Shakespeare Saturday: The Queen Mab Speech

Greetings, fellow nerds, and welcome to our weekly Shakespeare fun-time! Yes, I know we’re cutting it close on it actually being Saturday, but whatever. Shakespeare is awesome no matter how close to Sunday this gets posted.

So…what am I going to write about today? Well…Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet, of course! Why, you may ask? Well, because I’ve been researching the hell out of it in an attempt to write something similar. Not a recreation in any way…I would most likely fail at that. Major, epic fail. But also…people don’t really make speeches in the middle of conversations, so that would seem weird in anything other than a play. Still, I need to get the right mix of allusion and put down, with maybe a soupçon of foreshadowing and a heavy dose of humor. And that took some research.

Let’s take a look at the speech itself, shall we?

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–

It’s a long speech, so I’ll wait while you read it out loud in your best effort at true, Shakespearean acting. Seriously…have fun. I’ll be here.

Done? You sure? You might have overacted it. You did? And you’re proud of it? Damn right you are. OK, let’s go.

Mercutio is often lumped in with Shakespeare’s fools. This is because of the speech posted above. It’s rather ridiculous, isn’t it? Just going on about the Faery Queen of Dreams on his way to a party, using all the florid speech and allegorical language that represents Shakespeare at his best. So much of Romeo and Juliet is tragedy…I mean, hell, it’s in the name of the play! And Mercutio gives (until his, well, mercurial nature gets the best of him and he buys the farm) the story much of its humor. This speech is fun! It’s enjoyable to give, and actors love putting their own spin on it. Some think it’s about Mercutio’s homoeroticism/homosexual nature, others about his ability to improvise. A lot of people think it’s a bit of foreshadowing about the nature of the play itself, which starts out happy and then…well, you know.

But really…what the heck is Mercutio talking about here? Well…he’s basically calling Romeo a lovelorn fool, overly sensitive and imaginative. Mercutio, despite his ridiculous tendency to talk about faery queens, is a realist and can’t resist putting his friend in his place when Romeo argues that dreams reflect (or are) reality. It’s just that he also can’t pass up a chance to be flamboyant. I mean, why be straightforward when you can take something to its most absurd point and basically call your friend an idiot? So he launches into the famous Queen Mab speech, in which dreams, granted by the eponymous faery, reflect only the desires of the dreamer. Certainly they do not reflect reality.

See…Mercutio is a true Shakespearean clown. As we discussed earlier, Shakespare’s clowns are not just there to be funny or ridiculous. Well, except maybe Falstaff. I will accept no arguments that he isn’t just gross. But Mercutio, the clown, is actually the most insightful character in the play. His speech, as ridiculous as it seems, is sensible and full of wisdom, like those of Feste or the Fool of Lear fame. There are those, as I’ve said, who even think that Mercutio’s speech serves as a piece of foreshadowing for the play itself because of the shift from happy dreams to nightmarish visions that occurs at the halfway point.

So if I’m going to write something similar, it needs to be funny (or at least…slightly ridiculous), full of allusion, and somewhat incisive. Also, it needs to essentially call Romeo an idiot. Which is fine by me. Of course, I have no idea how I’m going to do that, but then…that’s not the point of this blog.

Oh, and one more thing. You know that line about ladies and sweetmeats? Here, let me post it again:

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:

That line is a lot more filthy than you think. Why? Because Queen Mab is giving women herpes after she sees that they’ve been “tainted” by the act of oral sex. So those sweetmeats? Ahem…

Yeah.

It really wouldn’t be Shakespeare if it weren’t filthy, would it?

Anyway…here it is. The blog. And I managed to get it done before midnight, which is even better! Tomorrow, we get silly! On Monday, we Muse. Or maybe Tuesday. Monday’s a holiday, after all. We might be closed.

Until next time!

-C

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