Is Puck a Knavish Sprite or a Malign Spirit?
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Is Puck a Knavish Sprite or a Malign Spirit? This question is asked since, throughout the play Puck partakes in a variety of different situations that display his personality and character; he plays a main role and features significantly in the view of the audience. The issue may be debated because there is sufficient evidence indicating that he is both a knavish sprite and a malign spirit. The mystery of Puck begins to tease our brains in Act 2 Scene 1 where his conversation uncovers primary details of him being a 'knavish sprite'. 2:1 L33 states exactly that. Also the fairy continues to regurgitate the knavish tricks Puck often inflicts: Are not you he That frights the maidens of the villagery (2:1 L35) The fairy then proceeds to reveal that he is known to, Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm (2:1 L39) These activities may seem immature but, as the fairy acknowledges the fact that he laughs at their harm, the audience may now believe that he bears no respect for his innocent victims. This cruelty may hint at an abuse of his powers but, more drastically, the hint of a malign spirit.
The fact that Lysander and Demetrius are following illusions until they finally give up may be a moral point illustrating the silly illusions we sometimes follow, especially with as much aggression as Demitrius and Lysander possessed and then we lose interest and lack will power. Puck was delighted with this and found it all terribly amusing; the whole scenario demonstrates how superior the fairies are to us, but still, humans do not believe in super-natural beings sharing "their" world. Shakespeare then sets Puck to work; he is equipped with powers capable of embarrassing humans, I'll be an auditor, An actor too perhaps, if I see cause. (3:1 L62) It seems Puck has spotted another opportunity but as revealed to us from 2:1 L88, Puck has recognized and taken advantage of a cunning situation. The audience may first believe Puck is playing the knavish trick of converting Bottom's head for his personal enjoyment but his more intellectual intentions are made clear as he explains to Oberon that he transformed a Mechanical as they were near the sleeping Titania. He also tells Oberon he translates The shallowest thick-skin of that barren sort (3:2 L13) This comment directly hints at malign behaviour as he is targeting the weakest and most mentally challenged member, which can promote a sense of evil behind Puck's plot.
I think Shakespeare is writing to entertain but simultaneously to relieve thoughts from inside himself which otherwise will lay dormant. As a result Shakespeare has produced a character containing the ability to perform knavish tricks and that is all he does, Puck has been created to not realize or think of others but himself, which are child-like characteristics and we can not accuse a selfish child of being malign. However I think Puck is malign in his thoughts as Shakespeare is, although Puck may not be the main character, this is the character Shakespeare is most fond of he has projected his feelings through the less obvious servant rather than the dominant Oberon. However for 'A Midsummer's Nights Dream' to remain a comedy and for Shakespeare to feel secure about not blatantly exposing his feelings, Puck only acts knavish, and not so malign that the humour is unappreciated. With this good balance of both knavish and malign behaviour Shakespeare has approached the borderline of funny and chilling but thankfully has not crossed this line. The audience will recognize and appreciate this, and agree that Puck is certainly a character that will be noted as one of Shakespeare's most wicked but also memorable.
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