Puck And The Puca


Sir, - Deasun Breatnach is right to question the scholarship of the New Oxford Dictionary of English (An Irishman's Diary, April 20th) in the matter of the puca.

Under the word "Puck", the dictionary tells us he is the goblin Robin Goodfellow - that is, the spirit best known as a character in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In fact the English folklore character of Robin Goodfellow is far older than Shakespeare, but it may have been the playwright who first gave him the name Puck. However, he did not take the name from Old English, as the dictionary suggests.

According to at least one Shakespeare scholar (G. B. Harrison, writing at the University of Michigan in the 1950s), "Shakespeare was apparently the first to give the name of Puck (the pook or spirit) to Robin. The name may have been appropriately taken from Spenser's Epithalamium - the wedding song which he composed for his own wedding, and which appeared in the early weeks of 1595."

That would put the publication of the poem at the same time as Shakespeare was writing Dream. Harrison continues: "In one of the later stanzas Spenser prayed that his wedding night might be free from alarms:

"Ne let the Pook, nor other evil sprites,

Ne let mischievous witches with their charms . . .

Fray us with things that be not."

Spenser scholars, like Shakespeare scholars, seemed to have looked no further than the Epithalamium for the origin of Robin's new name. But Spenser lived in North Cork at Kilcolman Castle, just two miles from Castle Pook, attached to which were many puca stories that must have been known to the poet. - Yours, etc., M. E. Synon,

Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 1.