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Scene 2.1

The play now moves into yet another realm: the kingdom of invisible fairies. In one of the play's most famous speeches, full of verbal wit and lively images, Robin Goodfellow (more familiarly known as "Puck"), an impish sprite who works for Oberon, King of the Fairies, boasts to another fairy about his skill, and his sheer delight, in playing practical jokes on humans and animals. Puck describes how "I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile / Neighing in the likeness of a filly foal," or else "The wisest aunt telling the saddest tale / Sometime for the three-foot stool mistaketh me / Then slip I from her bum. Down topples she!"

Puck and the fairy also discuss the current dispute between Oberon and the Fairy Queen Titania. Once again, the play considers the connection between love and strife - but if Theseus and Hippolyta had replaced war with marriage, Oberon and Titania are doing quite the reverse. According to Puck, Oberon has become terribly jealous of one of Titania's attendants, "a lovely boy, stolen from an Indian king," and wishes to have him for his own service. It is unclear whether Oberon is jealous of Titania's love for the boy, or the boy's love for Titania. Whatever the reason, Oberon has grown more and more furious as Titania "withholds the loved boy / Crowns him with flowers and makes him all her joy." Relations between the King and Queen have become so bad that Puck warns the fairy not to let Titania near the place where Oberon is holding his "revels."

Unfortunately, moments later, the two accidentally cross paths to prove Puck's story right - as Oberon says, the two are "Ill met by moonlight." Titania at first won't even stop to speak to Oberon, declaring that she has "forsworn his bed and company." Oberon commands her to "tarry, rash wanton [whore]," asking "am I not thy lord?" Titania responds by pointing out the number of times Oberon has cheated on her. She even accuses Oberon of having an affair with the Amazon queen Hippolyta, while he counters by accusing Titania of similar conduct with Duke Theseus. Oberon finally demands the "little changeling boy," but Titania will not hear of it. She tells the story of how she came to have the boy in her train (he was the son of one of her exotic "vot'resses" or priestesses). After insisting on the boy's sentimental value, the queen leaves Oberon's presence in a huff.

Oberon decides that he must seek revenge on Titania for her stubborn refusal to give up the boy, and invents an ingenious plan. He sends Puck into the forest to find a little flower, called "love in idleness," telling a fantastic story about Cupid's inadvertent "wounding" of the blossom (this lyrical account of the flower contains a short compliment to Shakespeare's actual queen, Elizabeth I). Having been hit by Cupid's arrow, the flower possesses a magical power: when its juice is placed on the eyelids of a sleeping person, that person will fall instantly in love with the first person (or thing!) they see when awakening. Oberon plans to use this magic juice on Titania, making the proud queen fall hopelessly in love with an unworthy object, and thereby humiliating her.

Puck heads off to find the flower, promising to return in "forty minutes." Meanwhile, Oberon observes Demetrius running through the forest in pursuit of Hermia - followed by Helena, who begs his love in typically pathetic fashion (even telling Demetrius "use me but as your spaniel [dog], spurn me, strike me . . ."). Demetrius, ever the gentleman, says that he would rather leave Helena "to the mercy of the wild beasts" - and she responds that she would "die upon the hand I love so well" rather than stop chasing him. Although Oberon also plans to inflict cruelty on another woman (Titania), he is bothered by Demetrius' behavior and moved by Helena's plight. When Puck returns with the flower, Oberon sends him to use some of it on Demetrius, so that he will return Helena's love. There is one minor problem: Puck has never seen Demetrius, and the only description that Oberon gives him is that Demetrius is a young man, dressed in "Athenian garments," attended by a young woman.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Scene 1.1
Scene 1.2
Scene 2.1
Scene 2.2
Scene 3.1
Scene 3.2
Scene 4.1
Scene 4.2
Scene 5.1


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