March 12th

Here is an early quarto of A Midsummer Nights Dream, issued in 1600, a year that saw seven other plays of Shakespeare enjoy publication.

In a few days, there will be occasion to look at another edition of this play, one published after this one and before the First Folio, in the so called Pavier Quarto, but for now, it is worth noticing another curious trick in the speech prefixes of the play’s final scene, when the Fairy King Oberon’s master of mischief, Puck, delivers the epilogue to close the play:

In these final moments, with all seeming to be mended, Puck enters the scene, alone, to muse upon the romantic unions that have been, it would seem happily brought about. The monologue is preceded by the stage direction “Enter Puck,” and the solo entrance of a clown figure such as Puck onto the scene, near the end of the play, was a conventional means of drawing the play to a close. Puck is briefly joined, however, by the royal fairies Oberon and Titania, upon whose exit, the speech prefix “Puck” changes to “Robin.”

The change is not a typo–or at least, not quite. The name, a contraction of “Robin Goodfellow,” is occasionally reserved for Puck within the comedy, and it referred to a figure of folk English origins who wrought his benign mischief on local farms and villages. While the name has become, for us, synonymous with Shakespeare’s fairy of that name, it was, at Shakespeare’s time, far more mobile than that, Robin Goodfellow being a figure of the popular imagination who made his way into ballads and even into masque by Ben Jonson.

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