Shakespeare's Robin Goodfellow: Traits & Analysis

Instructor: Debbie Notari
Robin Goodfellow, better known as 'Puck,' is the witty, likeable fairy in Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' He faithfully executes the duties commanded by King Oberon, but throws in a little mischief of his own.


Puck is a specific Shakespearean fairy based on the idea from European folklore. In Scotland, a mischievous fairy such as Puck would be called a brownie. In Germany, he is called kobold. He is a fairy who pulls practical jokes but means no harm. He is also known as a hobgoblin.

In Act 2 Scene 1, we are first introduced to Puck as he converses with a fairy. She recognizes him almost at once, calling him a 'shrew and knavish sprite'(2.1). She accuses him of frightening the village milkmaid, and keeping butter from churning properly, among other tricks. But she acknowledges that he can also bring good luck when he chooses.

Puck freely admits to pulling other pranks, as well, such as pretending to be a milkmaid's stool, and then disappearing just as she is sitting down, or being an apple in an old woman's drink that bobs up and splashes her face and neck as she goes to take a sip.

But his primary curiosity at the moment is the conflict between his master, King Oberon, and his estranged fairy wife, Queen Titania. Titania is raising a small Indian orphan boy, but King Oberon wants the child to train up as his own personal henchman. Titania will have nothing of it.

King Oberon asks Puck to find a flower that sprung up from one of Cupid's arrows that missed its mark. When the juice from the flower is dropped in one's eye, that person will fall in love with the first creature he or she sees upon awakening. Oberon wants to trick Titania into making a fool of herself while he steals her Indian boy. It is important to note Puck's unquestioning loyalty to Oberon. Whatever Oberon asks him to do, he will do. In the meantime, Puck obviously finds ways to have fun on his own.

The Players

A group of tradesmen have met in the woods to practice the play Pyramus and Thisbe for the upcoming wedding of Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta. They are simple men, but one of the players, Bottom, thinks he is a fine actor! He tries to play multiple parts and is obnoxiously bossy. Puck stumbles upon them, and is amused. Here is the perfect creature for Titania to fall in love with. But Puck decides to give Bottom a donkey's head, making him even more ridiculous than he already is by nature. This is exactly the sort of trick Puck loves to play.

After Puck gives Bottom the donkey's head, the other players are terrified, thinking the woods to be bewitched. As Puck chases them through the woods, he states:

'I'll follow you, I'll lead you about a round,

Through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier:

Sometime a horse I'll be, sometime a hound,

A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;

And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,

Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn'(3.1).

Puck pretends to be all sorts of wild animals, and he obviously loves playing this trick on the players. Terrified, the poor players flee the forest, leaving the bewildered and unaware Bottom to try and figure out what happened, and we are never quite sure he realizes that his head looks like a donkey's head.

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