What is a summary for Act 1 scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Scene 4 of Act I takes place on a street of Verona as Benvolio, Romeo, and Mercutio, accompanied by servants, make their way to the masque at the house of Capulet. The courtly lover who has spoken in oxymorons continues, "Being but heavy, I will bear the light" (1.4.2). This lugubrious mood of Romeo causes Mercutio to joke about love, equating it to only erotic desire as he fabricates the tale of Queen Mab, the fairy queen.  While this monologue provides some comic relief, it also allows the reader to see a darker side to Mercutio. His Queen Mab speech is pivotal for these reasons,

  • It develops the motif of inconstancy

Mercutio says that he talks of dreams, which are from an idle mind and 

more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the North,
And, being angered, puffs away from thence.

His Queen Mab speech is pivotal to thematic, character, and plot development.  In it Mercutio speaks of little Queen Mab, whose carriages pass through men's noses as they dream of things pertinent to their possessions and state of life. For instance, the carriage that is no bigger than an agate, passes through lovers' brains, so that they dream of love while the lawyer dreams of fees, and ladies dream of kisses, all things subject to inconstancy and the whim of their owners.

  • It furthers the motif of fate

While Mercutio rambles on about Queen Mab's journey's as she tickles a parson's nose, who dreams of a "benefice," or drives over a soldier's neck, who then dreams of swords and drums and starts in his sleep, Romeo tells Mercutio that he  "speaketh of nothing " since night is falling and he fears "Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars." Thus, Romeo fears the workings of fate:

I fear, too early....
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars.
Shall bitterly begain his fearful date
With this nights revels, and expire the term.

Since Romeo fears fate, he perceives no point in dreaming as does Mercutio. Instead, Romeo just asks fate, "Direct my sail!"