For my assignment in Shakespeare class, I am to describe what I see or hear in a favorite portion of Romeo and Juliet. Of course I am choosing my favorite piece, which is Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” monologue. I actually named my rabbit Mercutio in high school because I loved him so much, and I thought that he should have his own play. A lot of people say that’s why he was killed off; he was just too interesting.
As a teen, I was not familiar with Queen Mab. As an older reader of fairy tales, I came to find her playful, cruel, cunning, chaotic. As a teen, I loved this monologue because it is beautiful. It’s filled with fanciful words and when you read it aloud, you feel as if you are in Mab’s dreamscape; like you’re transported somewhere magical. At first it feels wonderful, but then it becomes dark, as Mab disfigures “unchaste” girls. It is a warning to Romeo of things to come, of course, foreshadowing his dreamlike, brief love with Juliet and the chaos that leads to both of their deaths. Mab is no fairy of children’s tales (well, the darker ones, perhaps!) but a “hag,” as Mercutio warns Romeo, who punishes with painful repercussions.
Scholars might insist that the dramatic function of the Mab speech is to simply slow down the movement of the play, but it feels like another introduction to the play to me. It’s told in richer language than “Two households, both alike in dignity…” but it details the same circumstances and mood in one speech.