Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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53 ‘Queen Mab’ – otherwise unknown. Many suggestions as to the origin of Queen Mab have been made, but none are completely convincing. It seems unlikely, however, that Shakespeare made her up, although that is possible. There may be some connection with the Irish fairy-goddess Medb; more intriguingly there is a reference to witch called ‘Mab’ in the Anonymous play, Jacob and Esau of 1568 indicating that the name may be taken from folklore – though this Mab, seems rather different to Shakespeare’s:

Esau. And come out thou mother Mab, out olde rotten witche,
As white as midnightes arsehole, or virgin pitche.


54 ‘the fairies’ midwife’ – probably meant in the sense that she aids men’s brains in giving birth to dreams.

57 ‘atomi’ – ‘tiny creatures’.

60 ‘the joiner squirrel or old grub,’ – squirrels are good at cracking nuts; grubs can eat a hole through wood.

62 ‘spinners’ legs’ – legs of the cranefly or daddy-long-legs (called a ‘harvestman’ in the US and Canada).

64 ‘traces’ – the straps between the harnessed ‘atomi’ and Mab’s carriage.

65 ‘collars’ – the atomi’s bridles; ‘the moonshine’s watery beams’ – ‘watery’ as in ‘weak’, with a glance at the fact that the moon is, through its influence on the tides, often associated with water.

69 ‘Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid.’ – It was a humorous proverb that worms grew in the fingers of lazy maids. Roundworms (nematodes) are tiny parasites found in the intestines and not in fingers, but they can occasionally find their way out of the human body through the mouth, ears or a wound in cases of severe infestation.

72 ‘curtsies’ – a more general term in Shakespeare’s time, covering varying gestures of respect.

75 ‘blisters’ – probably a reference to cold sores.

76 ‘sweetmeats’ – sweets, sugary cakes or pastries.

78 ‘smelling out a suit’ – In the context of a courtier this would mean thinking of a profitable request likely to be granted by a king or queen, but as Mercutio has alrea

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William Shakespeare

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