Queen Mab

May 3, 2006 at 2:47 am 4 comments

William Shakespeare

Listen

(Romeo and Juliet Act I Scene 4)

ROMEO

I dream’d a dream to-night.

MERCUTIO

And so did I.

ROMEO

Well, what was yours?

MERCUTIO

That dreamers often lie.

ROMEO

In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.

MERCUTIO

O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.

She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes

In shape no bigger than an agate-stone

On the fore-finger of an alderman,

Drawn with a team of little atomies

Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;

Her wagon-spokes made of long spiders’ legs,

The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,

The traces of the smallest spider’s web,

The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,

Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,

Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,

Not so big as a round little worm

Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;

Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut

Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,

Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.

And in this state she gallops night by night

Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;

O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court’sies straight,

O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,

O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,

Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,

Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:

Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,

And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;

And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail

Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,

Then dreams, he of another benefice:

Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,

And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,

Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,

Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon

Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,

And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two

And sleeps again. This is that very Mab

That plats the manes of horses in the night,

And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,

Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:

This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,

That presses them and learns them first to bear,

Making them women of good carriage:

This is she–

ROMEO

Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace! Thou talk’st of nothing.

MERCUTIO

True, I talk of dreams,

Which are the children of an idle brain,

Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,

Which is as thin of substance as the air

And more inconstant than the wind, who wooes

Even now the frozen bosom of the north,

And, being anger’d, puffs away from thence,

Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.

Remember Holden Caulfield’s line about how Mercutio was the only decent character in Romeo & Juliet? Here is the man at his most whimsical, jesting mightily at his friend Romeo’s sighs, which are “as thin of substance as the air / and more inconstant than the wind” (remember, at this stage of the play Romeo is yet to meet Juliet, so his dreams are all of Rosaline, however much he might foreswear them in the next scene). It’s a hilarious speech, and it’s typical of Shakespeare that even a throwaway jest of his gives us so entertaining, so magical a character.

You’ve heard the expression tripping the light fantastic? This is how it’s done.

Entry filed under: English, William Shakespeare. Tags: .

All the world’s a stage Brutus’s speech to the people

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. A.K.Farrar  |  May 5, 2006 at 8:11 am

    The world of the fairies – spiders and grasshoppers, worms and grubs.
    Notice the yuk factor? Spiders weaving webs, grasshoppers eating harvests, worms and grubs feasting on dead meat (including human bodies). There is the good old foreshadowing going on – but that is to belittle the power of this – much like the worm in Blake’s ‘Oh Rose’.
    A momento mori if ever I saw one – and after death, you must face your maker – what shape will Romeo and Juliet be in I wonder?

    Not so light hearted, I think (only my view).

    Reply
  • 2. Ian Thal  |  August 5, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    I think that melding of ethereal talk of dreams and fairies with vulgarity (what A.K. Farrar calls “the yuk factor”) is supposed to be a comic (albeit morbid) juxtaposition, expecially when we consider that R&J is structured (and I gained this insight from David Blixt) at first as a comedy not a tragedy– or as I have come to joke, “it’s all fun and games until Mercutio is killed.”

    Reply
  • 3. Romeo and Juliet : Queen Mab – Shakespeare Geek  |  May 26, 2016 at 1:44 am

    […] I noticed this blog entry about Queen Mab, which includes link to an audio of the spoken word, the speech transcript itself, and some commentary. It’s short, but it’s nice to see a whole post about just Queen Mab. […]

    Reply
  • 4. leotards include snaps  |  August 22, 2016 at 6:08 am

    leotards include snaps

    Queen Mab | pō\’ĭ-trē

    Reply

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