Queen Mab

Queen Mab

Queen Mab is a fairy referred to in Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet". She also appears in other 17th century literature, and in various guises in later poetry, drama and cinema. In the play her activity is described in a famous comic speech by Mercutio, in which she is described as a miniature creature who drives her chariot across the faces of sleeping people and compels them to experience dreams of wish-fulfillment. She would also bring the plague in some occasions.


Mab's origins are uncertain. Shakespeare may have borrowed her name from a Celtic goddess, the Irish Medb or her Welsh counterpart Mabb.Fact|date=December 2007 It is also possible to draw comparisons between her and Mara from Scandinavian folklore, since both Mara and Queen Mab are said to influence dreams.Fact|date=December 2007 She is supposedly a tiny fairy who comes to people when they sleep. Then she haunts their dreams by making the person dream of what they want and cannot have.Fact|date=February 2008

Mercutio's speech

"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
Over men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
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;
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 plaits 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—"

— Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet", Act I, scene iv

In Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, Mercutio's speech is delivered while the Montague gang take pills, implying that Queen Mab is a drug reference, possibly to ecstacy.Fact|date=August 2008

In other literature

After her literary debut in "Romeo and Juliet", she appears in works of seventeenth-century poetry, notably Ben Jonson's "The Entertainment at Althorp" and Michael Drayton's "Nymphidia". In Poole's work "Parnassus", Mab is described as the Queen of the Fairies and consort to Oberon, Emperor of the Fairies. [cite book|title=Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns and Goblins|last=Rose|first=Carol|publisher=Norton|year=1996|format=Paperback|id=ISBN 0-393-31792-7|chapter=M|pages=207]

"" is also the title of the first large poetic work written by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), the famous English Romantic poet. [ [http://www.bartleby.com/139/shel111.html Complete text of poem] ]

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), the French composer, in 1839 composed a symphony entitled "Roméo et Juliette" that includes a Queen Mab Scherzo.

"Queen Mab" is also the subtitle given to the 31st chapter of Herman Melville's novel, "Moby Dick", first published in 1851. In this chapter, Stubb, the second mate of the Pequod, describes to Flask, the third mate, the details of a dream in which Stubb is confronted by a merman who tells him that the kick Stubb received from Captain Ahab's whalebone leg the previous day should be considered an honor, as a great English lord would consider it an honor to be slapped by a queen.

In Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility", the sexually deceptive Willoughby gives his prey, Marianne, a horse named Queen Mab, a symbol for Marianne's over-eager expectations of marriage in the travelling, womanizing Willoughby.

American philosopher George Santayana wrote a short piece entitled "Queen Mab" which appeared in his 1922 book "Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies". This particular soliloquy considers English literature as an indirect form of self-expression in which the English writer "will dream of what Queen Mab makes other people dream" rather than revealing him or herself. [Santayana, George (1922). "Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies". New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 145.]

"El velo de la reina Mab" ("The Veil of Queen Mab") is a short story by the Nicaraguan modernist Rubén Darío that explores the artist's relationship with the world, as well as the beauty of artistic creation. The story climaxes with Queen Mab enveloping the four artists in her veil, "el velo de los sueños, de los dulces sueños, que hacen ver la vida del color de rosa" ("the veil of dreams, of sweet dreams, that make the world appear rose-colored"). In this way, Queen Mab alleviates the artists' sadness, giving them hope and allowing them to continue their creative endeavors.

In Jim Butcher's fantasy series of novels, the "Dresden Files", Queen Mab is one of six queens and is the ruler of the Unseelie (Winter) court, second in power only to Mother Winter. [ [http://www.jim-butcher.com/books/dresden/4/ch3/ Butcher, Jim. Book 4 of The Dresden Files, "Summer Knight", Chapter 3] ]

In the off-Broadway musical "Bare, A Pop Opera", an abridged version of Queen Mab is sung by the character Peter, who is playing Mercutio in the fictional school which is putting on Romeo & Juliet.

In the game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, Queen Mab is one of the several Personas the main character can use, is of the Lovers Arcana, and creates Black Frost when Cross Spread with King Frost, Pyro Jack, and Jack Frost.

In Martin Millar's book "Dreams of Sex and Stage Diving" (1994), the heroine, Elfish, wants to call her thrash metal band "Queen Mab". To get this name, which her ex-boyfriend claims for his own band as well, she makes a bet to learn and publicly recite Mercutio's speech.


Mab appeared in the 1998 fantasy miniseries, "Merlin". She is portrayed as a goddess figure to the Pagans. She seeks to turn Britain away from Christianity and compel them to worship her. In the 2006 sequel "Merlin's Apprentice" the same actress portrays the Lady of the lake.


*Butcher, Jim. Book 4 of The Dresden Files, [http://www.jim-butcher.com/books/dresden/4/ch3/ "Summer Knight", Chapter 3]

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