Shakespeare's Thieves and Faeries
Shakespeare's Puck, the mischievous household sprite Robin Goodfellow, resembles a more benign sketch of Sir John Falstaff and the other motley thieves in Henry IV, Part One.
Both Robin and the thieves tend to go by night, use disguises and magic, and act as jesters to their respective royalty. Falstaff declares, ". . . we that take purses go by the moon and the seven stars, and not by Phoebus. . ." [I.ii.13-15] and adds, "Let us be Diana's foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon. . . under whose countenance we steal." [I.ii. 25-30] The action in A Midsummer Night's Dream takes place by moonlight as well; in fact, Robin worries aloud to Oberon that he may not be quick enough to undo the love-spell's damage by dawn, when his powers are presumably diminished. Robin often travels invisibly or in disguise, as when he imitates in turn the voices of Lysander and Demetrius, or eavesdrops on the rude mechanicals without being espied. Poins, for his part, produces vizards for all on the evening of the planned robbery. Gadshill says that he has "the receipt of fernseed, we walk invisible." [II.i.89] And just as Robin and Oberon put stars in the lover's eyes with an enchanted pansy, Falstaff declares that Poins must have given him "medicines to make [Falstaff] love him." [II.ii.18]
Falstaff clearly occupies a privileged position as a sort of court jester, his constant jabs at Hal and the crown itself accepted without punishment -- save Hal's verbal parries at Falstaff's slovenliness. Robin explains to a passing faerie that his purpose is to "jest ...
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...t things can be set right: "The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well." [III.ii.463]
Even when they try to portray evil, Falstaff and Robin do such a lousy job of it that we are assured of their relative innocuousness. Puck brags, "I am fear'd in field and town," [III.ii.398] but given his previous recital of his pastimes [II.i.43-56] we can't possibly take this contention seriously. What have we to fear from one who merely makes an old woman spill her ale, or impersonates a three-legged stool? And who in his right mind would believe that the corpulent Falstaff battled an ever-increasing number of buckskinned warriors and later singlehandedly finished Harry Hotspur? Robin cannot be wicked and Falstaff cannot be cunning, and the really malevolent must exhibit both properties.
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