The main characters in Life Is a Dream include Segismund, Clotaldo, Basilio, and Rosaura.

  • Segismund is the prince of Poland, who has grown up chained in an isolated tower. He proves himself a philosophical, courageous young man and is eventually crowned king.
  • Clotaldo, a faithful servant of King Basilio, is Segismund’s jailer, as well as his moral guide.
  • Basilio is the king of Poland and the father of Segismund, whom Basilio had imprisoned after his birth.
  • Rosaura is a sympathetic noblewoman who happens upon Segismund in his tower while traveling in disguise.

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Rosaura is portrayed as an intelligent, resourceful, and sympathetic woman who immediately feels an affinity with Segismund and wants to help him. She has a strong sense of honor and is determined to avenge the wrong that Astolfo has done her, though she eventually accepts marriage and a quasi-royal position as duchess of Muscovy.


Fife is called Clarin in the original and in most translations. The name Fitzgerald gives her is clearly intended to convey the shrill, piercing quality of her voice and words. Fife is the most purely comic character in what is nominally a comedy and often provides sarcastic commentary on the solemn words of the other characters. However, she is also tragic, in the sense that she is the only one of the major characters who dies during the course of the play. Although Basilio provides a brief epitaph, no one seems particularly concerned by her death. This is perhaps connected to the fact that she is the only major character not of royal or noble birth.


Segismund is the most dynamic and complex character in the play. As the drama begins, even though he is in despair, he impresses Rosaura with his eloquence and the thoughtfulness with which he expresses his feelings. In the second act, he only partially justifies Basilio’s low estimate of his character. Even as he behaves in a savage, uncouth manner, he convincingly attributes his faults to the disadvantages under which he has labored for so long. By the end of the play, he has shown not only his depth of character and capacity for rational thought, but his willingness to act on the philosophical conclusions he reaches. King Basilio notes both his strength and courage in battle and his merciful nature in pardoning those who have wronged him. There seems little doubt that Segismund will prove a model ruler.


Clotaldo is such a faithful servant of the king that at times he appears to be his alter ego, echoing Basilio’s reasons and ideas without any thoughts of his own to add to them. Segismund calls him treacherous for the part he plays in the king’s plans, but from the perspective of the audience, “cruel” or “obdurate” would appear to be more fitting charges. Clotaldo can be duplicitous, as when he persuades the prince that he has been dreaming, but alongside the role of jailer, he seems to have accepted the roles of guide and tutor, continually trying to steer the young prince toward moral truth. It may well be due to Clotaldo that Segismund is able to think and act so rationally, since it is difficult to imagine who else would have instructed him in philosophy and logic.


Astolfo is generally an unattractive character, cold, calculating, and snobbish. He appears to have seduced Rosaura with false promises, if not actually raped her, then abandoned her as soon as the prospect of a royal marriage presented itself. His approach to Estrella is businesslike and unemotional. When he first meets Segismund, he is fawning and ingratiating, immediately irritating the prince but only directly contradicting him when his own royal rank is challenged.


Estrella is a contrast to Rosaura and, for that matter, to Fife, in her passivity. She is a political pawn who seems to exist merely to be married to the next king of Poland, whether this turns out to be Astolfo or Segismund. She tamely accepts being given away in marriage to both men at different points in the play and makes only a conventional (and ineffectual) protest when Segismund lays hands in her in...

(This entire section contains 749 words.)

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act 2, relying on Astolfo to defend her honor.


Basilio, like his son, is a character who develops over the course of the play. He seems to have been very certain of the signs that he read in the stars but begins to have doubts that he may have wronged his son and done the kingdom no good by his drastic course of action. He is an old man by the beginning of the play, and Segismund may be right to say that he only doubts the wisdom of his action when he has no further interest in ruling and wants an heir to take over from him. By the end of the play he is humbled and recognizes his son’s outstanding qualities, as well as the malign role he himself has played, which could easily have destroyed Segismund and plunged the kingdom into chaos.