The last lines spoken by Puck near the end of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare in the Epilogue (lines 5-20) are particularly striking both in terms of language and of overall meaning in the play. The purpose of this short speech in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is not only to bring about a sense of closure, but also to remind the audience of the dreamlike nature of what they have either read or witnessed. As one of the causers of chaos in this play by Shakespeare, Puck is uniquely situated to deliver these lines because he is the witness and force of causation behind much of the romantic struggle that takes place in the text.
These important lines in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are also meaningful because they make the reader, much like the human characters upon waking up, wonder if everything that has transpired was a dream or reality. Much of Puck’s language in this passage invokes images of sleep and dreaming, and he avoids responsibility at the beginning of the passage by reminding the reader that perhaps even they had been sleeping and dreaming along with the central characters. In many ways, these lines by Puck are a microcosm the play in general, especially since they offer contrasts and conflicting images, ideas, and messages.
When Puck states to the audience in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” “If we shadows have offended, / Think but this, and all is mended: / That you have but slumbered here, / While these visions did appear” the idea is expressed in these important quotes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare is that even the audience may have been dreaming and that is the only thing that can explain the mayhem that has occurred throughout the play. He refers to the players as “shadows” which suggests that perhaps they are mere figments of the imagination rather than actual persons and that they are only fleeting images that change with the light. Using the word “shadow” is also important because throughout the play, it is the shadowy presence of the fairies and magic that drives the main action by both creating and then finally resolving the conflict.
While the reader can easily “see” the fairies in this text, they are mysterious and stand in sharp contrast to the more serious human characters, thus making their presence even more ethereal and dreamlike. Interestingly, all of the fairies and supernatural entities in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”are shadowy in some senses, especially because they operate under the cover of night and without the knowledge of the humans. In many ways, “shadows” that “offend” in this case means not just Puck, but all of the fairies in general since they separate apart from human activity.
The above stated lines in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “That you have but slumbered here, / While these visions did appear” suggest to the audience that if they were upset at anything that occurred in the play, this can be remedied by the idea that this was all just a dream and that the reader, much like the characters in the play, were the victims of magic, dreams, and sleep. When he states that “all is mended” by the realization that what occurred was only a dream, he is asking the reader to think in the same terms as the four lovers because all was resolved when they awoke to find themselves in an agreeable situation with the agreement that everything had just been a dream versus reality in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It seems that the characters in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are the models for the reader’s reaction; since they believe that all is well because what has transpired was a dream, not reality. This sense is heightened after Puck’s suggestion to his audience that we be not offended because we may have been dreaming. Throughout “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” there has constantly been the feeling that everything is somehow being impacted by the suggestions or actions of “shadows” or fairies and magic and thus when Puck makes his suggestion to the audience, it seems natural to follow it, much as the central human characters do.
After suggesting to the reader or viewer of the play by Shakespeare that everything can be explained away or remedied by the idea that everything has been a dream, Puck goes on to say, “And this weak and idle theme, / No more yielding than a dream / Gentles, do not reprehend.” Unlike some of the other lyrically spoken dialogue in the play, this urging for the reader is spoken in an almost lullaby sense. It is as if he is trying to put the reader back in another dream state so they can forget what has just happened and become lulled by the magic of his words. It is important that he actually uses the word “dream” in this section, but it is even more important that such a word (which stands for one of the main themes of the play) is said with words like “yielding” and “Gentles” which also convey a sense of peace. The words “weak and idle” coupled with yielding make the reader feel pliable and open to suggestion, which Puck is taking advantage of here to sway us. Throughout Shakespeare’s play there is often magic influencing the actions of characters, but here the magic is language itself and instead of affecting the characters, this is intended to have an effect on the reader (or viewer) instead.
An interesting shift occurs after this lulling section of the important passage being analyzed as Puck says, “And I am an honest puck, / If we have unearned luck / Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue, / We will make amends ere long, / Else the puck a liar call.” Much like the rest of the play, there is a series of closely aligned opposites. One of the most noticeable cases is how, in this small area alone, we are confronted with both “honest” and “liar” as well as images of peace, such as “make amends” contrasted with images of danger, such as the “serpent”. Even though Puck is urging the reader or viewer to put trust in him and to accept his graceful plea for mutual peace and understanding, at the same time these words of mistrust and danger are below the surface and tinge his message, making one wonder just how peaceful and good this character really is. This is the same feeling one gets throughout the entire text because on the one hand, the fairies, Puck in particular, seem on the one hand to be fun and carefree as well as likable, but on the other hand they are capable of potentially harmful deception. Just as is presented in this section, there is another potential case of a fairy with good intentions but there is still that slight undercurrent of malice or wrong as represented by words like “liar” and “serpent.”
In sum, this section of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (lines 5-20 of the Epilogue) goes in three directions. First there is the mention of the “shadows” which again bring to mind something that is potentially dark and seedy, yet at the same time a perfect description for the magical influences. Next, there is the subtle and magical provocation by Puck to make the reader sleepy and forgetful of the “shadows that have offended” he then changes directions again slightly at the end of the chosen selection (lines 17-20 of the Epilogue) and brings his speech to a close saying, “So, good night unto you all, / Give me your hands, if we be friends, / And Robin shall restore amends.” This is a very peaceful ending, but again, it is impossible to ignore the conflicting images and language.
The ending of Puck’s speech do give the reader some closure and allow them to make amends with the story, as Puck is suggesting, but there is never a feeling of ultimate peace one is left with. Even though the message at the end is that he wants us all to feel that it was just a dream, it is not an entirely pleasant dream. Even though there is a happy ending, one cannot forget some of the darker undercurrents in the play. These are not as easy to pick out because they are masked within the language and exemplified by Puck when he contrasts words and images as explained previously. This closing speech by Puck is a perfect microcosm for the play in general because it addresses the themes of deception (or at least the potential for it) and of course, of opposites and contrasts. In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” nothing is quite what it seems and even the speech that is supposed to settle any dispute between Puck and his readers or viewer is still not entirely trustworthy. One must assume that it is important then, to take Puck’s advice and like the characters, enjoy the happy ending and always be suspicious of dreams.
Other essays and articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : The Role of Disguises in As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream • Appearances versus Reality in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night • The Significance of the Play Within a Play Structure of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream • The Symbol of the Moon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” • The Friendships of Women in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare• The Significance of the Philomel Reference in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”