Question about Mercutio and the Queen Mab speech.
What do you think Mercutio was getting at with his involved tale about Mab? Does it strike you as Shakespeare simply enjoying word play, or do you think it's more significant than that?
This rambling monologue about Queen Mab by Mercutio serves several purposes. As a foil to Romeo, Mercutio presents a counterpoint on dreams, which has been explained above. This counterpoint also provides comic relief to the ponderous seriousness of Romeo from Mercutio, who along with Nurse provide the humor in this tragic play.
The significance of Mercutio's name regarding this monologue also should not be overlooked, as he is, indeed, changeable. For, in his eloquence, Mercutio tends to become carried away in his cleverness. This flaw of mercurial nature that moves quickly from witty to volatile is what leads to his untimely death later in Act III.
The Queen Mab speech is one of the most famous in all of Shakespeare's literature. Remember that Shakespeare was a poet at heart and often inluded poetry in his plays in the form of speeches such as this. He loved to play with language, including metaphor, puns, rhythm, and rhyme, and that is what made him so popular with his contemporary audiences and makes his continue to be so beloved today.
For the Queen Mab speech in particular, we get a glimpse into the character of Mercutio like we do not see at any other time in the play. The guys are all headed to the Capulet party and are in a festive mood. Mercutio begins his speech in that same fun, frivilous mood, but it ends with much more bathos and melancholy. Some Shakesperean scholars believe the character of Mercutio to even have the characteristics of bipolar disease - his mood changes so abruptly from one of a light and fun air to one of much more pain. Others think Mercutio just had a flair for the dramatic and in speaking about the topic of Queen Mab stealing your dreams gets carried away. He has been portrayed both ways on the stage and in film.
Personally, I believe he just got carried away with the tale and meant no harm, but was just adding to the mood of the night. Also, I believe Shakespeare uses Mercutio as a sort of foreshadowing to show the upcoming instability of the moods of Romeo and Juliet when they meet which comes soon after this scene in the play.
Hope that helps!
In my opinion, Shakespeare is doing something more than just playing around with words, although I think that there is certainly some of that going on.
What I think Shakespeare is doing here is commenting on rationality and fantasy. He is talking about whether people should pay attention to dreams or whether they should be more solid and down to earth. Just before the Queen Mab speech, Romeo and Mercutio are arguing about the meaning of a dream that Romeo has had. Romeo wants to base his decision on it, Mercutio thinks dreams are stupid.
So this is sort of referring to an argument that has gone on for a long time among people. Should we rely on dreams, fantasies, and emotions, or should we rely on science and logic?