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Lord, what fools these mortals be!

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” can be found in Act III, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The quote is spoken by Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, to Oberon and falls and can be seen in line 117. 

The quote is perhaps the most famous from this well-loved Shakespearean comedy. When Puck uses this quote, he and the fairy king Oberon observe Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander bickering in the woods about their various love affairs.

Lord, what fools these mortals be!


“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Meaning

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” is directed at the four Athenian mortals who are lost in the fairy woods in Shakespeare’s comedy. Puck is commenting on how “foolish “mortal love affairs are. The four are dealing with a variety of circumstances preventing them from being with the person they love. This is only made worse through Oberon’s and Puck’s interference (read more about this below). 

Where Did Shakespeare Use this Quote? 

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” is used in Act III, Scene 2 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. The line is spoken by one of the best-loved characters in the play–Puck. Here is the short quote in which the line appears in: 

Captain of our fairy band, 

Helena is here at hand, 

And the youth, mistook by me, 

Pleading for a lover’s fee. 

Shall we their fond pageant see? 

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

Puck speaks this line to his king, Oberon, while the two are watching the four Athenian main characters lost in the forest. These four lovers, whose love affairs are at the center of the play, are behaving in a way that Puck finds foolish and amusing. It should be noted that Puck bears some of the responsibility for the complicated relations between Helena, Demetrius, Hermia, and Lysander. 

The complexity of the relationships begins with Hermia and Lysander, who are in love at the start of the play. The former has been banned from marrying the man she loves by her father, who wants her to marry Demetrius. She refuses (on penalty of becoming a nun or being sentenced to death) and decides to run away with Lysander. But, while the two are in the woods, they get lost and are followed by Demetrius (who is in turn followed by Helena, who is in love with him). 

Oberon, the King of the Fairies, hears Helena and Demetrius arguing in the woods. He decides to make Demetrius fall in love with the first person he sees and tells Puck to put a love potion of the “Athenian’s” eyes. But, Puck applies the potion mistakenly to Lysander. He wakes up, sees Helena, and falls in love with her. Now, both Lysander and Demetrius are in love with the same woman (Helena), and Hermia has been forgotten. 

It’s while Oberon and Puck are watching this scene play out that Puck uses the above quote, noting how foolish these lovers are to argue in such a way. (This suggests that in the fairy world, such senseless arguing wouldn’t happen.) Oberon tells him to put the situation right, and he places a new potion on Lysander’s eyes he wakes up and falls in love with Hermia.

Why Did Shakespeare Use this Quote? 

“Lord, what fools these mortals be” was used in order to emphasize the complex and comical nature of the four-sided love affair at the heart of A Midsummer Nights’ Dream. All four young Athenians are wrapped up in their own desire for another person they can’t have while Puck and Oberon look on, at once amused and confused by their issues. Oberon tries to sort things out, using Puck to carry out his intentions, but it only makes things more complicated. 

The quote emphasizes the difference (which isn’t, in truth, that remarkable) between the fairy world and the human world. All while the Athenians are trying to sort out their love affairs, the King and Queen of the Fairies, who see themselves as above the humans, are fighting over who gets to have a specific young boy as a servant. This results in Oberon playing a trick on Titania, his queen, and making her fall in love with the next creature or person she sees. This ends up being Bottom, whose head has recently been transformed into a donkeys’ head.

FAQs 

Who said, “Lord, what fools these mortals be?”

This line is spoken by Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, in William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The line is addressed to Puck’s king, Oberon, and is about the foolish antics of the four Athenian mortals who, lost in the woods, are trying to reconcile their various love affairs.

What does Puck mean when he says, “Lord, what fools these mortals be?”

In this line, he comments on the behavior of Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius, who are lost in the woods and caught up in complex love affairs with one another. They love the wrong people (something that is only made worse by a love potion). 

What does Oberon discover when he and Puck observe Lysander and Helena?

Oberon discovers that Puck has used the love potion on the wrong Athenian. He wanted Puck to apply the potion to Demetrius’ eyes, but, misunderstanding, Puck applies to Lysander’s.


Other Quotes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream 


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