Analysis of the Queen Mab Speech from Romeo and Juliet
O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you. This powerful statement is the beginning to one of the most historic and significant poems in Shakespearean history, Mercutios famous Queen Mab speech. Various reasons can be given as to why Shakespeare would place such a lengthy poem in Romeo and Juliet. This talk of dreams is essential to the play as it develops theme, foreshadows the story, and ultimately alters the entire pace of the play. Also, Shakespeare uses many literary devices to make this poem one the reader will remember through out the play.
At the time Mercutio delivers his Queen Mab speech, Romeo is suddenly overcome by a sense of great foreboding of attending the party due to a dream he had. This annoys Mercutio, who does not recognize Romeos reluctance as a genuine premonition, but feels it is simply another example of Romeos lovesick whims. Mercutio cleverly replies, Dreamers often lie. This suddenly launches Mercutio into a speech that alters the entire pace of the scene. Up to now, the conversation has been typical of a group of people walking through the streets-short phrases, a generally relaxed mood. Though the speech talks of many things and can be analyzed in many ways, the gist of the speech concerns Queen Mab, who is a fairy responsible for peoples dreams.
The Queen Mab speech is totally fanciful, describing, as if to a child, this tiny little creature who flies through the air in a small carriage, driven by a "wagoner" who is a gnat. On the surface this seems like it should be charming, but when one boils it down, it isn't charming at all. For example, Queen Mab's "cover" of her carriage is made of grasshopper wings, which imply that someone must have pulled the grasshopper's wings off to make it. Same for the spider's legs, which serve as the wagon's spokes and the riding-whip, which is made of a cricket's bone. Mercutio points out that the entire apparatus is not "half so big as a round little worm, pricked from the lazy finger of a maid, but do living maid's fingers have worms in them? Furthermore, Mercutio suddenly veers off into a deluge of images that are at complete odds with the childlike story he was going to tell. For example, It is not enough for him to just say soldiers dream of war, but they must dream of (I, IV, 83-87) cutting foreign throatsand sleeps again. As Mercutios images become less cute and more alarming, the rhythm in Shakespeares iambic pentameter becomes more driven as Shakespeare allows less breathing room between phrases. This illustrates how Mercutio would say this forty-two-line speech, which is only comprised of two sentences, in a very dramatic way. In other words, Mercutio began his speech with sweet dreams and ended with nightmares. Now, Mab does not seem like such a cute little creature after all.
In a sense, this is how the play goes, as well. Romeo begins by having a harmless crush that turns into love affair with Juliet. This love affair, however, is doomed in every respect. It is doomed not only because the Montagues and Capulets are sworn enemies but also because Romeo and Juliet are too young to handle such a violent passion as their love turns out to be. It is not accidental that Shakespeare begins this play by describing the feud that has separated Verona in two, and the first scene deals not with love, but with a street brawl. Romeo and Juliet's Verona is a very violent place, and it would be strange indeed if these two children of Verona experienced a sweet and gentle love.
Also, there is a very good reason for putting this speech toward the end of Act I. It is our introduction to Mercutio, and it presents him as a charming, likeable character. Also, at this moment Romeo is about to meet Juliet, but has not; this leaves the "consequence yet hanging in the stars" which has not shown its lovely, yet deadly face. This illustrates the relationship between the Queen Mab speech and Romeo and Juliets love because they both start out calmly, but end up violently out of control.
In this context, Romeo's last words in this scene are tremendously significant. His sense of dread, after Mercutio's strange behavior, has deepened rather than diminished, and for the first time he actually defines what it is he feels. He senses that the events, which are about to unfold, will result in his death. He is, of course, right. And yet Romeo seems to realize that there is nothing to be done except face the future squarely, there is no running from it. (I, IV, 112-13) "But he, that hath the steerage of my course, Direct my sail!" It is his passion, his impetuosity, his lust, which will spell his doom as all of it is foreshadowed in Mercutio's "talk of dreams."