Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Act I, Scene 4

Summary

Romeo and Benvolio, along with their friend Mercutio, are on their way to the Capulet’s house, wearing masks. Romeo is still moping about Rosaline, and first Benvolio and then Mercutio try to cheer him up. When they fail, Mercutio launches into a long and rambling tale about Queen Mab, a fairy who brings dreams to people as they sleep. The scene ends with Mercutio dismissing all dreams as “lies” and Romeo announcing his intention to give himself over to his fate.

Analysis

The Queen Mab speech is one of the longest single speeches given by any character in the play, yet it’s spoken by a relatively minor player and it does nothing to advance the plot. Yet for these very reasons, the speech underlines one of the two main themes of the play: that things are not always what they seem.

Leading up to the Queen Mab speech, Romeo and Mercutio argue about the nature of dreams. Romeo sees dreams as containing lovely truths that reveal our fates; Mercutio sees them as lies, rarely lovely but almost always self-serving instead. His description of Queen Mab supports his view. Queen Mab is a charming creature from a fairy tale, but the dreams she brings are not charming at all: to lawyers she brings dreams of earning hefty fees; to courtesans she brings dreams of winning the patronage of some wealthy nobleman; to soldiers she brings dreams of blood and battle. While she does bring dreams of true love to young ladies, she also punishes them with acne if she thinks they’ve eaten too many sweets before bedtime!

Like the servants, Mercutio reveals that the passionate love and lofty ambitions of the upper class are not always what they seem, and that the world is a very different place when viewed from another point of view.

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