Shakespeare Quotes: What fools these mortals be
What fools these mortals be Introduction
I'm Puck—or Robin Goodfellow, as I sometimes like to be called. I'm a fairy and I'm pretty mischievous. I always love a good practical joke. And you know what I think?
Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand;
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover's fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be! (3.2.110-115)
Who Said It and Where
In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow) is a mischievous sprite known for the tricks he likes to play on women in the nearby village. When his master, Oberon, King of the Fairies, and Titania, Queen of the Fairies, get into a heated fight, Puck is called in to help.
Oberon tells Puck that he wants to enchant Titania that evening with a magic love "juice" that will make her fall in love with the first creature she sees. Oberon hopes that when Titania wakes up, she'll see a monstrous beast and fall head over heels. The hope is that Titania will be so crazy in love that she'll forget about her argument with Oberon. Of course there's a bonus: Titania will be totally humiliated.
And Puck is totally the man for the job. He's an expert at tricks, so he can definitely make it happen—and then some. See, when Oberon spots some Athenian lovers arguing in the woods, he sends Puck to deliver the love juice to them as well.
Let's backtrack a second.
Hermia is in love with Lysander and he loves her back. But her dad wants her to marry Demetrius. So Hermia and Lysander go to the woods to escape. Helena and Demetrius also wander into the woods. Demetrius tries desperately to get rid of Helena because he is in love with Hermia. The problem is that Helena won't leave him alone because she wants to be his one true love. Whew.
Watching all of this, Oberon feels sorry for Helena and instructs Puck to find this young man in Athenian clothes and enchant the heck out of him. Little does Puck know that there is more than one young Athenian man in the woods that night. Uh-oh.
Puck runs into Lysander and sees that he is a young man dressed in Athenian clothes, so he dumps the love juice in his eyes. Whoops. Then Helena shows up and accidentally trips over the sleeping Lysander while pursuing Demetrius. Lysander wakes up, immediately declares his love for Helena, and follows her further into the woods.
Meanwhile, Hermia has slept through the love-juice dumping, the tripping and falling, and the declaring of love. When she wakes up and realizes Lysander is gone, she heads off into the woods in search of him, clueless that her boyfriend has fallen in love with her friend Helena.
Meanwhile, Oberon comes across Demetrius and Helena and dumps some love juice in Demetrius's eyes. Uh-oh. Trouble Alert! He soon figures out that Puck sprinkled the love juice in the wrong Athenian's eyes. (Remember, Puck put the potion in Lysander's eyes instead of Demetrius's.)
Though the Athenian lovers are suffering, for an observer like Puck, the lovers' foolishness is a source of entertainment. In this quote, he explains his confusion about the pair of young lovers. It's all fun and games to him.