Puck and Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream
When James Joyce was a teenager, a friend asked him if he had ever been in love. He answered, "How would I write the most perfect love songs of our time if I were in love - A poet must always write about a past or a future emotion, never about a present one - A poet's job is to write tragedies, not to be an actor in one" (Ellman 62). I mention this because - after replacing the word "comedy" for "tragedy" and allowing a little latitude on the meaning of the word "actor" - Joyce is subconsciously giving A Midsummer Night's Dream's argument about the role of the artist. That is to say, an artist must be removed from the action, or, at least, not prone to normal temptations. This emotional distance gives the artist the type of perspective that Theseus likens to a madman's. It also, however, gives the artist a vantage point from which he can give the other characters' experiences meaning. Therefore, I will argue that, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare sees the artist as someone who is removed from the play's main action, but gives meaning to the play's experience (for both the audience and the other characters). I will show this by examining the roles of the two counterpart artists: Bottom (who supercedes Peter Quince as Every Mother's Son's artist), and Puck (whose art is changing people's hearts and minds). My first four paragraphs show how Shakespeare uses Puck and Bottom allegorically to represent two different components of the artistic mind. Secondly, I show how Shakespeare leaves them emotionally distant from the main action of the play. Lastly, I will show how they end up interpreting the play, thereby, giving it meaning.
It is important to show that Puck and Bottom are very similar characters. I do not mean to suggest that they are interchangeable - the way, for instance, Hermia and Helena are. Rather, Puck and Bottom are counterparts, with each representing a different component of the artistic mind. Shakespeare gives them enough similarities to draw attention to the fact that they share a common artistic bond. For example, they both use their art to serve rulers. Puck changes people's hearts at Oberon's bidding. Even when he acts on his own - when he changes Bottom into an ass - he ends up serving his master's purposes. Bottom uses his art to serve a ruler as well. He is single-minded in his commitment to perform in front of Theseus. In fact, he is so eager to entertain Theseus that he volunteers for every role in the play. By having Bottom and Puck both serve rulers, Shakespeare is highlighting the artistic relationship between the two characters.
Another way Shakespeare links Puck and Bottom is through their differences. This sounds paradoxical, but it is not. Their differences are so pronounced that the audience cannot help but contrast them, therefore linking them in the audience's mind. For example, Shakespeare...