MERCUTIO And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love,
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on cur’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,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are. (1.4.70-76)
State not as in, look at the state of her, but, pomp, ceremony, stateliness. This is a fairy queen, powerful, disruptive. The galloping suggests another scale shift – horses! – although we still don’t know what those little atomi look like – and the thought of horses galloping through lovers’ brains is massive, noisy, violent –dreaming of love is earthshaking too. This fairy can get right inside our heads, not just tickle noses. And the idea of the gallop, night by night, also suggests repetition, structurally reinforced by the repetition not just of o’er but of straight. Straight is doing interesting work here – it means immediately, right away – and its shifting position (relative to dream and the line as a whole) in the three successive lines makes it more startling, violent, unpredictable: dream on cur’sies straight; straight dream on fees; straight on kisses dream. It’s a bit like a jump cut, parallel syntax hinted at but denied. We’ve done our work imagining precise, tiny, invisible, insect things – and now there are whole human bodies, characters – lovers, courtiers, lawyers, ladies – imagined so fleetingly that they can’t come into focus. Mab’s chariot zooms over bodies, from brains to knees, to fingers, to lips – and then to kisses and breaths – so there’s a restless, relentless motion around, down and up the body, and from the corporeal to the incorporeal – we might imagine kissing fingers, an airy gesture. The imagined blisters (a plague of blisters at that) have a particular physicality, a sharp pain, an unpleasant sensation and texture, not least in their almost half-rhyme and parallel with kisses. Kisses blister; the smoothly sensual becomes unpleasant. We take this into our bodies, our mouths too, with the sweetmeats – which, like the kisses, turn out to be tainted too, like breath, air, dreams, as the line turns back on itself: it’s not the kisses which are blistered, after all, but the lips.
The first movement of the speech is about bodies, and small things, intensely imagined and/or invisible. The second movement – this one – is about bodies, doing things in their dreams, experienced at speed. The first movement – describing Mab and her chariot – lasts for sixteen lines (5+11). The second, for seven, a single breath, mostly end-stopped, unsettled by that shifting straight/dream. The speech is getting faster and blurrier.