Queen Mab Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Queen Mab begins with French, Latin, and Greek epigraphs from, respectively, eighteenth century satirist Voltaire, first century b.c.e. poet Lucretius, and third century b.c.e. physicist Archimedes. After the epigraphs, which refer to crushing the infamous, eradicating superstition, and moving the world, respectively, Shelley includes a sixteen-line poem, “To Harriet *****,” a work dedicated to Harriet Westbrook Shelley, his first wife, whom he praises as his inspiration.

Writing without rhyme, except for one accidental couplet, and often using blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), Shelley finished Queen Mab, but not its notes, in February, 1813. By the end of June he had printed Queen Mab and its notes in a well-manufactured volume, possibly with the help of his publisher Thomas Hookham, who chose not to have his name on the work because he believed it violated the law forbidding blasphemy. Instead of actually publishing the volume, Shelley sent about 70 of the 250 printed copies to those he thought would like the theme, having first cut out his name and address as the printer and, in many instances, having also removed the short dedicatory poem. Despite the technically private distribution of Queen Mab, it had become so well known by 1817 that it figured in the Chancery Court’s decision to deny Shelley the custody of his two children by his first wife, whom he had left in 1814 in favor of Mary Godwin and who had drowned herself in December, 1816.

To the poem itself, Shelley had attached seventeen endnotes, each devoted to a separate passage in the poem. Several of the notes are so long that they have footnotes themselves. The notes, which also feature the quotes of other authors—in Greek, Latin, French, and English—include topics such as astronomy, war, economics, Necessity, Christianity, time, and vegetarianism.

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(The entire section is 807 words.)