Puck in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

He causes trouble but is central to the play's action

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing

Tate Britain / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Puck is one of Shakespeare’s most enjoyable characters. In "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Puck is a mischievous sprite and Oberon’s servant and jester.

Puck is perhaps the play’s most adorable character, and he stands out from the other fairies that drift through the play. He is also not as ethereal as the play’s other fairies; rather, he is coarser, more prone to misadventure, and goblin-like. Indeed, one of the fairies describes Puck as a “hobgoblin” in Act Two, Scene One.

As his “hobgoblin” reputation suggests, Puck is fun-loving and quick-witted. Thanks to this mischievous nature, he triggers many of the play’s most memorable events.

What Is Puck's Gender?

Although Puck is usually played by a male actor, it's worth noting that nowhere in the play is the audience told the character's gender, and there are no gendered pronouns used to reference Puck. Even the character's alternate name, Robin Goodfellow, is androgynous. 

It is interesting to consider that Puck is regularly thought to be a male character based solely on actions and attitudes during the play. It is also worth pondering how the play's dynamic would change if Puck was cast as a female fairy.

Puck's Use (and Misuse) of Magic

Puck uses magic throughout the play for comic effect—most notably when he transforms Bottom’s head into that of an ass. This is likely the most memorable image of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," and it demonstrates that while Puck is harmless, he is capable of cruel tricks for the sake of enjoyment.

Puck is also not the most mindful of fairies. One example of this is when Oberon sends Puck to fetch a love potion and use it on the Athenian lovers to stop them from bickering. However, since Puck is prone to making unfortunate mistakes, he smears the love potion on Lysander’s eyelids instead of Demetrius’s, which leads to unintended results.

The mistake was made without malice, but it was still an error, and Puck never really accepts responsibility for it. He continues to blame the lovers' behavior on their own foolishness. In Act Three, Scene Two he says:

"Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand;
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover's fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

All a Dream?

Later in the play, Oberon sends Puck out to fix his mistake. The forest is magically plunged into darkness and Puck imitates the voices of the lovers to lead them astray. This time he successfully smears the love potion on the eyes of Lysander, who thus falls back in love with Hermia.

The lovers are made to believe that the entire affair was a dream, and in the final passage of the play, Puck encourages the audience to think the same. He apologizes to the audience for any "misunderstanding," which re-establishes him as a likable, good character (although not exactly a heroic one).

"If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear."