Puck may be mischievous, but he is not cruel or evil. Do you agree? I agree to a large extent that; although Puck may be mischievous and playful, it does not mean that he is inherently cruel and evil. Mischievousness, implies a sort of roguish fondness for trickery and pranks, this however does not necessarily dictate that Puck is evil at heart. At the outset, the first impression the audience receives of Puck is that of a merry prankster and not a hard-hearted plotter who wishes ill.
The first fairy the audience meets describes Puck as a ‘shrewd and knavish sprite’ referring directly to his mischievous spirit. The fairy describes Puck’s pranks of making ‘the drink to bear no barm’ and Puck himself talks about how he ‘jest[s] to Oberon, and make[s] him smile’ and even pretends to be a stool only to disappear when one wants to sit; all of which though they may sometimes be unkind, do not mean any serious harm. Thus from the beginning, Shakespeare creates the impression of a character that delights in mischief, but does not go out of his way to harm people.
Though Puck catalyses the conflict between the lovers, it is not because of evil intent that he does this. In fact if anyone should be deemed cruel or evil in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it should be Oberon. As it was due to carrying out Oberon’s orders, Puck caused the confusion amongst the lovers seen in Act 3 Scene 2. It is doubtless that Puck was indeed the one who ‘anoint[s]’ Lysander’s eyes instead of Demetrius, causing Lysander to pursue Helena to ‘honour…
[her] and be… [her] knight’, creating a tangle of lovers when all four finally meet in Act 3 Scene 2. However, he does this obliviously, as seen in how he later admits that he had ‘mistook’ Lysander for Demetrius because Oberon identified Demetrius by ‘the Athenian garments he hath on’. Thus going to show that he had no intention of causing the trouble he did. Additionally, he is willing to make amends for the trouble he has caused, showing that he meant no permanent harm.
After finding out that he had ‘laid the love juice on some true-love’s sight’ causing a ‘true love [to] turn’d false’, by causing Lysander to fall for Helena, he immediately commits himself to being ‘swifter than an arrow from tartar’s bow’ in searching for Helena to make things right. Later he honestly admits his mistake to Oberon, pleading Oberon ‘King of shadows’ to ‘believe [him that he]… mistook’. Thus by willingly admitting his mistake and swiftly making amends, Puck shows that he had no intent to harm the lovers at all, shedding light on his character that he is not intrinsically evil.
Furthermore, Puck shows compassion for the lovers in his actions, revealing a somewhat unexpected benevolent nature. This is seen when he mistakes Lysander’s reason for sleeping so far from Hermia as ‘lack[ing]-love and… courtesy’. He echoes similar sentiments when he comments that ‘Cupid is a knavish lad, Thus to make poor females mad’ at the end of all the chaos of Act 3 Scene 2. Similarly, although Puck leads Demetrius and Lysander ‘Up and down, up and down’, seeming to goad them, he does so for good reason- in order to lead them away from each other to prevent a fight.
Hence through these instances, Puck shows himself to be even less of the hot-headed mischief maker. However, Puck does show a streak of cruelty in his dealings with the craftsmen. His attitude to the craftsmen and Bottom in particular is scornful, calling them the ‘shallowest thicksin of that barren sort’. This conflicts with the audience’s previous encounters with the craftsmen, which though show them to be ‘shallow’ they are certainly not ‘barren’, and ‘The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe’ they persevered in practicing is proof of this.
Thus Puck comes across here as very caustic and snide, which may lead the audience to think of him as a wicked character. He even gloats to Oberon about how he had ‘An ass’s noll fixed on’ Bottom’s head, which reveals a certain malicious streak in him. Nonetheless, Puck’s conclusion of the play emphasizes that he means no ill will. In his closing statement, he says to the audience that ‘If you pardon, we shall amend’, for he is ‘an honest Puck’. Highlighting yet again that although he may delight in and make a ‘sport’ out of mischief, he means no real injury, for he is no cruel fairy.