Monday, April 7, 2008

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

Well, being lazy, I start off with Wikipedia.

Puck (Mythology)
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Puck is often thought of as a mischievous nature spirit. However Puck is also a generalised personification of land spirits. Whilst being an aspect of Robin Goodfellow, he is also 'hob' and Will-o-the-Wisp. Puck is known in some lands and regions by other names and titles such as the Irish animal spirit. As such, he often takes the form of a black dog, known as the 'Pooka', in French 'Pouque', or in Welsh, 'Pwca' or 'Bwca'. This family of words is arguably the root of the term 'Pixies' (in Cornwall, 'Piskies').[1] There are other theories for the origin of theword 'Puck' (See below).

Puck is in some traditions, a land fairy.

The pagan trickster was reimagined in Old English puca (Christianized as "devil") as a kind of half-tamed woodland sprite, leading folk astray with echoes and lights in nighttime woodlands (like the German and Dutch "Weisse Frauen" and "Witte Wieven" and the French Dames Blanches - all "White Ladie"), or coming into the farmstead and souring milk in the churn.

Significantly for such a place-spirit or genius, the Old English word occurs mainly in place names. Some believe this to suggests that the Puca was older in the landscape of Britain than the language itself.According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymology of the name Puck is "unsettled", and it is not even clear whether its origin is Germanic (cf. Old Norse puki, Old Swedish puke, Icelandic puki, Frisian Puk) or Celtic (Welsh pwca[2] and Irish púca). A logical inference wouldsurmise that the Proto-Indo-European origin for both is earlier than thelinguistic split.[3]

In Ireland, "puck" is said to be sometimes used for "goat." Other similar names:

> In Friesland, there is a “Puk
> In old German, the “putz” or “butz” is a being not unlike the original English Puck.
> The “Puk” (or the Draug) in Norwegian is a water sprite, a supernatural being of evil power.
> In Icelandic a “Púki” is a little devil. “Púkinn” with the definite article suffix "-inn," "The Puck," means the Devil.

The folklore of Puck was magisterially assembled by William Bell, in two volumes that appeared in 1852[4] that have been called a "monument to nineteenth-century antiquarianism gone rampant."[5]

Since, if you "speak of the Devil" he will appear, Puck's euphemistic "disguised" name is "Robin Goodfellow" or "Hobgoblin,"[6] in which "Hob" may substitute for "Rob" or may simply refer to the "goblin of the hearth" or hob. The name Robin is Middle English in origin, deriving from Old French Robin, the pet form for the name Robert. The earliest reference to "Robin Goodfellow" cited by the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1531. After Meyerbeer's successful opera Robert le Diable (1831), neo-medievalists and occultists began to apply the name Robin Goodfellow to the Devil, with appropriately extravagant imagery.

If you had the knack, Puck might do minor housework for you, quick fine needlework or butter-churning, which could be undone in a moment by his knavish tricks if you fell out of favor with him. "Those that Hob-goblin call you, and sweet Puck, / You do their work, and they shall have good luck" said one of William Shakespeare's fairies. Shakespeare's characterization of "shrewd and knavish" Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream may have revived flagging interest in Puck.[7]

According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898): [Robin Goodfellow is a] "drudging fiend", and merry domestic fairy, famous for mischievous pranks and practical jokes. At night-time he will sometimes do little services for the family over which he presides. The Scots call this domestic spirit a brownie; the Germans, kobold or Knecht Ruprecht. Scandinavians called it Nissë God-dreng. Puck, the jester of Fairy-court, is the same.

[End Wikipedia entry.]

1. I know something about draugs. They were troll-like creatures who sometimes were known to disguise themselves as stones, which, if you happened to take one out in your boat, would grow heavier and larger and eventually sink you. I have a picture of one someplace. But that's a bit of a way from our Puck.

2. There are other less reliable rumors, one of which refers to "pucks"as being like banshees who would attack Canadians screaming "Ha-keee!"But I've never see a "Ha-keee" puck myself. There is another rumor that an early puck founded a medieval university and named it after himself, and that, further, teams playing for that university were kept out of intercollegiate sports because of the obscenity of some of their fight songs and cheers. But that's another business.


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