Mercutio’s speech about Queen Mab in Act I, scene iv, seems to have nothing to do with Romeo and Juliet whatsoever. In fact, some Shakespearean scholars have argued that it was added to the script during the printing of the Second Quarto and was not, therefore, a part of the play as it was originally written. Other scholars argue that even if the speech was in the original script, it contradicts what we know of Mercutio: a hot-tempered and lusty youth who has no patience for the dreams and visions discussed in the Queen Mab speech. The Queen Mab speech, however, does hold consistent with Mercutio’s character in some ways, and it also points to some important aspects of the play in general.
Let’s begin with a summary of the speech itself. When Romeo is reluctant to attend the Capulet ball because he has had a bad dream (probably because he has been pining for Rosaline), Mercutio makes fun of him for it by telling him that \“Dreamers often lie” (l. 51). Romeo puts out a witty retort to Mercutio’s joke, and Mercutio replies with a 42-line speech about Queen Mab, the “fairies’ midwife,\” or the fairy responsible for bringing dreams that fulfill the wishes of the dreamer (l. 54). It should be noted that the name \“Mab\” was an insult in Shakespeare’s time because it was synonymous with \“prostitute.\” Queen Mab’s name is also different from Titania, the name Shakespeare used for the fairy queen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was written during the same period as Romeo and Juliet. Once he identifies Queen Mab, Mercutio then describes her appearance and carriage. She is the size of a stone in a ring, and she rides in a coach pulled by atomies, or tiny creatures. This indicates Queen Mab’s importance because during Shakespeare’s time, only the rich had coaches. The coach itself is made of natural things: spider legs, grasshopper wings, spider webs, moonbeams, cricket bone, and filament. All of these items draw a connection between Queen Mab and nature, although coaches are artificial. We also learn that her driver is a gnat and that the seat is a hazelnut made by a \“joiner squirrel\” or a \“grub,\” whose job it has traditionally been to make these coaches for fairy royalty (l. 68).