For other uses see Queen Mab (disambiguation).
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. 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. 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.
"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 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 waggoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid:
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or an 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 ‘ 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
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.
"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.
"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.
Queen Mab also appears as a pivotal character in two Elizabeth Bear fantasy novels, Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth. In these historical fantasy works, Queen Mab is ruler of Faerie in the sixteenth century, co-existing alongside Elizabeth I. Morgan Le Fay, William Shakespeare, Thomas Walsingham, Christopher Marlowe and other historical personages appear in this novel. Mab's rule is linked supernaturally to that of Elizabeth I, her sister queen.
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.
Queen Mab also appears in the Vertigo graphic novel God Save the Queen, by Mike Carey. She is the primary antagonist; the story is based on characters seen in Vertigo's Sandman and The Books of Magic. An ancient woman (apparently a witch) appears throughout the Dark Horse Comics series Hellboy. In Hellboy: The Wild Hunt, this woman is revealed to be Queen Mab.
A fairy named Mab is one of the main characters in Francesca Lia Block's novel "I Was a Teenage Fairy".
Mab appeared as the main antagonist in the 1998 fantasy miniseries, Merlin. She is portrayed as a cruel, power-hungry, somewhat sociopathic goddess. She seeks to stem the rise of Christianity in Britain and maintain the Old Ways (the worship of the Gods of the native people), as she fears that if the people abandon the Old Ways, she (and the other gods, her family) will fade away to oblivion. As such, she is shown to be the architect of several key moments of evil in the Arthurian myth (such as the affair between Guinevere and Lancelot and the treachery of Mordred).
She is also mentioned in the movie Fairy Tale as the fairy queen.
The song "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke," of Queen's second album Queen II, written by Freddie Mercury, mentions Mab in the part: "Oberon and Titania watched by a Harridan/Mab is the queen and there's a good apothecary man."
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.