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Queen Mab from Romeo and Juliet: Analysis, Description & Speech

Queen Mab from Romeo and Juliet:  Analysis, Description & Speech
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nami

Susan has taught middle school English for five years and has a master's degree in teaching.

In this lesson, we will examine a famous Shakespearean monologue and attempt to understand a complex fairy tale of sorts. Told from one of the bard's most beloved characters, Mercutio, this speech is not only fun to read but exciting to pick apart.

Speech

We'll begin by reading the full text of Mercutio's famous Queen Mab Speech from Romeo and Juliet.

Mercutio begins:

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, (60)
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners' 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; (70)
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 o' lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are: (80)
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, (90)
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--

Description

Mercutio's Queen Mab speech is not only one of the most famous speeches in Shakespeare's classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, but it is also one of the more famous speeches in all of his collected works. Let's start with some background. Mercutio is Romeo's best friend but is very different from the romantic, dreamy heartthrob who falls in love with Juliet at first sight. Mercutio's name could be derived from Mercury and is similar to the word mercurial, which according to Merriam-Webster means characterized by rapid and unpredictable changeableness of mood. This is Mercutio to a T. He is volatile, moody, cynical, and has a sharp wit. His words are filled with puns, and his sharp tongue often stings, especially sweet Romeo. He mocks poor Romeo, and in turn, he mocks love. At times, he is the comic relief for a very tragic play.

Mercutio's monologue occurs fairly early in the play (Act I, Scene IV, lines 57-109), before Romeo even falls for Juliet. At this point in the play, Romeo is still pining after another girl, Rosaline. He is wounded from love and sulking quite a bit. As he and his friends prepare to crash the Capulets' party in disguise (where he eventually meets Juliet and falls in love), outside of the party on the street, Romeo and Mercutio begin a debate about dreams:

Romeo: I dreamt a dream tonight.
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
(If you're following along in your copy of the play, these are lines 53-58.)

This moment is critical in the play because it serves as foreshadowing, or a warning about what is to come. Romeo shares with his friends that he had a prophetic dream the night before that warned him of going to this party (hence, the foreshadowing). This is where Mercutio starts spinning his tale about Queen Mab.

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