Mab

The “fairies' midwife”—i.e. employed by the fairies as midwife of dreams (to deliver man's brain of dreams). Thus when Romeo says, “I dreamed a dream to-night,” Mercutio replies, “Oh, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.” Sir Walter Scott follows in the same track: “I have a friend who is peculiarly favoured with the visits of Queen Mab,” meaning with dreams (The Antiquary). When Mab is called “queen,” it does not mean sovereign, for Titania was Oberon's wife, but simply female; both midwives and monthly nurses were anciently called queens or queans. Quen or cwén in Saxon means neither more nor less than woman; so “elf-queen,” and the Danish ellequinde, mean female elf, and not “queen of the elves.” Excellent descriptions of “Mistress Mab” are given by Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, i. 4), by Ben Jonson, by Herrick, and by Drayton in Nymphidea. (Mab, Welsh, a baby.)

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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