How are ideas of honor and reputation applied to men and women in Life Is a Dream?

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The ideas of honor and reputation in the play Life Is a Dream are applied to men and women unequally, in keeping with the prevailing double standard of the time. Even though Astolfo acted dishonorably in breaking things off with Rosaura, it is Rosaura whose honor and reputation have been ruined.

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Life is a Dream was written at a time when the concept of honor was very important in European societies, especially in the author's native Spain. Social rules were much more rigid than they are today, with everyone in society expected to behave in a certain way according to their gender and social status.

Even so, such rules placed a more onerous burden on some members of society than others. Women, for instance, were expected to come up to exceptionally high standards of chasteness and constancy imposed on them by men. Yet even if a woman did somehow manage to maintain such standards, she could still find her honor and reputation ruined through no fault of her own, but because she had been wronged by a man.

Such is the fate of Rosaura in Life is a Dream. While living in her native Russia, she was seduced and abandoned by Astolfo, the Duke of Muscovy. By modern-day standards, Astolfo has behaved in an unspeakable manner, treating Rosaura as if she were little more than a worthless piece of trash to be discarded.

And yet, by the standards of the time, it is Rosaura's reputation that has been ruined, not Astolfo's. She's the one who has to take drastic steps to restore her honor. It's notable that in order to do this, Rosaura has to disguise herself as a man. As a woman in a rigidly patriarchal society, she has no choice. It's either that or spend the rest of her life locked away in a convent.

Once Rosaura reveals that she is a woman, she is placed in a weakened position. She has to try and convince men such as Clotaldo and Segismundo to kill Astolfo to restore her lost honor and reputation. The irony here isn't hard to spot. Rosaura's honor and reputation were cruelly taken away from her by a man, but she can only get them back with the assistance of other men.

In the end, Rosaura's honor and reputation are indeed restored, and by nonviolent means. But it's rather telling that this only comes about because a man, Segismundo, orders Astolfo to do the right thing and marry Rosaura. And so, at the end of the play, we're left with the abiding impression that honor and reputation in the society depicted on stage are entirely within the gift of men, as indeed is every woman's fate.

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Honor is an important theme in Life Is a Dream. The concept applies to both male and female characters, but unevenly. There are female characters who behave with honor, but overall, the concept is primarily associated with men. The female position in regard to honor is much more precarious than the position men enjoy, as women are stained by sexual activity (proven or assumed) in ways that men are not. A very strong female character, Rosaura, is intent on finding Adolfo and making him behave honorably. However, she cannot complete her mission in female form, but must disguise herself as a man in order to do so. Along the way, she presents a positive model to Segismundo.

Not every man in the play behaves honorably, and their failure to do so can have far-reaching consequences. King Basilio can be seen as having had honorable motives—his heartfelt duty to save his kingdom—but his unjust treatment of his son represents an abdication of personal responsibility. By having Segismundo locked up away from society, Basilio abdicated his duty to provide the proper role model for his son. Fortunately what the prince learns from Rosaura and others enables him to internalize and apply the concept as he mercifully spares both his father and the dutiful Clotaldo.

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