Laurie Johnson
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Puck, Philostrate and the locus of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s topical allegory
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This chapter examines how the supernatural elements in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are constructed from mythical and folkloric sources but reconfigured as contemporary topical allusions. The play thus seems to be a locus for potentially competing influences: borrowing from the past while also writing to the present moment, most likely to excite the interest of his audiences and their yen for gossip or scandal. Shakespeare’s invention of the name ‘Puck’ for the puckle figure of folklore creates opportunities for every member of an audience to see the figure as consonant with their own local knowledge of such a sprite, but also enables the playwright to develop an allusion to George Buck and his competition with John Lyly for the reversion of the Master of Revels. The play thus also positions the censor as its first audience, with the allusion and Puck’s epilogue addressed directly to the Master of Revels at the time, Edmund Tylney, making amends for recent offences by Shakespeare’s company. The forest outside Athens becomes the site for a clash between modes of signification – sources and topicality – anchoring supernatural elements to far more worldly contemporary issues.

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