The Poem

Ianthe is sleeping, and when she awakes she will bring further joy to the person who is faithfully watching her. Mab, the fairy queen, descends to Ianthe’s side in a chariot drawn by winged horses. With her translucent form glowing in the moonlight, Mab summons Ianthe’s soul from the living body and invites the purely spiritual Ianthe to ascend with her in the chariot to receive the revelation that Ianthe’s virtue has earned. While dawn nears, Mab and Ianthe rise in the magic chariot far above the earth, which eventually appears as only a tiny light in the starry vastness that forms the temple of the Spirit of Nature.

Ianthe gazes with special vision from the battlement of Mab’s palace overlooking the harmonious universe, and she sees clearly the distant Earth as Mab shows her the ruins of the past and the destiny of human pride: Palmyra; the Pyramids; the site of the Temple in Jerusalem, where, says Mab, a bloodthirsty people worshiped their demon; Athens and Rome, where freedom once flourished; and the jungle-covered stones of Mesoamerican cities.

Ianthe thanks Mab for the insight into the past and says that humans will need no Heaven when they have a power to give joy to others that equals their will to do so. Turning Ianthe’s attention to the present, Mab reveals a king who lives in a guarded palace standing amid the poor. For all his riches, the king is such a slave to vice that he cannot enjoy his meals or sleep peacefully. He and his courtiers have only a brief fame, but a virtuous person’s fame endures because Nature works against monarchs and for citizens.

Mab depicts a calm winter night that turns into a stormy day followed by a night of battle that leaves soldiers dead and a city burned. War, says Mab, comes not from evil in human nature but from monarchs, clergymen, politicians, and commanders who blight even infants with their lies about Heaven, Hell, and God.

Mab portrays selfishness as religion’s blighting twin and the source of a commerce through which the products of nature and artifice are sold instead of being given through the dictates of kindness to fulfill needs. Relying on...

(The entire section is 881 words.)


Bieri, James. Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography. 2 vols. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004-2005. Gives a detailed, psychologically probing account of Shelley’s life. Discusses the first printing and early publication of Queen Mab and examines the part of the poem that led to the poet’s loss of custody of his children.

Duffy, Cian. Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Sees in Queen Mab an ideological conflict between peaceful and gradual change and violent revolution.

Miller, Christopher R. “Happily Ever After? The Necessity of Fairytale in Queen Mab.” In The Unfamiliar Shelley, edited by Alan M. Weinberg and Timothy Webb. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2009. Argues that Shelley uses two fairytales in his poem to enhance his presentation of revolutionary ideas on politics and religion.

Shaaban, Bouthaina. “Shelley and the Chartists.” In Shelley: Poet and Legislator of the World, edited by Betty T. Bennett and Stuart Curran. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Demonstrates the popularity of Shelley’s political poems within Chartism.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Shelley: Poetical Works. Edited by Thomas Hutchinson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. Places Queen Mab in the section “Juvenilia” but reproduces the whole poem along with editorial notes on the text, the poet’s own notes (in thirty-four pages), and a long note by Mary Godwin Shelley, the poet’s wife.

_______. Shelley’s Poetry and Prose: Authoritative Texts, Criticism. 2d ed. Selected and edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat. New York: Norton, 2002. Includes an editorial introduction to Queen Mab, the poem itself, the editors’ explanatory footnotes (with excerpts from Shelley’s notes), scholarly essays, and a chronology of Shelley’s life.

Silver, James P. “The Aesthetic of Utopia in Shelley’s Queen Mab.” In A Brighter Morn: The Shelley Circle’s Utopian Project, edited by Darby Lewes. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2003. Contends that Henry, not Ianthe, has the utopian vision, a vision that hides his intent to seduce her.