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 to Oberon and make him smile." [II.i.45]
Poins and Robin (and his master Oberon) take great pleasure in tormenting foolish humans through clever trickery, not out of malice but simple jocularity. Even Prince Hal, admiring Poins' skillful plan to dupe Falstaff, comments gleefully, "Now could thou and I rob the thieves and go merrily to London, it would be argument for a week, laughter for a month, and a good jest forever." [II.ii.93ff] Poins promises that the results will make them "As merry as crickets, my lad." [II.iv.90] He and Hal additionally torment Francis, seemingly unwitting of the distress their baiting causes the poor tapster. The fairy that Robin meets in the forest nails the Puck's purpose: he is a "shrewd and knavish sprite" whose goal is to "mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm." [II.i.33ff] And mislead them he does. On a whim, he gives the witless Bottom an ass's head, relating the news of Titania's humiliating infatuation to Oberon in mirthful terms. Although Robin feigns ignorance at mixing up Demetrius and Lysander, he enjoys the spectacle of the wandering, competitive lovers to no end: "Those things do best please me /...