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Puck & Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

Puck and Oberon are fairies who manipulate other characters in Shakespeare's ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' with magic. This lesson looks at the relationship between the two characters and compares them to one another.

Magic and Fairies in the Play

The plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream is set in ancient Athens as preparations are taking place for Theseus's wedding, including rehearsals for a play that will be performed at the wedding. The central stories, and most of the comedy of the play, concern the romantic entanglements among the main characters. Several characters are fairies that live in the nearby woods, and who use magic drops on sleeping people and fairies to compel them to fall in love with whomever they see when they first wake. The fairies' magic leads to many unintentional love connections and a great deal of comedy in the play.

Oberon and Puck

Oberon is the king of the fairies, and as such, is one of the central characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Puck is more or less Oberon's assistant, although he also acts on his own instincts and gets into lots of mischief that Oberon has nothing to do with, which is discussed further below. Oberon and Puck generally have a good relationship with one another; even when Puck messes up his orders from Oberon, it does not lead to serious problems between the two. For example, at one point in the play Oberon orders Puck to put fairy drops on Demetrius's eyes, but Puck accidentally places them on Lysander's eyes; Oberon merely scolds Puck, and puts the juice on Demetrius's eyes himself.

Who's the Boss?

Like many relationships that are meant to be hierarchical, it is difficult at times to tell who really holds the power when push comes to shove. Yes, Oberon is the king of the fairies, and Puck technically serves him; however, much of the plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream is actually due to Puck's actions rather than Oberon's, like the fact that both Demetrius and Lysander end up in love with the same woman because of Puck's mistake. Puck is also responsible for the play's epilogue, in which he addresses the audience and tells them (us) that if the play was unsatisfactory, to imagine that it was only a dream. In these ways, Puck appears to be more of a hands-on mastermind than Oberon, in spite of their hierarchical relationship.

Key Character Differences

Besides the fact that Oberon is technically the boss, while Puck is responsible for most of the action, there are a couple key differences in their characters. For example, toward the end of the play, the two fairies have a conversation about the coming of the dawn, and whether they should complete their work before daylight finds them out and about. Puck says to Oberon:

''Already to their wormy beds are gone;

For fear lest day should look their shames upon

They wilfully exile themselves from light,

And must for eye consort with black-brow'd night.

Oberon: But we are spirits of another sort:

I with the morning's love have oft made sport;

And, like a forester, the groves may tread

Even till the eastern gate, all fiery-red...''

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