Everybody knows Robin Goodfellow, Puck, as the troublemaker, the puppeteer, even the “evil genius” if you so choose to go that far. If it weren’t for his intervention in the lives of the four Athenian lovers, Titania and Bottom, then there would pretty much be no play. His actions is what drives the play, and is what drives the characters into certain action as well, and in the end, all works itself out the way that it should, or so it seems.
Autolycus does this in a similar fashion in The Winter’s Tale. Although his character seems quite random and to not have any main part in the essential idea of the play, Autolycus, like Puck, actually plays the puppeteer in the play. Similar to Puck, Autolycus is not helping the characters out of the goodness of his heart, he is just toying around with them, using them as game pieces for his own enjoyment. He does not tell Polixenes about Florizel’s plan to run away to Bohemia because it would be too honest of him to do so, “…if I thought it were a piece of honesty to / acquint the king withal, I would not do’t: I hold it / the more knavery to conceal it; and therein am I / constant to my profession” (IV. IV. 682-685). Puck does the same thing in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. He plays around with the love-in-idleness flower and the power it has, not just because he is told to do so by Oberon, but for his own enjoyment. He enjoys watching the mayhem he causes unfold, and takes pride in knowing that it was all his doing.
Through Autolycus’s acts of mischief, he furthers the development of the play and enables characters to take a certain course of action, which would help lead them into the “right” direction, towards the resolution in the end; just as Puck does. One of the biggest parts in the play in which his intervention aids the development of the play is when he switches cloths with Florizel,
Autolycus: I am a poor fellow
Camillo: Why, be so still; here’s nobody will steal that
From thee: yet for the outside of thy poverty we must
Make an exchange; therefore discase thee instantly, –
thou must think there’s necessity in’t – and change
garments with this gentleman: though the
pennyworth on his side be the worst, yet hold thee,
there’s some boot. (IV. IV. 632 – 639)
In heeding to Camillo’s orders to exchange cloths with Florizel, Autolycus allowed them to be able to get a ship and run off to bohemia, undetected by Polixenes.
Not only did Autolycus have a hand in getting Florizel and Perdita to bohemia, but he was also able to get the Shepard and Clown to go to Bohemia as well. If neither of them ended up at Bohemia, nothing would have been resolved; nobody would have found out that the Clown and Shepard found Perdita in the woods, which means it would not have been discovered who she actually is, which then means that the marriage between Perdita and Florizel would have never been accepted and would have remained forbidden by Polixenes.
Neither Puck, nor Autolycus intentionally aid in the character’s journeys to resolution at the end of the play. Both of them are only looking out for themselves, and take enjoyment in derailing any plans that anybody else has. However, what they do not realize is that their intervention is what ultimately leads to the final resolution, the resolution in which all that was done by them, becomes either undone, or justifies the ending. In the end all is as it should be, or as it is expected to be.