Uncanny dreams and deathly sleep haunt the most famed lovers in literature history.

The woeful story the Juliet and her Romeo has actually several ominous recommendations to beds, sleep, and dreams. These nocturnal aspects reflect the tension in between the passionate yearnings of the young lovers and the catastrophic fate that awaits them. As Friar Laurence vainly warns, “these violent delights have violent ends.” Romeo and also Juliet uncover both ecstatic delights and also annihilating ends in the darkest, dreamiest worlds of night.

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Romeo’s an initial Dream and Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” Speech

In one of the early scenes that the play (currently in manufacturing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with Emily Ota together Juliet and William cutting board Hodgson as Romeo), a minute of witty banter unexpectedly turns into a long, weirdly unsettling monologue about the nature of dreaming. That is, i believe, the most considerable treatment of desires in every one of Shakespeare’s works, and it encapsulates in a solitary surreal passage the inspiring-yet-terrifying energies of person dream experience.

At the begin of act I, scene iv, Romeo meets with his friend Mercutio and Benvolio on a street outside the family members house the the Capulets, sworn enemies of Romeo’s family, the Montagues. The Capulets space hosting a feast and masquerade ball, and also Mercutio, Benvolio, and Romeo have made decision to wear masks and also sneak right into the party. Just before entering the house, however, Romeo abruptly stops and also questions the wisdom of your plan. Even though the mrs he no hope loves, Rosaline, will be attending the festivities, he worries that something negative will take place if they walk forth. Mercutio needs that Romeo define his suddenly misgivings, and also the complying with exchange ensues:

Romeo: ns dreamt a dream tonight.

Mercutio: and also so did I.

Romeo: Well, what to be yours?

Mercutio: that dreamers frequently lie.

Romeo: In bed asleep, if they do dream things true.


Romeo to trust his dream is warning him of hazard in the future. Mercutio is much more interested in the party, however, and also he tries to deflect Romeo’s gloomy prognostication v a sharp-edged jest: he lures Romeo right into asking him if that really had actually a dream, and also then calls into question the veracity the anyone who insurance claims to have actually a dream to tell. But Romeo has actually a strong feeling about the potential definition of his dream, and also he tries to sway Mercutio to take it it seriously.

Romeo gets more than the bargained for. Mercutio launches into an elaborate and fanciful speech that covers more than forty lines of text, beginning with this:

Mercutio: O, climate I see Queen Mab afoot been through you. She is the fairies’ midwife, and she come in shape no bigger than an agate stone…


What complies with is a strange, miracle journey into the realm of the fairies and their nocturnal activities. Together he go at higher length in the romantic fantasy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” additionally written approximately this exact same time (1595-1596), Shakespeare draws upon renowned folklore come envision a colorful human being of small tricksters who, hovering just outside the range of our simple awareness, are busily influencing our resides in means both fair and also foul. Despite her miniscule size and delicate nature, Queen Mab wields complete power over us as soon as we sleep and dream. Mercutio go on define what happens as soon as she visits miscellaneous kinds of human being in their slumber:

Mercutio: and in this state she gallops night through night v lovers’ brains, and also then castle dream of love; O’er courtiers knees, that dream ~ above curtsies straight; O’er lawyers fingers, who right dream on fees; O’er ladies’ lips, who right on kisses dream.


What Mercutio explains is quite similar to the continuity theory of dreaming, which states that civilization tend come dream most frequently around things that emotionally concern them in waking life. Lovers dream the love, courtiers dream that kneeling in court, lawyers dream the receiving money from clients—whatever is most important in a person’s life, that’s what lock most likely to dream about. Mercutio defines other instances of Queen Mab’s dream-stimulating activities: she tickles a minister’s nose, and he dreams of a financially for sure job; she drives end a soldier’s neck, and also he desires of cutting foe throats. The typical thread throughout these instances is that dreams are personalized reflect of people’s existing concerns and not, as Romeo assumes, prophecies around the future. In this regard, Mercutio’s decided is a exceptional anticipation the a contemporary psychological theory around dreaming.

Queen Mab takes mischievous pleasure in resulting in chaos and also disorder, a fairy properties she shares v Puck, Oberon, and Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” together Mercutio continues his speech, this quality pertains to the fore, and also at a certain point Mercutio appears to lose regulate of his own story:

Mercutio: This is the very Mab that plaits the manes of equines in the night and also bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs, which as soon as untangled lot misfortune bodes. This is the hag, when maids lie on your backs, the presses them and also learns them an initial to bear, make them ladies of good carriage. This is she—


Here, Shakespeare condenses number of folk-beliefs around the dark pressures behind dreaming. Queen Mab morphs into a sewage incubus or night hag that tangles hair, presses top top bodies, preys on fears, and also forces sexual submission. She is the embodiment of all the nightmarish strength set loosened within our sleep, and also she devotes particularly malicious fist to the torments that “sluttish” young women. The physiological effects defined here could, in modern terms, be diagnosed together night terrors, with the sensation of pressure and also feelings that overwhelming fear. Castle could likewise be defined in terms of psychoanalytic theory: Queen Mab is the primal id of the person unconscious, running wild v our dreams while the ego slumbers in blissful ignorance.

Most productions the the play have actually Mercutio moving these last lines that his decided in a manic frenzy, together the fairies’ malevolent mayhem intimidates to overwhelm him. The OSF version, with the incandescence Sara Bruner together Mercutio, complies with that classic staging, but with an intriguing gender twist that offers the decided a depth level of emotionally resonance.

At this point, Mercutio has become so unhinged that Romeo actions forward to interrupt him and snap him the end of the psychotic spell of his own words. Now it’s Romeo’s turn to play under the meaning of dreams, in an effort to calm his friend’s frazzled nerves:

Romeo: Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace! thou talk’st the nothing.


Mercutio responds with another unexpected shift of tone and also attitude:

Mercutio: True, I talk of dreams; which room the youngsters of one idle brain, begot of nothing however vain fantasy; i m sorry is together thin that substance together the air, and an ext inconstant that the wind…


After dwelling in ~ such length on the wondrous exploits that Queen Mab and her fairy consorts, Mercutio abruptly concludes through a rejection of dreaming as a whole. A contemporary materialist might not express any more eloquently the idea that dreams are slim nonsense. Here, Mercutio is anticipating the simple themes that neuroscientific reductionism, an additional strand of existing thinking around dreams that treats them as the disordered and meaningless spin-offs of one “idle brain” throughout sleep.

In the context of the play and also this details scene, Mercutio’s case is not really persuasive, since he just spent number of minutes offering a highly thorough account the the coherent connections in between people’s dreams and their waking lives. Indeed, his belated refusal of dreaming seems more like a desperate attempt to deny what he has actually just openly acknowledged to it is in real and also true. He is trying to placed the lid back on the magic box, but it’s too late. The fairies have currently escaped.

Benvolio lastly draws their attention earlier to the issue at hand, and also on they go to the party. But Romeo has actually been deeply rattled. More than ever, that feels a prophetic feeling of darkening gloom ahead and also the inevitable prospect of “untimely death.”

So this is Romeo’s framework of mind when he place on his mask and also walks right into the party at the Capulets. The is deeply depressed about his unrequited love because that Rosaline; the just had a really worrisome dream portending part future ill; and his friend almost goes foolish talking around the supernatural powers of malicious mischief set loosened in our dreams. Plus, the knows that if his true identity is discovered, the will likely be killed. By start the party, Romeo is entering a perilous, uncertain, and potentially transformative space.

Juliet’s merging of Beds, Sleep, and also Death

We do not recognize what Juliet dreams about. Us only know what she go not dream about. In her an initial appearance, Juliet’s mother calls for her to discuss an essential question:

Capulet’s wife: tell me, daughter Juliet, how stands your disposition to it is in married?

Juliet: it is an honor that i dream not of.


Juliet’s answer is both modest and also diplomatic. Together an obedient and also virtuous daughter, she accepts that her parents will decide when, where, and also to who she will be pledged in the sacred bond the marriage. Till that time, the object is the farthest thing from her mind, something that does not even appear in her dreams. She reply also includes a subtle level of reluctance come think around marriage in ~ this stage of life. Her nurse has actually just provided a long and rambling speech, the upshot of i beg your pardon is that Juliet is not yet 14 years of age, barely previous childhood. But Juliet’s mother insists that various other “ladies of esteem” in Verona are married by this period and currently bearing children, together did she when she very first married Juliet’s father.

This is preamble to dramatic news. Her mommy says the a well-regarded gentleman through the surname of Paris has shown marital interest in Juliet (he “seeks you for his love”), and also he has come to their house that really evening to victory her hand. Juliet’s mother offers her basically no time come react—“speak briefly, can you choose of Paris’ love?” Juliet dutifully answers the she will try to choose him, but no much more than her mommy says she should. The nurse reflects no together reluctance, as she renders abundantly clear the sexual implications of this sudden turn of events: “Women thrive by men… Go, girl, look for happy nights come happy days.”

Juliet speak very couple of lines in this scene, i beg your pardon is fitting since she really has actually no speak in any type of of these options or decisions. She dreams of no one of this due to the fact that she has actually no agency, no creative investment in any of it; it every happens to her, through decree of her parents, leaving her creative thinking no reason to wonder about alternative possibilities.

So this is Juliet’s framework of mind as soon as she puts on her mask and also joins she family’s feast. ~ dwelling on the reality that she is right now 13 years old, she is informed by her mommy that she has actually reached a marrying age, the a certain gentleman has already expressed his romantic interest in her, and that said gentleman is current in their house right now, prepared to secure she affections. Many thanks to the nurse’s bawdy commentary, she cannot avoid the fact that she will certainly be intended to interact in sexual relations with him. Therefore when she goes come the party, Juliet enters a perilous, uncertain, and potentially transformative space.


And when there, she meets Romeo. Their magical very first encounter surprises them both; this is not what they to be expecting once they walked right into the party. Completely forgetting the human being they were claimed to look for (Rosaline for Romeo, Paris for Juliet), they practically instantly loss in love through a masked stranger, in a moment of mysteriously extreme romance.

When the gathering ends, Juliet anxiously begs the nurse:

Juliet: walk ask his name.—If he it is in married, mine grave is choose to be my wedding bed.


This is the very first of plenty of instances in i m sorry Juliet and other characters make symbolic connections in between beds, sleep, and also death. These recommendations are also intertwined through the bed as a physical room for passion, love, and the creation of new life. The grave and the wedding bed—they occupy opposite end of an gift spectrum, and yet in this story they inexorably draw towards every other and finally merge into a disastrous unity.

The beforehand references are the happiest. As Romeo stands in ~ Juliet’s balcony exchanging vows that love, he marvels in ~ the tremendous magic that the moment:

Romeo: O blessed, blessed night! i am afeard, being in night, every this is however a dream, too flattering-sweet to be substantial.


A few moments later he bids a final farewell to Juliet at she balcony:

Romeo: Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in her breast! would I to be sleep and peace, so sweet come rest!


After the friar performs their mystery wedding, Juliet eagerly anticipates her an initial opportunity to it is in alone through her husband:

Juliet: Come, night; come, Romeo; come, thou job in night; because that thou wilt lie upon the wing of night whiter than new snow upon a raven’s back. Come, tenderness night; come, loving, black-browed night; provide me mine Romeo…


Romeo and Juliet lastly get come celebrate their marriage with a “love-performing night” together in she bed (III.v), and also they lament the resulting the day (Romeo says, “I have to be gone and live, or stay and also die”).

Now everything darkens, and also fate close the door in ~ above the young couple. After lock part, Juliet learns that she will shortly be wedded to Paris, if Romeo find he has been exiled indigenous Verona because that the killing of Juliet’s brother Tybalt in a street brawl. With the friar’s help, Juliet decides to take a sleeping potion that will certainly “wrought on her the form of death”:

Friar Laurence: and also in this obtained likeness of shrunk fatality thou shalt continue two and forty hours, and then awake together from a pleasant sleep. Now, once the bridegroom in the morning involves rouse thee from thy bed, there arts thou dead.



The friar guarantees to call Romeo to go to Juliet in the Capulet tomb after she has actually revived, therefore they have the right to secretly escape the city together. Alas, the plan goes bad awry. Paris gets to the dig first, and mourns in ~ what the believes to it is in the dead Juliet’s side:

Paris: Sweet flower, with flowers your bridal bed ns strew—O woe! thy canopy is dust and also stones.


Then Romeo beginning the tomb. Paris draws his sword and also attacks; Romeo kills him. He climate goes to Juliet’s motionless body and also falls for the deception, too: he thinks she is truly dead. Unable to distinguish death from sleep, Romeo decides to join her in death. Instantly upon his law so, Juliet awakens. The friar come at this point, and also he urges Juliet to leave at once:

Friar Laurence: ns hear some noise. Lady, come from that swarm of death, contagion, and also unnatural sleep.


Juliet refuses. Instead, she decides to sign up with her lovely Romeo in eternal slumber. After ~ a final kiss, she take away his dagger and presses that point versus her chest:

Juliet: This is her sheath; there rest, and also let me die.


Romeo’s Joyful Dream

The agonizing conclusion to the story makes it every the more peculiar that, just before he learns of Juliet’s evident death, Romeo awakens through a happy dream. His speech at the begin of action V is a final beam of irradiate in the gathering darkness:

Romeo: If I might trust the flattering truth of sleep, my desires presage part joyful news at hand. My bosom’s lord sits easy in his throne, and all today an unaccustomed spirit lifts me over the ground v cheerful thoughts. Ns dreamt my lady came and found me dead (strange dream that gives a dead male leave to think!) and also breathed such life with kisses in mine lips that I revitalized and was an emperor. Ah me! exactly how sweet is love itself possessed, when but love’s shadows space so well-off in joy!


What are we to make of this dream? in ~ one level it appears horribly misleading—Romeo is about to receive absolutely devastating news around Juliet, and also death will soon consume them both. The dream seems like a cruel hoax, and also a pains ironic example of why we should not “trust the flattering reality of sleep.”

But at one more level, possibly the dream is top Romeo towards an awareness the a various realm of union through Juliet, a transcendent realm wherein he will be “an emperor,” and also where life will dominate death. For the reality is, there is no expect in the present waking human being for him and Juliet, not with their families’ violent hatred of every other. Romeo’s dream provides him an alternative means of understanding what the future is about to bring. Their love is, by its an extremely existence, a miraculous triumph end the strictly constraints the govern your lives. Castle have properly defied the social authorities and asserted their very own desires for romantic fulfillment. Their kisses have the power to transport them beyond the small feuds the this civilization to a beautiful and joyful human being all your own.

Romeo note the strange element in his dream the a dead guy thinking living thoughts. This day we might speak to this a sport on metacognition in dreaming, a form of “thinking around thinking.” Here, the Romeo thinking around what he would be thinking if he were dead. This seems difficult from a traditional waking perspective, simply as it’s impossible that he could ever actually end up being an emperor in the waking world. Yet these points are feasible in the realm of dreaming, and this argues an growth of normal awareness, a dissolving of plain boundaries, and the exploration of new potentials past the boundaries of the present. That does seem to it is in the tangible effect of the dream ~ above Romeo as soon as he awakens. That breaks v his fears, elevator his spirits, and also stimulates a welcoming perspective towards the future. Because that one last moment he feels pure lightness and joy, and he revels in the marvels of his love because that Juliet.

Is that a cruel deception, or a profoundly truthful vision?

Earlier in the play, Mercutio offers a selection of reasons why us should overlook dreams: dreamers lie, the fairies manipulate people’s minds, and also anyway it’s all nonsense native the sleep-addled brain. However by the finish of the pat the referrals to dreams change towards focus on your accuracy in reflecting reality. After death Paris in the Capulet tomb, Romeo briefly wonders about something his servant, Balthasar, stated to the on the method to the tomb:

Romeo: i think that told me Paris should have married Juliet: claimed he not so? Or did i dream it so?


Balthasar probably did say so, yet for Romeo it might equally have been a dream; all are one in his psychic now.

A couple of moments later, Friar Laurence encounters Balthasar external the tomb. Romeo had actually told Balthasar to wait for him, and also under no circumstances to follow him into the tomb. Now Balthasar anxiously tells the friar he fears something disastrous has happened:

Balthasar: as I did sleep under this yew-tree here, i dreamt my master and another fought, and that my understand slew him.


The staging of the scene pipeline Balthasar’s specific position unclear (“I’ll hide me hereabout”), so us don’t recognize if he witnessed or heard Romeo and also Paris when they to be fighting; either way, Balthasar’s dream accurately mirrors what did in reality happen in the tomb.

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In both instances throughout this last climactic scene of the play, the difference has dissolved between dreaming and also waking reality. Dreams have end up being transparent to the actuality of what’s happening in this world. That is the final, spiritually illuminating context because that Romeo’s joyful dream and its flattering truth about the eternal love that shares through Juliet.