Chapter 31: Queen Mab

“Now what do you think of that dream, Flask?”
“I don’t know; it seems a sort of foolish to me, tho’.”
“May be; may be. But it’s made a wise man out of me, Flask.”

Throughout Moby-Dick, readers are often confronted with the idea of meaning as a function of perception. As early as chapter three, we see Ishmael viewing a painting and literally inventing the narrative of it as he sees what he sees in its age-obscured forms. We can imply what this moment suggests about each of us in the real world — our consciousness filters great masses of sensory input and creates a narrative to make sense of the things it deems important. This idea has great implications for literature. If meaning does not exist intrinsically in the world, we must see a story more as a reflection of its teller than of some independent truth in the world.

Melville plays with this idea throughout the book — for example, Ishmael telling the story of Stubb telling the story of Queequeg using his tattoos to tell the story of Ahab’s doubloon. “Queen Mab,” adds its own twist in making the interpreted object itself a creation of consciousness; i.e., a dream.

What may seem like a minor distinction interests me for two reasons. First, we as readers get a double insight into Stubb’s character, both in the images he creates in dreams, and in the meaning he attaches to those images. Second, the situation confronts us with an often uncomfortable idea of being a stranger to one’s own self, as well as the even more uncomfortable thought that even our selves have no absolute meaning beyond that which we, or others, attach in observation. Stubb sees himself as highly estimable. Ahab’s actions may imply that he sees Stubb as quite the opposite. Are both versions of Stubb equally valid? Does Stubb have proprietary rights to defining Stubb? Wisely, Stubb bypasses these questions entirely by interpreting Ahab’s kick as a great honor.

Chapter 31: Queen Mab

Listen to me, Flask, a curious thing
Came to me as advice in last night’s dream.
Ahab kicked me with his ivory leg,
Then his base widened to a pyramid.

I had a night to be
Alone, steeped in a wondrous dream.
Rise, oh, Queen Mab, arise,
And hush each of our players’ sighs!

So I kicked his geometric strength
As I thought to myself at some great length —
He didn’t kick me with a living foot . . .
It matters. It matters!

I had a night to be
Alone, steeped in a wondrous dream.
Rise, oh, Queen Mab, arise,
And hush each of our players’ sighs!

Then a merman came to lecture me
On the blessed abuse of royalty —
Every kick from Ahab makes you wise,
And at least he didn’t kick with common pine!

I had a night to be
Alone, steeped in a wondrous dream.
Rise, oh, Queen Mab, arise,
And hush each of our players’ sighs!

Rise, oh, Queen Mab, arise,
And hush each of our players’ sighs!

(c) and (p) 2009 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 12, 2009
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea August 14, 2010

Published in: on September 12, 2010 at 10:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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