair Helena. Oberon, having seen Demetrius scorn Helena in the forest and seeing how love sick she is, tells Puck to apply the flower to Demetrius's eyes so that he falls in love with Helena, righting a grievous wrong. Oberon tells Puck that he will recognize Demetrius by the "Athenian garments he hath on"; however, neither Oberon nor Puck realize that there are actually two Athenian men in the forest that night; therefore, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, making Lysander fall in love with Helena instead of Hermia. When Puck finds whom he thinks is the correct Athenian man and sees how far away the lady is sleeping from him, having been rejected by him and also sees how beautiful the lady is, he feels great pity for her. Puck expresses his anger towards the man by calling him a villain, as we see in his lines, "Churl, upon thy eyes I throw / All the power this charm doth owe" (II.ii.78-79). When we see Puck call the man a "churl," or "villain," we know how much compassion Puck is feeling for the lady and see that Puck has a sensitive and compassionate nature.

We likewise see that Bottom has a very sensitive nature. We especially see this when he expresses his concern that having Pyramus slay himself with his sword will offend the ladies in the audience and also his concern that the ladies will be frightened by the lion in the play, as we see in his lines, "Pyramus must draw a sword to kill himself, which the ladies cannot abide" and, "[A] lion among ladies is a most dreadful thing" (III.i.9-10, 28-29).

However, while both Puck and Bottom have caring and sensitive natures, one major difference between them is their level of intelligence. Puck is Oberon's court jester and renowned prankster. Every witticism he makes is intelligent, and he makes witticisms intentionally. One good example of this can be seen in the first line of his closing monologue in which he mocks Quince by repeating Quince's opening lines of the prologue he delivered earlier. For instance, Puck's line is "If we shadows have offended" while Quince's line is, "If we offend, it is with our good will" (V.i.418, 115). In contrast, Bottom comes up with some very idiotic suggestions for the performance of the play. In particular, since he believes that the ladies will be bothered by a gruesome death and by the presence of a lion, he proposes that they explain that the events of the play are not actually real in a prologue, as if an audience of a play would not already be able to figure that out for themselves.

Hence, we see that while Puck and Bottom share a sensitive and caring nature, they greatly differ in intellect.

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What is the contrast between Puck and Bottom?

Bottom is a mortal who is a control freak and basically intolerable.  His name says it all, and later in the play when his head is turned into that of an "ass" it culminates his attitude and personality.

Puck is a Pixie--not a mortal.  He is not intolerable, he just enjoys playing pranks.  He serves Oberon the King of the Pixies with loyalty and zealous joy.

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