Sunday, April 6, 2008

Midsummer Night's Dream - A Puck By Any Other Name

John says he's been thinking about Puck recently. I have a few questions about Puck that I've always found curious. Some years ago, I found a small volume in Black Oak Books in Berkeley, California called Robin Goodfellow: His Merry Pranks and Mad Jests (but I can't position the text in relation to Midsummer Night's Dream; the published Robin Goodfellow dates to 1628, but one note I found suggests the story may date back before 1600). It made me curious about why Puck has more than one name: Puck, Robin Goodfellow. In the First Folio edition, he's listed as "Robin Goodfellow" when he enters in Act 2, scene 1, and "Robin" as he speaks. A "puck," my Folger Shakespeare edition tells me, is a sort of hobgoblin. Johnson defines "puck" in his dictionary as "some sprite among the fairies, common in romances."

So what is Puck's history? Is "Puck" a proper name or just a descriptive term ("I am an honest Pucke," "Else the Pucke a lyar call" [First Folio 162]), synonymous with "hobgoblin"? John, does "puck" have an etymology? Ernst or Gil, do you have any contemporary knowledge of the character? Cindy, do your students raise the issue of Robin Goodfellow vs Puck? How do you chart the tricky, and time-consuming, waters of arcane or antiquated background information? Mike, just what is "puck" in Spanish?

And how did we, as a Shakespeare reading community, come to call the character Puck and not Robin?


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