Dreams in Shakespeare
Dreams in Shakespeare
To a degree, Shakespeare's varied and extensive use of dreams in his plays reflects the widespread currency of the motif on the English Renaissance stage—where it was a common feature, originating in the theater of classical antiquity. Yet, Shakespeare is also credited with imaginatively expanding and shaping the dramatic representation of dreams. The romances particularly have earned the attention of critics intrigued by their unique settings in dream-like worlds of fantasy, for example, in the bucolic forest of The Winter's Tale, Prospero's magical island in The Tempest, and the illusory, faerie world of A Midsummer Night's Dream. In addition, Shakespeare has made significant use of dreams throughout his oeuvre, in many instances evoking the classical conception of the dream as a medium of supernatural powers or as a premonition of future events. This approach is a common feature in the early histories, notably Henry VI in which the Cardinal of Winchester experiences a dream that prefigures the Duke of Gloucester's death. Similarly, Shakespeare employs dreams and foreboding omens in Richard III Dreams also figure prominently in the tragedies. In Romeo and Juliet Romeo dreams of his own death only to imagine that Juliet has arrived, and with a kiss brought him back to life. Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear also offer dreams and visions that take on ominous, preternatural overtones as they herald the approach of ghosts, witchcraft, or madness.
Modern criticism of dreams in Shakespearean drama has tended to focus on psychoanalysis. Appropriately, several critics have observed the importance of Shakespeare's works as raw material for later, Freudian theories on the significance of dreams in human psychology. Among them, Frankie Rubinstein (1986) has located Shakespeare's dramatization of dreams as precursors of Sigmund Freud's "dream-material." Kay Stockholder (1987) has examined the unconscious blending of violence and sexuality in Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth, uncovering the deep-seated and perverse motivations in the half-waking dreams of the play's title character. Further explorations of dreams in various plays have unearthed considerable material for psychoanalytic critics. Among them, Terrence N. Tice (1990) has commented on the implications of Calphurnia's dream portending the murder of Caesar in Julius Caesar, which Tice sees as a device for conveying the psychological state of depression to the viewing audience. Joseph Westlund (1993), meanwhile, has focused on Posthumus's dream in Cymbeline as a manifestation of his search for psychological integration.
Other critical avenues on the subject of dreams have included readings of particular plays as the dream-narratives of individual characters. Thus, Kay Stockholder (1991) has interpreted The Merchant of Venice as if its plot were the dream of Portia's dead father, using this unique perspective to discover the sources of the play's obsessive themes of wealth and desire. Likewise, Simon O. Lesser (1976) has discussed Macbeth as a play driven by the unconscious dreams and fantasies of its protagonist as they are brought to bloody fruition. The negative consequences of a blurred distinction between dream-fantasy and reality are the subject of Marjorie Garber's (1974) influential study Dream in Shakespeare. In it Garber surveys Shakespearean tragedy from Richard III to Antony and Cleopatra, uncovering the importance of dreams as the representations of internal landscapes in the early histories and the tragedies Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear, and as symbolic—rather than psychological or naturalistic—manifestations in the later plays.
Overviews: Dreams And Psychoanalysis
Frankie Rubinstein (essay date 1986)
SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Dream-Stuff: A Forerunner of Freud's 'Dream Material'," in American Imago, Vol. 43, No. 4, Winter, 1986, pp. 335-55.
[In the following essay, Rubinstein explores the dream language and imagery of Shakespeare's dramas and the relation of these to Freudian psychoanalysis.]
"We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep."
The Tempest, IV.i
"Sleep, thou hast been a grandsire, and begot / A father to me; and thou hast created / A mother . . . Gone! they went hence as soon as they were born; / And so I am awake . . . and find nothing. 'Tis still a dream, or else such stuff as madmen / Tongue and brain not; either both or nothing; / Or senseless speaking, or a speaking such / As sense cannot untie. Be what it is / The action of my life is like it . . ."
What Freud calls the "material" of dreams, Shakespeare had earlier called the "stuff," knowing that many in his audience would recognize in this word his frequent double entendre on coital stuffing and the stuff of semen and brothel occupants. They would know these puns from many plays; for example, Timon of Athens, where Apemantus's...
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Dreams And Imagination
Marjorie B. Garber (essay date 1974)
SOURCE: "A Dagger of the Mind: Dream and 'Conscience' in the Tragedies," in Dream in Shakespeare: From Metaphor to Metamorphosis, Yale University Press, 1974, pp. 88-138.
[In the following excerpt, Garber analyzes the blurring of dream and reality in the tragedies Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra.]
Conscience is but a word that cowards use.
Richard III V.iii.310
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.
Richard III. . . is Shakespeare's first truly psychological play. The long, self-revelatory soliloquies, the apparitions, and the narrated dreams all create a reality both inside and outside Richard, wedding the subjective condition of consciousness to the objective conditions of London and Bosworth Field. The word "conscience" echoes repeatedly throughout the play: Margaret rails at Richard "the worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul" (I.iii.221); one of Clarence's murderers, though he acknowledges "certain dregs of conscience" (I.iv. 122-23) in himself, concludes that conscience is a thing he'll "not meddle with," since it "makes a man a coward" (136-37). Richard himself, badly shaken by the parade of apparitions at Bosworth...
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Dreams And Violence: Macbeth
Simon O. Lesser (essay date 1976)
SOURCE: "Macbeth: Drama and Dream," in Literary Criticism and Psychology, edited by Joseph P. Strelka, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976, pp. 150-73.
[In the following essay, Lesser argues that Macbeth is to a great degree written in "the language of the unconscious, " and interprets the play as a dramatization of "its protagonist's dreams, fantasies, and thoughts. "]
With the exception of Hamlet, and perhaps King Lear, more may have been written about Macbeth than any other play, yet some of the most significant aspects of the drama have gone unremarked—or noted too casually to provoke curiosity and analysis. Consider the many loose ends and apparent inconsistencies in the play, for example. Lady Macbeth speaks of having "given suck," but Macbeth has no son and no further reference is made to his wife's child, or children. Although Macbeth sees apparitions even before the murder of Duncan and, in general, seems unsure of his course and plagued by guilt, it is his strong-willed wife who breaks down first; though it is he who feels that "all great Neptune's ocean" cannot wash Duncan's blood from his hand and balks at returning the daggers, it is his wife who returns them and belittles the deed. It is she who futilely tries, while walking in her sleep, to rid her hands of the smell of blood. Or...
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Posthumus's Dream: Cymbeline
D. E. Landry (essay date 1982)
SOURCE: "Dreams as History: The Strange Unity of Cymbeline," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 1, Spring, 1982, pp. 68-79.
[In the following essay, Landry examines the thematic link between dreams and the historical unity of Cymbeline.]
Cymbeline is most remarkably a play about dreams, about the various and often inexplicable functions of the unconscious mind. It is also a romance, a history play, and a tragicomic pastoral. Naturally, critics have found it difficult to interpret the play in any unified way, difficult to assign it any governing structure. Most are still in tacit agreement with Johnson, who deplored its "incongruity" and "unresisting imbecility"; even critics who claim some fondness for its oddities tend to explore particular aspects, leaving the unwieldy bulk of the threefold plot largely unexplained.1 Frank Kermode and Northrop Frye, respectively, have come closer to pinning down the play's peculiar tone by calling it "experimental,"2 and "academic," with a "technical interest in dramatic structure."3
In Cymbeline, Shakespeare is indeed experimenting, but experimenting most resonantly, I think, with the underlying significance of certain natural cycles and their dramaturgical counterparts, with the processes of sleep as a perpetual "ape of death" (Iachimo's...
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Arthos, John. Shakespeare's Use of Dream and Vision. Totowa, N. J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977, 208 p.
Extensive study of dreams and apparitions in Shakespeare's dramas and poetry.
Cook, Eleanor. "'Methought' as Dream Formula in Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats and Others." English Language Notes XXXII, No. 4 (June 1995): 34-46.
Examines Shakespeare's influential use of the word "methought" as a prelude to the recitation of a dream.
Garber, Marjorie B. "Dream and Plot: Richard III" In Dream in Shakespeare: From Metaphor to Metamorphosis, pp. 15-26. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974.
Comments on Richard's prophetic dream in Richard III.
James, L. L. "The Dramatic Effects of the Play-Within-a-Play in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Marlowe's Dr. Faustus." Litteraria 5, No. 9 (1995): 17-31.
Explores Hamlet's metaphysical statement, "I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams" as indicative of a crisis of knowledge analogous to that of the title character of Christopher Marlowe's Faustus.
Presson, Robert K. "Two Types of Dreams in the...
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