Queen Mab, sometimes called Maeve, is the queen of the
faerie kingdom and is also the queen of dreams.
general are viewed as benign, beautiful, if slightly daft
creatures, guilty at the most of childish pranks. People tend to think of
Queen Mab in the same way; one can even buy figurines that depict her smiling benignly over her faerie subjects. But Queen Mab--and the dreams she bestows upon mortals--always seem to
contain a dark and evil side. In Romeo and Juliet, for
example, Mercutio launches into a speech about
Queen Mab. She rides (he says) in a carriage made of spider legs and
grasshopper wings, and it's by no means clear that the insects gave up
their body parts voluntarily. Nor are all her dreams pleasant:
And in this state she gallops . . .
O'er ladies ' lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.
Thus Mab punishes sleepers afflicted with halitosis. Along the same
lines, when she visits a soldier,
. . . then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscados, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep. And then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two. . .
She is not just a midwife, says Mercutio, but also an old hag.
Herman Melville's Moby Dick contains a chapter
entitled "Queen Mab," in which Stubb tells Flask about a curious dream he had the night before. In it, Ahab kicks Stubb with his ivory leg; when
Stubb tries to reciprocate, Ahab turns into an impervious "pyramid."
Stubb then rationalizes that it is in some ways an honor to be beaten by a
man as great as Ahab. Thus, the dream serves to fortify the image of
Ahab as a untouchable superhuman figure who even the mates--the
crewmembers closest to the captain--worship and fear.
Queen Mab is thus the queen of dreams, not daydreams, and
embodies all the surreal and chaotic qualities that dreams possess. She
belongs to what Susan Cooper calls the "Wild Magic"--the
hedonistic, untrammeled branch of the mystical world that
laughs just as loudly at torture as at a harmless joke. It's fitting
that her name means not only "Queen of the Fairies" but "Drunken
Queen"--not to mention "Queen Wolf."
Queen Mab also appears in a lengthy poem of that name by Percy Bysshe Shelley, but
I'm not familiar enough with it to write about it. Volunteers?