This is a task I set for a student. I asked her to compare Mercutio’s ‘Queen Mab’ speech from Romeo and Juliet with Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130.

The question was: Explore how love is presented in both texts.
The reason this is evil is because one is a poem, one an extract from a play, and the question is very open and vague. Mwahahaha!

Queen Mab speech (Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, scene 4, lines 53-95

Basically, Queen Mab is a freaky kind of cupid. She’s a tiny little elf that gallops over you and you dream of your desires… 


O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.  (53)
She is the fairies’ midwife, …       (54)

Her chariot is an empty hazelnut,     (67)
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night   (70)
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on curtsies straight; (to impress people)
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees;  (money)
O’er ladies’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,  (75)
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.    (they have bad breath)
Sometimes she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;   (getting what he wants)
And sometimes comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
Tickling a parson’s nose as ‘a lies asleep,     (80)
Then dreams he of another benefice.         (i.e. more power)
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      (85)
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted, swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. …

This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,    (92)  (have sex)
That presses them and learns them first to bear,    (have children)
Making them women of good carriage.
This is she –      (95)

Sonnet 130

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; 
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,         (5)
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;     (10)
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare. 

Please note: this is not a comprehensive analysis. It is an example of how to use STILTS to help compare poems.


Structure: both pieces are written in iambic pentameter, but one is a sonnet (the traditional form used to express love poetry/themes in this period, as in Petrarch) – it’s elegant and regular. The sonnet uses alternating rhyme abab, which gives a courtly, mannered, controlled and traditional feel. The QM speech is unrhymed, using very long sentences and repetition which gives it the feel of a list – however, this order feels disturbing: the repetition is too frequent and too tight – it seems to border on hysteria.

Theme – Sonnet 130 shows the difference between ideals and reality (in love); The QM speech shows that love is a tiny part of the (dark, selfish) desires that live in people‚Äôs hearts. Mercutio lays bare the lies about love. We love money, power, violence, sex: not romance. Desire is anarchic, chaotic.


Language Techniques

Tone Sonnet 130 uses negation to deny or undercut traditional images of love. But ultimately, Shakespeare gives an uplifting vision of the power of true, realistic love. In Mercutio’s speech, we hear Mercutio’s attitudes and point of view. He’s a mercurial, quick-witted and chaotic character with an anarchic, subversive point of view. What’s interesting here is that both are written by Shakespeare, but the views expressed seem different.

Subject (topic of the poem: surface meanings): in 130, Shakespeare describes the qualities of his mistress, and how precious she is; QM is a description of the mischief that a cupid-like supernatural being, called Queen Mab causes, as she spreads desire. We’d expect Cupid, Venus or some other elegant god of love. Instead we get a riotous, earthy tiny creature mixed with ‘spiders webs’ and ‘worms’.

From the STILTS notes, we put together this introduction:
Explore how love is presented in the two extracts/poems.

Both pieces are written by Shakespeare on the theme of love. One is an extract from Romeo and Juliet where Mercutio, a chaotic, mercurial character gives a long speech about a subversive, cupid-like figure, Queen Mab. The second is Sonnet 130, where he describes, in his own point of view, his mistress, and how precious she is to him. Both use iambic pentameter and mannered, elegant structures, but subvert traditional attitudes towards love, and the way in which it is presented in late sixteenth century verse…