Study Guide

A Midsummer Night's Dream The Supernatural

By William Shakespeare

The Supernatural

Act 2, Scene 1
Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

PUCK
And sometime lurk I in a gossip's bowl
In very likeness of a roasted crab,
And, when she drinks, against her lips I bob,
And on her withered dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
And "tailor" cries, and falls into a cough,
And then the whole choir hold their hips and laugh,
And waxen in their mirth and neeze and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there. (2.1.49-59)

Puck's magic is less mean-spirited than mischievous.  He likes to play practical jokes that have the same homespun, playful nature of the villagers he teases.  Most importantly, his magic, though naughty, is not wicked.  The point is to make people be merry, as laughter is its own kind of magic.

PUCK
How now, spirit! whither wander you?

FAIRY
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire;
I do wander every where,
Swifter than the moon's sphere.
And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favors;
In those freckles live their savors. (2.1.1-13)

It is important to note that the fairy is not talking about magic here, but about the natural world.  The magic is not about what the fairies do to nature, but about the beauty they see in it instead.  In this way, the wood makes for the perfect pastoral, as it's magical and beautiful by the very nature of its setting.

Titania

TITANIA
Come, now a roundel and a fairy song;
Then, for the third part of a minute, hence—
Some to kill cankers in the muskrose buds,
Some war with reremice for their leathern wings
To make my small elves coats; and some keep back
The clamorous owl that nightly hoots and wonders
At our quaint spirits. (2.2.1-7)

Titania describes her fairies as being at odds with the natural world, which is new.  Up to this point, there is much emphasis on the natural world complementing the fairies' magic. However, the picture becomes more rich and complex when we realize that the fairies have struggles (or at least inconveniences) in the natural world as well.

Oberon

OBERON
That very time I saw (but thou couldst not)
Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
Cupid, all arm'd; a certain aim he took
At a fair vestal, throned by the west,
And loos'd his love-shaft smartly from his bow
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts.
But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
Quench'd in the chaste beams of the wat'ry moon,
And the imperial vot'ress passèd on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.
Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell.
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,
And maidens call it "love-in-idleness."
Fetch me that flow'r, the herb I showed thee once.
The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees. (2.1.1561-178)

Oberon explains why the pansy has a magical quality.  His explanation reveals magic's complexity, and how many strange factors magic relies on, especially the natural world. Cupid's arrows, aimed at a royal virgin, were misdirected by the beams of the moon, as the moon is personified by Diana, the virgin goddess.  As a result, Cupid's arrow hits the pansy, which becomes magic.  Shakespeare thus reveals that magic is not just some cheap tool that can easily explain away holes in a plot—it is actually the intersection between the mythic and natural worlds.

OBERON
seek through this grove.
A sweet Athenian lady is in love
With a disdainful youth; anoint his eyes,
But do it when the next thing he espies
May be the lady. Thou shalt know the man
By the Athenian garments he hath on.
Effect it with some care, that he may prove
More fond on her than she upon her love. (2.1.267-274)

At first, it seems Oberon means to do good with his magic, but it turns out there is a streak of mischief in him after all.  He wishes Demetrius to fall in love with Helena, but he wants Demetrius to be so in love with Helena that she will get annoyed. This raises the question of whether magic always has to be a little devious. Magic does not come from the natural world, so it makes sense that it plays out in a slightly twisted (or unnatural) way.

Act 3, Scene 2
Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

PUCK
My fairy lord, this must be done with haste,
For night's swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,
And yonder shines Aurora's harbinger,
At whose approach ghosts, wand'ring here and
there
Troop home to churchyards. Damned spirits all
That in crossways and floods have burial,
Already to their wormy beds are gone.
For fear lest day should look their shames upon,
They willfully themselves exile from light,
And must for aye consort with black-browed night. (3.2.399-409)

Puck reminds us that there is more than just white magic and the natural world's beauty. For the ghostly dead spirits, the night is not a time of merriment, but a good time to hide themselves in shame from the light of day. The supernatural element of black magic is not central to the play, but is still used as yet another way to contrast different worlds.

Oberon

OBERON
But we are spirits of another sort.
I with the Morning's love have oft made sport
And, like a forester, the groves may tread
Even till the eastern gate, all fiery red,
Opening on Neptune with fair blessed beams,
Turns into yellow gold his salt green streams.
But, notwithstanding, haste, make no delay.
We may effect this business yet ere day. (3.2.410-417)

Oberon points out that the fairies are not dark spirits cursed to stay out of daylight.  He and the fairies wander freely morning, noon, and night.  These habits contrast with those of Puck, who is always trying to get out of morning's way.  By pointing out that fairies can be out during the day, Oberon casts suspicion on Puck's nocturnal limitation.  Puck, like the graveyard ghosts, seems to have some element in his magic that's more sinister than that of the others.