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Queen Mab S Speech Homework

First things first: if you haven't already, go back and read Mercutio's Queen Mab speech in Act I, Scene 4. (Or give yourself a little treat, and watch this version from Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 version.)

Let's start with the basics. According to Mercutio's vivid description, Queen Mab is a tiny fairy that rides around in a coach made out of an "empty hazelnut" with spider's "legs" for wheel spokes (1.4.72, 64). The coach is driven by an even tinier "grey-coated gnat" and drawn by a "team of little atomi" (tiny atoms).

Queen Mab spends her time galloping over the noses and lips of sleepers, filling their dreams with wild fantasies (lovers dream of love, soldiers dream of slitting throats, lawyers dream of winning lawsuits, etc.). Mab (whose name is also a slang word for "whore") is also kind of scary. When she's in a bad mood, she plagues women who dream of "kisses" with nasty sores ("blisters") that might just be cold sores but might also be nastier things, like pox from syphilis, and she's fond of making young, virginal girls have naughty dreams.

So, why is everything about Queen Mab so tiny and sexual? To answer that, we need to think about what it is that prompts Mercutio's wild rant in the first place. Fed up with Romeo's lovesick moping for Rosaline, Mercutio taunts his buddy by saying that Queen Mab must have paid him a visit in the dream Romeo tries to tell him about. Mercutio also informs Romeo that dreams "are the children of an idle brain," which is another way of saying that Romeo is an idiot and his dreams about Rosaline are ridiculous (1.4.104). Given the context of the speech, it seems like Mercutio is suggesting that, like Queen Mab, dreams (especially Romeo's) are small and insignificant.

Pretty wild stuff, don't you think? It's easy to see why, in Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film, Romeo + Juliet, Mercutio takes a hit of ecstasy before delivering his "Queen Mab" speech—the whole thing can seem like drug-induced nonsense. Romeo all but says so when he yells, "Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace! Thou talk'st of nothing" (1.4.101-102).

Mercutio is a young man that “loves to hear himself talk” according to Romeo (Act 2, Scene 4, enotes etext pdf p. 53).  He has a vivid imagination and a clever tongue, and he loves to tell bawdy jokes and make puns.  His Queen Mab dream is a perfect example of his reflective, sweeter side.

When Romeo says “I dreamt a dream to-night,” Mercutio chimes in, taking the spotlight for himself.  He begans a...

Mercutio is a young man that “loves to hear himself talk” according to Romeo (Act 2, Scene 4, enotes etext pdf p. 53).  He has a vivid imagination and a clever tongue, and he loves to tell bawdy jokes and make puns.  His Queen Mab dream is a perfect example of his reflective, sweeter side.

When Romeo says “I dreamt a dream to-night,” Mercutio chimes in, taking the spotlight for himself.  He begans a vivid description of Queen Mab, a fairy Mercutio (and Shakespeare) seems to have made up on the spot.  He describes her as the “fairies’ midwife” which can be interpreted to mean the one that delivers fairies.  She is smaller than a stone, and has a carriage made of an empty hazelnut and her wagon’s spokes are made from spider’s legs, and the wagon’s cover is made from grasshopper wings, and the ropes are made from spider webs.  Her whip is a cricket’s bone, and her driver is a gnat (a small fly).

Queen Mab gives people dreams of the things they want.  She travels into the dreams of people in love, making them dream of love.  Courtiers dream of curtsies, lawyers dream of fees, and ladies dream of kisses.  But sometimes an angry Mab leaves plagues instead, and she brings people nightmares.

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. (Act 1, scene 4)

When Mercutio starts getting into this bawdy joke, Romeo interrupts. 

I have included a translated version of this scene to help you as well.