Is Autolycus Puck’s Equivalent in The Winter’s Tale? By Megan Mazza

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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.

Shakespeare’s Worst Girlfriends

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Okay, so, in the name of equality, I feel compelled to take the ladies of Shakespeare to task now, and decide who gets the dubious crown of Shakespeare’s worst girlfriend.  As with last time, I don’t consider killing someone to be necessarily a criteria of a bad date (apologies to my husband, but apparently, my bar is set very low), and I’m going to skip over the obvious bad chicks, partly because the obvious “bad woman” criteria is generally rooted in some kind of assumed patriarchal normative, and partly because I think Lady Macbeth was only telling her husband what he had already decided.

And we’re off!

 

1. Cleopatra. The Norma Desmond of Shakespeare.  She is always ready for her close up, and there is not a doubt in my mind that she wouldn’t stick a bullet in Antony and dump him in the pool (or Nile) rather than see him walk away from her.  In her defense, her drunken boyfriend did marry someone else while he was away on business, but she abandons him more times than I can count, and won’t stop talking, even as he’s begging her, with his dying breath, to shut the hell up so that he can give her some actual advice on how to survive Octavius.  She’s truly a great woman, unless you’re Antony.

2. Juliet. Horny narcissistic teenagers are annoying.  We all know this, except for Romeo, possibly because he is equally annoying.  If Cleopatra is the Norma Desmond of Shakespeare, Juliet is the Avril Lavigne.  Lots of angst, very little talent for, well, anything, really.  She falls into bed about thirty minutes after meeting Romeo, in spite of the fact that he’s probably just recycling the lines he would have used on Rosalind, had she had the low standards to listen to his lacksadacial lamentations.  Rosalind wasn’t having any of his nonsense, so he needed a dim-witted downgrade.  Thankfully he didn’t have to look very far.

3. Rosalind. Evidently, being high maintenance is a theme here.  Again, rubbish at selecting men (see above), but also not satisfied with the one she wants.  She tries to “fix” Orlando, and while she definitely isn’t wrong for doing so, I imagine that the Relationship 101  book probably  suggests that such an approach (especially before you actually go on a date) probably dooms you to failure.

4. Helena (either A Midsummer Night’s Dream or All’s Well).  Take your pick.  They’re both completely insane.  I blame Sex and the City.  It’s one thing to want to sleep with the hot frat boy that you know is going to break your heart, but it’s quite another to keep going back, time and again, in the hope that either drugs or legal enforcement is going to make him take you for wife.  If Hermia hadn’t been wrapped up in her own little mini crisis, I would expect her to do the decent thing, take Helena for a margarita, then slap her.  She needs it.  Also, as this is supposed to be from a boyfriend perspective, they are each one step away from boiling the Rousillion family bunny.

5. Hermione. Fakes her own death for sixteen year, in order to maintain an (admittedly valid) grudge against her husband.  That’s kind of badass, but not if you’re Leontes.

 

Honorable Mentions:  Desdemona.  She tells the court that “I saw Othello’s visage in his mind” essentially admitting that she loves her brand new husband in spite of his face.  Nice.   Ophelia.  Hamlet spends the whole play wishing he had the cajones to off himself, then BOOM! Ophelia has one mental break, and does it without having to announce it first.  Don’t get me wrong, the woman kicks ass – it’s just a bit embarrassing if you’re her EMO boyfriend. Don’t fear the reaper, dude. Portia: great at arguments, terrible at being a girlfriend.  The ultimate spoiled little rich girl, who uses every passive-aggressive trick in the book to make sure her boyfriend (and his maybesortofkindof boyfriend) know who is in charge.  Don’t ever accept a favor from Portia.  She’ll never let it go.