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Life Is a Dream


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AT: Life's a Dream; Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made of A: Pedro Calderón de la Barca Pf: 1635, Madrid Pb: 1636 Tr: 1865 G: Drama in 3 acts; Spanish verse S: The court of Poland, a nearby fortress, and the open country, c.15th c. C: 8m, 2f, extrasBasilio, King of Poland, has confined his son Segismundo to a tower, because he caused the death of his mother in childbirth and omens foretold that he would grow up to become a tyrant and overthrow his father. However, urged by his courtiers, the King relents and abandons his plan to make Duke Astolfo his heir by releasing Segismundo and offering him the opportunity to rule the kingdom. Meanwhile, Astolfo's life is under threat from his spurned mistress Rosaura. Segismundo is drugged and brought to the palace, where he is overwhelmed by the sudden splendour and respectful treatment by those around him. He behaves so violently, even threatening the King because of the treatment he endured, that Basilio returns him to the tower. Shortly after awakening in prison, Segismundo is freed by the angry populace, and he leads an armed revolt against the King. However, when he succeeds in defeating his father, he is so wary that he might again awake to find himself in prison that he forgives Basilio, and promises to be a wise ruler. Rosaura is to wed Astolfo, and Segismundo will marry Astolfo's former fiancée Estrella.

AT: Life's a Dream; Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made of A: Pedro Calderón de la Barca Pf: 1635, Madrid Pb: 1636 Tr: 1865 G: Drama in 3 acts; Spanish verse S: The court of Poland, a nearby fortress, and the open country, c.15th c. C: 8m, 2f, extras

The Spanish word sueño means ‘sleep’ as well as ‘dream’, suggesting that life is a complete illusion, and so provides the philosophical basis for the 17th century's preoccupation with appearance and reality. Calderón explores the theme masterfully through the process of redemptive self-discovery in Segismundo and in the restoration of Rosaura's honour in the sub-plot. The play is also distinguished by long and powerful speeches, vigorous stichomythic exchanges, strikingly contrasted locations, and injections of good comic writing. Hugo von Hofmannsthal adapted the original in The Tower (1925).

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Pedro Calderón de La Barca (1600—1681) Spanish dramatist and poet


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