Scene Comparison: Queen Mab’s Speech

Adaptations watched: Romeo and Juliet( 1968, Zefirelli)

Romeo& Juliet(2013, Carlei)

Romeo+ Juliet (1996, Luhrmann)

Mercutio has always been my favorite character in Romeo and Juliet, and Queen Mab’s speech is one of my favorite scenes in all of Shakespeare. To me it has always brought to light Mercutio’s complex character, which is jovial, witty, and strangely dark.  All of these different characteristics shine in Queen Mab’s speech so I love it in all interpretations. Even song. It seems almost unfair for me to compare a scene I am already predisposed to like but even if all interpretations are equal… some are more equal than others.

In regards to Mercutio’s famous speech, Zefirelli’s 1968 interpretation is the most loyal of the three. In this interpretation, all of the characters are in traditional Shakespearean costumes and as usual Mercutio is the life of the party. The only costuming detail that might seem out of place to an astute viewer is the fact that Mercutio’s mask for the Capulet’s masquerade party is that of a skull, which serves as a grim foreshadowing of the fate of Romeo’s beloved friend. Very clever Zefirelli!

Mercutio's skull mask

Mercutio’s skull mask

I enjoyed this interpretation because of its fidelity to the text (about three-fourths of the original text is included!) and the attention spent on the finer details of Mercutio’s character. As is expected of his boisterous personality, Mercutio delivers the first part of his speech with mirth. In doing so, he is cheered on by his party going Montague friends, who pretty much serve as a laugh track. The only one who does not seem amused with Mercutio’s speech is Romeo who is still in the dumps about his ex.

Unlike the other interpretations of Queen Mab’s speech, in this version Mercutio pantomimes much more. For example, the line “ then he dreams of another benefice (l 81)” is delivered with mock solemnity and actions of feigning prayer. (Of course the Montague lads, excluding Romeo that is, love this) and as a viewer, a line from the text that I did not find especially humorous actually became sort of funny! This scene is also wrought with auditory queues, a useful element of film. Trumpets bells and drums help to transport the audience to Mercutio’s imaginary battle. “sometime she driveth o’er a soldiers neck and then dreams he of cutting foreign throats of breaches, ambuscados, Spanish blades (…) drums in his ear,” (ll 82- 87)

da boys

Mercutio and the Montagues

At the height of Mercutio’s frenzy however, there is a noticeable change in tone. It is obvious that what started off as a charming joke may actually contain hints of madness and frustration. as Mercutio’s actions become more and more outrageous the Montegue’s exchange looks of concern. The jovial music and laughter stops, and the lighting on Mercutio, which until now has been quite bright, becomes dark and silhouette-like .

In Luhrmann’s interpretation Mercutio is clad in sparkly drag and is quite the departure from traditional Victorian interpretations. This Mercutio is wild, flamboyant, and probably on something.

wise words from Mercutio

wise words from Mercutio

That something turns out to be Queen Mab, which in a clever twist is now represented as a cute looking party drug probably along the lines of ecstasy or LSD. Personally I find this is a great modernization because so much of the fantastical imagery that Mercutio uses in the original text really does sound like a drug trip. Even earlier descriptions of the fairy’s midwife ex) “in shape no bigger than an agate stone on the forefinger of an alderman”(ll 55-56), work perfectly with this new interpretation as they describe a perfect pill size and the fact that it rests on Mercutio’s finger.

queenmab

Although Luhrmann’s interpretation does not use as much of the original text as Zefirilli, it does several creative things with elements of film, the most notable is the music. At first the background music is soft and flutey, however, as Queen Mab’s speech turns from sweet to sour creepy, horror movie music starts to play in the background and to make things worse Mercutio begins to act increasingly disturbed hopping around to the rhythm of his own words (“and in this state she gallops night by night” line 70. At the height of tension fireworks burst and it seems that Mercutio’s mind is put to rest. Although lacking the theatrical nature of Zefirilli’s film, this scenes vibrant imagery creates its own disorienting mood.

Carlei’s interpretation of the Queen Mab’s speech is notably more lukewarm than the others. This scene trades off slow rumination for a faster more conversational tone. Interestingly enough, in this interpretation Mercutio is Romeo’s cousin instead of his best friend. This might be a minor detail, but it definitely shouldn’t be overlooked. In the other two interpretations of the speech when Mercutio gets out of hand visual and auditory queues are given to Romeo (the bff) to step in. In Carlei’s adaptation that does not happen.

Really it does not need to happen because Mercutio does not get out of hand. This speech lacks the vigor and the madness that is associated with Mercutio’s Queen Mab, because the parts of the text where Mab is portrayed as malevolent are cut out. The result is that Mercutio’s character seems less complex, and a little bit boring. This interpretation is not as intense as Zefirilli’s or as experimental as Luhrmann’s but one thing it does have at least is consistency. The warm candle light that shines on Mercutio, Romeo, and Benvolio (I can’t get over his baby face) add to the happy fairy tale tone of the scene, as does the gentle music. But I can’t help but feel cheated… since the delivery of this scene seems clipped and over-simplified.

you tried...

You tried! Gold star for consistency

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