28 pages 56 minutes read

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1813

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Book IIIChapter Summaries & Analyses

Book III Summary

Queen Mab shows the spirit a dying king wearing the golden chains that bind rulers’ spirits to “abjectness” (Line 3.31). Queen Mab describes the king’s cruelty in the face of human suffering and his cold heartedness while his subjects starved. Now that the king has a fever and fears he is close to death, his conscience nettles him, and he calls out to God for his pain to subside. However, the fairy says that this vain man’s painful death is just punishment for his cruel actions as ruler.

It not at all surprising that the king lived “immured” from “all that’s good or dear on earth,” (Lines 3.90-92): Custom and tradition taught him to be cruel, while the people who surround him are like as insects or automatons who take crumbs of his power. Because the monarch cannot be humble, he becomes alienated from what is true and virtuous.

Mab argues that kings create such unnecessary labor and hardship for commoners that eventually people will no longer allow monarchs to rule over them. This coming rebellion is as it should be, since “Nature rejects the monarch” (Line 3.170). Instead of accumulating power, good people wish neither to rule over others nor to follow orders; rather, they want to only be subject to the “spirit of nature” (Line 3.