With this, the last Wednesday of winter, it’s time to celebrate. Spring is almost here and after that, Summer. From one of The Bard’s most popular plays, performed more often today than just about any other, here’s the lovely and lyrical closing lines of 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.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as 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;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
—A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene i
The ethereal spirit Puck delivers this postlude, which at first blush seems so much fluff. But I think Shakespeare is saying something important here about the reality of theatre and the nature of Art. He has Puck urging the audience to pretend this was all but a dream–or is he? Shakespeare and Puck are playing with us: Puck, throughout the course of the play, has proven himself a trickster, yet he claims to be ‘honest Puck’; he admits the play’s themes are ‘weak and idle’ yet here we are, 400 years later, still parsing them out; the actors are shadows and the play ‘no more yielding than a dream’, yet they still have the power to offend–sending Puck out to address the audience directly to plead for amends.
Such a strangely thoughtful ending, more than just a beautiful reel of couplets, it’s an evocative rumination on reality and dream, on memory and imagination. And all of this at the tail end of a delightful fantasy-comedy.
The image is of Stanley Tucci’s delightfully ridiculous Puck from the 1999 movie.