J.M.W. Turner, “Queen Mab’s Cave,” 1846.
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J.M.W. Turner, “Queen Mab’s Cave,” 1846. Hector Berlioz: 1839 Roméo et Juliette, H. 17 ( Op . 17): La Reine Mab, ou la fée des songes. Queen Mab Speech. Mercutio: Act 1 sc iv.

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J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

J.M.W. Turner, “Queen Mab’s Cave,” 1846.

Hector Berlioz: 1839

Roméo et Juliette, H. 17 (Op. 17):

La Reine Mab, ou la fée des songes


Queen mab speech

Queen Mab Speech

Mercutio: Act 1 sc iv


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

In Act I, scene iv, Mercutio delivers a dazzling speech about the fairy Queen Mab, who rides through the night on her tiny wagon bringing dreams to sleepers


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

  • One of the most noteworthy aspects of Queen Mab’s ride is that the dreams she brings generally do not bring out the best sides of the dreamers, but instead serve to confirm them in whatever vices they are addicted to: for example, greed, violence, or lust.


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

  • Another important aspect of Mercutio’s description of Queen Mab is that it is complete nonsense, albeit vivid and highly colorful.


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

  • Finally, it is worth noting that the description of Mab and her carriage goes to extravagant lengths to emphasize how tiny and insubstantial she and her accoutrements are. Queen Mab and her carriage do not merely symbolize the dreams of sleepers, they also symbolize the power of waking fantasies, daydreams, and desires.


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

  • Through the Queen Mab imagery, Mercutio suggests that all desires and fantasies are as nonsensical and fragile as Mab, and that they are basically corrupting. This point of view contrasts starkly with that of Romeo and Juliet, who see their love as real and ennobling.


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

ROMEO

I dreamt a dream tonight.

MERCUTIO: And so did I.

ROMEO: Well, what was yours?

MERCUTIO: That dreamers often lie.

ROMEO: In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.

MERCUTIO:

"O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.

She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes

A midwife is someone who helps a mother give birth. This person does not help fairies give birth but she assists people give birth to dreams


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

"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 curt’sies straight,

O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,

O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,

'The agate-stone' refers to a seal ring of an English state Offical. The stone was usually engraved with a figure, and Queen Mab is about the size of this image


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

"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 curt’sies straight,

O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,

O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,

A chariot is drawn (from the verb 'to draw') or pulled by a team or a group of horses. In this case the carriage of Queen is pulled by little atomies or "tiny creatures"


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

"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 curt’sies straight,

O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,

O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,

The squirrel gnaws the hazel nut and sculpts like a joiner or cabinet maker, while the grub or woodworm bores holes in it


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

"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 curt’sies straight,

O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,

O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,

'Time out o'mind' means 'time immemorial' or 'prehistoric' or 'long beyond memory''. So, here the fairies' coachmakers, who are squirrel and grub, have been making coaches since time immorial or longer than anyone can remember


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

"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 curt’sies straight,

O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,

O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,

The traces are the chains, ropes or leather straps used to attach a horse to a carriage. Here the straps of Queen Mab's carriage are made of a spider's web.


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

"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 curt’sies straight,

O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,

O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,

The person who drives her coach is a gnat who wears a grey coat. It is about the same size as a maggot that develops is prick'd or removed with a pin or a needle from a lazy servant's finger. It was a common saying of Shakespeare's day that maggots, or the larvae of flies, would grow in the hands of indolent serving girls.


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

"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 curt’sies straight,

O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,

O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,

A courtier is someone who flatters and/or is a member of a royal court.


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

"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 curt’sies straight,

O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,

O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,

As a result of her visit…

Lawyer’s dream of money

Ladies Dream of Kisses


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

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—"

Now the speech becomes much more sinister, reflecting Mercutio’s negative attitude towards women and sex

Blisters refers to Herpes!


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

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—"

Sweet confections were used to cover up the bad breath caused by teeth rotting from too much sugar in the diet.


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

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—"

Courtiers habitually took bribes to use their influence with those higher up.


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

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—"

Mab tickles the nose of a sleeping clergyman with the tail of a "tithe pig"--one given as part of the tenth that was due to the Church; he then dreams of having the income from another parish


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

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—"

Like the rest of the speech, the soldier's dream of war starts with the positive (winning battles and drinking), then moves to the terrors of war.


J m w turner queen mab s cave 1846

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—"

Mab becomes the origin of erotic dreams in young maidens. Mercutio’s speech ends with angry, violent sexual images that contrast the true meaningful love in Romeo and Juliet. That Mercutio focuses on young women rather than young men is typical of many of Shakespeare's male heros.


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