Act I - Scene IV

A street.

Enter Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, with five or six other Maskers; Torchbearers

What, shall this speech be spoke for our excuse?
Or shall we on without apology?
The date is out of such prolixity.
We'll have no Cupid hoodwink'd with a scarf,(5)
Bearing a Tartar's painted bow of lath,
Scaring the ladies like a crowkeeper;
Nor no without-book prologue, faintly spoke
After the prompter, for our entrance;
But, let them measure us by what they will,(10)
We'll measure them a measure, and be gone.
Give me a torch. I am not for this ambling.
Being but heavy, I will bear the light.
Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.
Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes(15)
With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead
So stakes me to the ground I cannot move.
You are a lover. Borrow Cupid's wings
And soar with them above a common bound.
I am too sore enpierced with his shaft(20)
To soar with his light feathers; and so bound
I cannot bound a pitch above dull woe.
Under love's heavy burden do I sink.
And, to sink in it, should you burden love—
Too great oppression for a tender thing.(25)
Is love a tender thing? It is too rough,
Too rude, too boist'rous, and it pricks like thorn.
If love be rough with you, be rough with love.
Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.
Give me a case to put my visage in.(30)
A visor for a visor! What care I
What curious eye doth quote deformities?
Here are the beetle brows shall blush for me.
Come, knock and enter; and no sooner in
But every man betake him to his legs.(35)
A torch for me! Let wantons light of heart
Tickle the senseless rushes with their heels;
For I am proverb'd with a grandsire phrase,
I'll be a candle-holder and look on;
The game was ne'er so fair, and I am done.(40)
Tut! dun's the mouse, the constable's own word!
If thou art dun, we'll draw thee from the mire
Or (save your reverence) love, wherein thou stick'st
Up to the ears. Come, we burn daylight, ho!
Nay, that's not so.(45)
I mean, sir, in delay
We waste our lights in vain, like lamps by day.
Take our good meaning, for our judgment sits
Five times in that ere once in our five wits.
And we mean well, in going to this mask;(50)
But 'tis no wit to go.
Why, may one ask?
I dreamt a dream to-night.
And so did I.
Well, what was yours?(55)
That dreamers often lie.
In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.
O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate stone(60)
On the forefinger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover, of the wings of grasshoppers;(65)
Her traces, of the smallest spider's web;
Her collars, of the moonshine's wat'ry beams;
Her whip, of cricket's bone; the lash, of film;
Her wagoner, a small grey-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm(70)
Prick'd from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazelnut,
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night(75)
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O'er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court'sies straight;
O'er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees;
O'er ladies’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,(80)
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.
Sometime she gallops o'er a courtier's nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig's tail
Tickling a parson's nose as a’ lies asleep,(85)
Then dreams he of another benefice.
Sometimes she driveth o'er a soldier's neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five fathom deep; and then anon(90)
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted, swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,(95)
Which once untangled much misfortune bodes
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage.
This is she—(100)
Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!
Thou talk'st of nothing.
True, I talk of dreams;
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy;(105)
Which is as thin of substance as the air,
And more inconstant than the wind, who wooes
Even now the frozen bosom of the north
And, being anger'd, puffs away from thence,
Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.(110)
This wind you talk of blows us from ourselves.
Supper is done, and we shall come too late.
I fear, too early; for my mind misgives
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars,
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date(115)
With this night's revels and expire the term
Of a despised life, clos'd in my breast,
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
But He, that hath the steerage of my course,
Direct my sail! On, lusty gentlemen!(120)
Strike, drum.

They march about the stage. Exeunt.


  1. In this context, "forfeit" means a misdeed, crime, or transgression, generally undertaken with the intention of causing injury. Romeo's statement is surprisingly accurate. He predicts that the course of the night's events will cause his untimely death. Much like the prologue, this statement interrupts the comedic exchange between Romeo and his friends to remind the audience how this story will end. Perhaps this is a way in which Shakespeare reminds the audience to pay close attention to the next scene.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. "Vain fantasy" is the indulgence in one's imagination which exists in an unreal space outside of reality. Romeo stops Mercutio because he talks of "nothing" meaning something that is intangible. However, Romeo's love for Rosaline is just as intangible as Mercutio's made up fairies. Mercutio's point here is that things made up in the imagination have just as much impact on reality as corporeal things. A theme we will see play out over the course of the play.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. "Healths" is a colloquialism that means to drink a toast. "Five fathoms deep" is a nautical measurement that equals about thirty feet. This metaphor uses hyperbole to imply that soldiers drink a lot.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. "Smelling out a suit" means to find a someone to petition government officials, or pay off government officials, so that the courtier has influence in the court. Notice that the dreams Queen Mab gives reveals Mercutio's opinion of each group of people. Lawyers only care for money, women's lips only care for kisses, and courtiers only care for influence within the court.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. A parson was a pastor or vicar of a small church. Tithe was the tax, generally a tenth of the parishioner's income or livestock, that a church would collect in order to support itself. Sometimes a church would collect tithe in the form of livestock, such as pigs. Claiming that the parson would dream of tithe is a subtle suggestion that there was corruption within the church as this holy man dreams of money or payment rather than God.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Queen Mab goes into the dreams of others in order to show them what they desire. Lovers dream of the love they want, courtiers dream of impressing the court with their manners, lawyers dream of money etc. In this way, Mercutio undermines Romeo's dreams of his love: they are not real but rather the deception of a fairy that is trying to manipulate him.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. "Wagoner" is a coachman or driver. This description of her collar, whip, wagon, etc. demonstrates how tiny she is and imbues her with whimsical imagery that situates her story in the world of fantasy.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. "Atomies" in this context means a little fairy. Queen Mab travels into men's bedrooms as they sleep followed by her subjects.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. This is the first reference to Queen Mab in English literature. She is a fairy that originated in Irish legends and was once the Queen of all fairies. Under her reign, Kings ruled with the support of the fairy kingdom and left out honey and cakes for fairies. However, when she was dethroned by her son Oberon (who is a main character in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream) humans stopped believing in fairies. Mercutio's famous speech establishes him as a fanciful character.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Mercutio adds to the comedy of this line by omitting a swear word with this phrase. This essentially means "if you will excuse my saying so" and comes across as ironic formality. Mercutio is mocking Romeo's excessive lovesickness with excessive formality.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. "Dun" refers to a dark or gloomy color. But it also occurs in a then common phrase "dun is in the mire," in which dun means horse. This colloquial phrase was used to say that something was at a stand-still or dead-lock. Mercutio invokes this saying in order to contradict Romeo's outlook: even if the "dun is in the mire" and the situation is hopelessly at a stand-still, Mercutio and Benvolio are determined to pull him out of the "mire," metaphorically his lovesick, gloomy disposition.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Mercutio takes up Romeo's metaphor of the thorn by using the word "prick," to pierce or puncture a small hole in. However, he also invokes the sexual innuendo of "prick" that implies the penis. Mercutio uses this metaphor to suggest that Romeo "prick" love instead of allowing love to "prick" him. Again, notice how love and violence are mixed within this metaphor. Mercutio is suggesting that Romeo "beat down" and forcibly prick love in order to cure his lovesickness.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Here, Romeo compares love to a rose. While he is using the thorns to show that love is more hardy than Mercutio has made it out to be, the rose implicit in his invocation of thorns causes Romeo to take up Mercutio's language. Notice that Romeo and Mercutio speak in a series of evolving metaphors. They never actually say what they mean but instead approximate their meaning with word play. This makes everything said unreal and indefinite.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. "Prolixity" means longwinded or wordy spoken or written language. It was custom in this time period to send a messenger ahead of one's party if they were going to show up in masks and wished to remain anonymous. The messenger was supposed to beg apology from the host with rhetoric. Romeo asks if they should send this messenger, and Benvolio tells him that such formalities are now out of date.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. "Maskers" are people on their way to a masquerade, or party in which all participants wear masks. "Torchbearers" were needed at night so that people could see their way through the streets before street lamps existed. While these men are marked Maskers and Torchbearers they can be considered part of Romeo's party on their way to the Capulet's ball.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff