Usually recognized as Calderón’s finest drama, Life Is a Dream premiered at the Royal Court of Spain. Its theme, revealed in the title, focuses on the instability of life and the illusory nature of the world. The story opens one night in the countryside between Poland and Russia, where Rosaura, a noblewoman disguised as a man, and her servant are journeying on foot after the loss of their horses. The opening lines give an example of Calderón’s imagery and language:
Are you the fabulous hippogriff running in harness with the wind?Flameless thunderbolt, featherless bird, fish without scales,Monster of the four elements without instinct to check your headlong flight?
Rosaura’s questions include mythological references and images of nature described out of character. The landscape itself reflects Rosaura’s emotional upheaval. Amid the turbulence, she finds Segismundo’s prison cave and hears his soliloquy of distress at the loss of his freedom. His guardian, Clotaldo, shown throughout the drama to be a man of integrity, sends the visitors away, but not before recognizing Rosaura as his daughter by the sword that she carries (which acts as a symbol of her family honor).
From the beginning, the first of several themes grouped together in this complex philosophical drama are introduced. Segismundo had...
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