William Shakespeare Dreams in Shakespeare - Essay


(Shakespearean Criticism)

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

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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 . . ."

Cymbeline, V.iv1

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 father "in spite put stuff/To some she beggar and compounded" him; Pericles, where the Bawd describes her brothel wenches as "the stuff we have"; Much Ado About Nothing, where Beatrice who complains she is "stuffed" and "cannot smell," meaning only that she has a cold, nonetheless has her chastity jestingly challenged by Margaret, who responds, "A maid, and stuffed!"; and Cymbeline, where the diseased "hired tomboys" with whom Iachimo accuses Posthumus of fornicating, are called "boyl'd stuff," a pun on their being the boiled stuff of a stew, a word Shakespeare used for both a vessel for boiling and also a brothel, like the very "stew" that, a few lines later, Iachimo is accused of having come from. There is also the implication that they have boils and are candidates for the sweating tubs of boiling water that were used to treat venereal disease; and there may be a hint of sexual deviance (since Iachimo has a "beastly mind") in that the "boyl'd stuff may be boyl'd boys; TOMBOYS,2 by which Shakespeare meant masculine girls or effeminate boys. In using a word that has a potential for bawdy, like "stuff," Shakespeare can establish a certain distance of ironic detachment from a however thoughtful character speaking however earnestly, as in the above quotations from The Tempest and Cymbeline.

Freud's pioneering contribution to contemporary studies that utilize psychoanalytic concepts for interpreting Shakespeare was enormous. He revealed certain larger dramatic themes and fleshed out certain characters, as Shakespeare had understood them or had unconsciously recognized them to be, as in his seminal concept that Macbeth is only secondarily a study of overweening political ambition and that the play's unbridled violence stems from its being primarily a drama of father-son relations and the curse of barrenness.3 And his perceptions and theories have been enriched, as well as redefined and revised, by the detailed verbal analyses in contemporary psychoanalytical criticism.4

In King Lear and The Merchant of Venice, Freud saw the presentation of an old mythological and folk dilemma, that of man's necessity to choose among three women, the choice devolving on the third, whom he likens to the third spinner of man's Fate, Atropos, the inevitable, or death.5 Crucial to an understanding of the choice in both plays is the specific quality shared by the chosen: dumbness. Cordelia, whose voice was "ever soft, / Gentle, and low," will "Love, and be silent"; and Portia, hidden in the third casket (where the casket, an old symbol for the essential part of woman comes to represent woman herself), says of herself that "a maiden hath no tongue but thought." Portia, whose eyes once gave "speechless messages" to Bassanio, is not "contained" or concealed in caskets of clamorous gold or silver, but in silent lead, now chosen by him because its "paleness [alternate reading: plainness] moves me more than eloquence."6 In dreams, Freud explains, "dumbness" familiarly represents death, as do "concealment" and "striking pallor"; and such are their meanings here.

These Freudian significations can be detected in other of Shakespeare's plays, as in A Midsummer Night's Dream, in Thisbe's comic plaint, "Speak, speak. Quite dumb! Dead, dead?"; and most telling in Henry IV, Part 2, when Suffolk says, "Gloucester is dead," and Carlyle responds, "I did dream tonight / The duke was dumb." Paleness, too, is often linked to death: "death's pale flag" (Romeo and Juliet); "pale-dead eyes" (Henry V). In Pericles, the trio of dumbness, paleness, and death are linked: "["martyrs"] tell thee, with speechless tongues and semblance pale . . . with dead cheeks." And in A Midsummer Night's Dream, in the comic vein, it is "The Sisters Three . . . With hands as pale as milk" who "shore / With shears his thread of silk" when Death claimed Pyramus. Many of Shakespeare's audience, knowing well their Bible, may even have heard in these metaphors echoes of the "pale horse" whose rider is Death (Revelation 6:5).

On the lead casket lies a message from Portia's dead father: "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath." In the sixteenth century gambling game of hazard (and this choosing among the three caskets is certainly a gambling game), the hazard (Arab, al zār, the die) was the die, singular form of "dice" (Shakespeare quibbles on "the hazard of the die," Richard III). Portia's "picture" was contained in lead, a frequent Shakespearean symbol for death, its instrument and final home; for example, all the "leaden" swords, shot, daggers; the "leaden mace of murderous slumber"; the corpse that might "burst his lead and rise from death"; and in The Merchant of Venice, the surmise that it is not possible "lead contains her . . . it were too gross / To rib her cerecloth in the obscure grave."

Freud explained that the symbolism in plays, like that in dreams, often seems to lack literal applicability to the immediate story line because of inversion, a tendency of the mind to replace an element with its exact opposite. Thus, of the last scene of King Lear, in the English war camp, when Lear enters with the dead Cordelia in his arms, Freud tells us:

Cordelia is Death. If we reverse the situation it becomes intelligible and familiar to us. She is the Deathgoddess who, like the Valkyrie in German mythology, carries away the dead hero from the battlefield. Eternal wisdom, clothed in the primaeval myth, bids the old man renounce love, choose death and make friends with the necessity of dying.7

In interpreting The Merchant of Venice, Freud again used inversion or "reaction-formation" to explain why the third casket, the lead one, is Portia, the fairest woman. Rebelling against his subjection to the inevitability of death (the third Fate), man constructed derivative myths wherein the chosen Goddess of Love takes the place of the unavoidable Goddess of Death, a not difficult substitution since this replacement by the wish-opposite derives from the ancient identity of the Greek Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, who was once also goddess of death and the underworld. (In Hinduism, Nataraj, the dancing god with four arms, carrying a drum, is he who both creates and destroys the universe.)

Knowing that dreams show a "preference for combining contrasts into a unity or for representing them as one and the same thing,"8 let us look a little closer at the allegory of the three caskets. In addition to all the other clues that Portia illicitly gives Bassanio—who at one point says, "my torturer / Doth teach me answers for deliverance!"—she tells him she would detain him "Before you venture for me." Venture, which literally means hazard, risk oneself, is almost an open directive to Bassanio to go with the lead casket that requires him to "give and hazard all," the one he recognizes "threatenest." Portia says, "I am lock'd in one" of the caskets, and "I stand for sacrifice." Her musicians conclude with a little song that toys with the contradictions in "fancy dies / In the cradle where it lies"—disguise: death and birth, caskets and cradles; and Bassanio, who had asked "Promise me life" and been told "Live thou I live," opts for lead or death. And under it all flows the current of a religious metaphor, the choice of a death that leads to life: "sacrifice" and "deliverance"; a "new-crowned monarch" and a "bridegroom": the "Lord Bassanio."

In dreams, inversion functions to further wish fulfillment. Shakespeare recognized that dreams tell us what we wish to hear: "Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter—/ In sleep a king, but waking no such matter" (Sonnet 87). In his study of the sonnets, Joseph Pequigney argues that this flattering "matter" or dream material is libidinal: the sonneteers has "had" a lover who "gav'st" his self but ultimately proved too dear for "possessing"—three words that signify carnal possession.9 I would add that MATTER is a Shake-spearean pun on the penis and semen.10 Since Pequigney argues that Shakespeare's sonnets describe his love for both a man and a woman, it may be worth nothing here that Freud commented on the frequency with which inversion occurs in dreams that derive from repressed homosexual impulses.

Elizabethan writers recognized the contrariness of dreams, a proverbial view as old as The Golden Ass of Apuleius:

the visions of the night do often chance contrary: and indeed to dream of weeping, beating, and killing is a token of good luck . . . whereas contrary, to dream of laughing, filling the belly with good cheer, or dalliance of love, is a sign of sadness of heart, sickness of body, or other displeasure.11

Shakespeare's fellow playwright John Lyly tells us in Mother Bombie: "they that in the morning sleep or dream of eating, Are in danger of sickness or of beating." Similarly, Shakespeare writes in Much Ado About Nothing: "I have heard my daughter say she hath often dreamt of unhappiness and wak'd herself with laughing"; and in Julius Caesar, before the mob "Tear [Cinna] to pieces," the victimized poet says, "I dreamt tonight that I did feast with Caesar / And things unluckily charge my fantasy."

Shakespeare's plays are full of incongruities, equivocations, verbal antitheses, contradictions, oxymorons; the shifts in person, sudden reversals and contradictory moods within a single poem, clashing elements in a single scene that are typical of the Elizabethan style.12 According to Patrick Cruttwell, seventeenth century writers developed this new "psychological impressionism" to convey their awareness of the ever incongruous states of the human being; hence John Donne's "contraryes meet in one" in his "Holy Sonnets" and Shakespeare's "compounds strange" in Sonnet 76. He maintains the futility of trying to decide which of any two opposing attitudes, such as levity or seriousness, is the intent of a poetic phrase or line, since only by recognizing the fusing of both elements within one metaphor can we grasp the entirety, the full meaning that is beyond the scope of either separately.

Freud likewise speaks of arrangements of words that permit the expression of more than one dream thought, it being the very nature of a word to be the junction of a multiplicity of ideas, to possess an inherent, a "predestined" ambiguity. The particular words taken up into dream content are chosen, he says, because they are nodal points, the meeting place of several trains of thought and because they are of manifold significance.

A quotation from King Lear (IV.vi) may serve to illustrate the similarity between the productions of dream-work and Shakespeare's puns that function consistently, coherently and simultaneously on two or more levels, his metaphors whose dramatic service is. not at all impeded by but, in fact, derives from their ambiguity. I have chosen the seemingly simple lines, "I will die bravely, like a smug bridegroom. What! I will be jovial. Come, come, I am a king" for several reasons: (1) they contain (as Edgar says of Lear's madness) "matter and impertinency mixed! Reason in madness"; (2) Cruttwell described the first half as having a "queer tightrope affect almost beyond analysis, with bawdy on one side and heartbreaking pathos on the other"13 and (3) my own conviction that Shakespeare's bawdry usually has specific relevance and particular meaning for the play in which it occurs.

Freud's caveat about interpreting the symbolism that disguises repressed sexual material, namely, that like Chinese script, its correct meaning can be provided only by context, applies as well to any attempt to understand Shakespeare's sexual metaphors. So we shall examine Lear's sentence in its immediate context; the context of the entire play, where similar wordclusters appear; other of Shakespeare's plays in which the same elements occur and where repetitive patterns of association emerge; and, finally, how the word or phrase was used by Shakespeare's contemporaries and in the several languages and literatures that he, like so many of the poets and playwrights of his day, had an acquaintance with or knowledge of.

Earlier, Lear had come to terms with his failure as a king and evinced a sympathy of sorts for the downtrodden, but he still did not accept personal responsibility for his ills, still saw himself as "more sinned against than sinning." Self-pitying to the end, Lear says, "I am mightily abused. I should e'en die with pity, / To see another thus" (IV.vii). Blame for his own evil doing he lays at the doors of "fortune's blows" and his daughters, who "Have . . . done [him] wrong" though "cause, they have not." Lear conveniently forgets the emotional games he has played with his daughters, and the obvious favoritism he displayed toward Cordelia: "I loved her most"; and he is blind to the hate this engenders in the two older girls. He remains an egotist, bitterly cynical and at war with all sexuality. "Adultery" he accepts as the way of the world: "Let copulation thrive" in man, since it is natural to all other creatures—and besides, "I lack soldiers!" Sexually biased, he reviles women, whose genitals revulse him: "nor the soil'd horse goes to't [lechery] / With a more riotous appetite . . . Beneath ["the girdle"] . . . There's hell [the vagina]; there's darkness, there's the sulphurous pit [vagina] / Burning, scalding, stench, consumption.14" The stench is such that he needs an "ounce of civet [perfume derived from a cat's anal glands] . . . to sweeten my imagination" and needs to "wipe" his hand, for "it smells of mortality." Lear concludes this section saying he is ready to "kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill."

Shakespeare exploits the conventional Elizabethan word play on dying as meaning the end of life and the orgasm: Lear is ready for either death. Let us for a moment entertain the possibility that Lear, who had railed against the "simular man of virtue / That art incestuous," harbored (and perhaps even acted out) incestuous feelings for his daughters. Their hatred, then, may have the "cause" he refuses to acknowledge, and it becomes salient that his excessive emphasis on killing is directed specifically toward his "sons-in-law," two of whom are quite loyal to him. In the other plays where the word "incest(uous)" occurs, it has direct bearing on a relationship within the play; in Hamlet, the five times it is used, it denotes his mother's incestuous marriage with an ex-brother-in-law and may well be a projection of the other union Hamlet unconsciously desired; in Pericles, it denotes the achieved incest of a father and his daughter; in Measure for Measure, it is used metaphorically for the degree and kind of love between a brother and sister: "Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice? / Is't not a kind of incest for a brother to take life / From his own sister's shame?" Her questions refer to Claudio's taking, i.e. rescuing his own life at the expense of her submitting to an adulterous act. However, Shakespeare pointedly does not say rescue or save but "take," a word he repeatedly used to mean copulate with. And in the erotic context of incest and her brother's being made a man out of her vice (which is not only sin, but also a Shakespearean pun on the pudendum and closed thighs), one realizes that her "shame," too, has overtones of her privy members—the Biblical and sixteenth century usage.15 But even saving life can be a sexually symbolic concept according to Freud: "Under the laws governing the expression of unconscious thoughts, the meaning of rescuing may vary" depending on whose fantasy it is. If a man's, it can mean "making a child," if a woman's, "giving birth" to it.16 Since in each of these other examples, the word "incest" has specific pertinence for some aspect of the play, is King Lear, then, the only play in which incest is gratuitously, as it were, dragged in—and by the main character.17

To kill, like to die, was a sexually charged phrase, as it is to the present in the sentiment that women kill men with their sexual demands, that expending semen weakens man, that men kill women with the weapon of their phallus ("You slay me") and so on.18 In "Venus and Adonis," the passion-driven Venus tells Adonis, "O thou didst kill me; kill me once again." And when her rival, the boar, "the loving swine / Sheathed unaware the tusk in [Adonis's] soft groin," she says, "Had I been tooth'd like him, I must confess / With kissing him I should have killed him first." And in Othello, the anguished Moor madly alternates killing and loving: Kissing her, he says, "Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee, / And love thee after" (V.ii). His last words in the play are, "I kiss'd thee ere I kill'd thee; no way but this; / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss." One of the most explicit identifications of killing and coitus is in John Donne's "An Anatomie of the World":

For that first marriage was our funerali; One woman at one blow, then kill'd us all, And, singly, one by one, they kill us now. We doe delightfully our selves allow To that consumption; and profusely blinde, Wee kill ourselves to propagate our kinde.

Lear embellishes this concept with the particular addition that he will die "bravely," that is, with masculine valour in the feats of the marital bed and courage in deeds leading up to a death bed—bravely or with bravery, a word that connoted wedding finery and also mere show or bravado. The ambiguity continues in Lear's use of 'smug,' meaning trim and gay but also complacent. Both the moods of bravado and complacency fit his character.

In the wider context of the play, the words in this line stand revealed as nodal points and as over-determined.19 Whereas here Lear speaks of himself in a seemingly positive tone as the "bridegroom," "jovial," and a "king," a very similar constellation of these three elements had established a contrary mood in an earlier scene in which his daughters, current possessors of his wealth and power, figuratively emasculated him. Thus Kent wonders why the king had "come with so small a train." And Lear says Goneril has deprived him of "half my train," and can not believe that Regan would "cut off my train . . . scant my sizes / And in conclusion to oppose the bolt / Against my coming in."

In these capsule comments, we find five sexually suggestive terms that are recurrent Shakespearean puns: a TRAIN is literally a tail or tail feathers, hence a pun on man's tail or penis; SIZE, from French taille, evokes tail/tale, one of the most common public-anal puns;20 CONCLUSION signified coitus as far back as Chaucer, and in Othello Iago described lechery thus: "They met so near with their lips that their breaths embraced together . . . [then] hard at hand comes the master and main exercise, the incorporate conclusion;"21 BOLT, meaning any stout pin with a head and also to discharge, is a pun on the penis and ejaculation; and "come" was a standard Elizabethan word for sexual emission.

The emasculation imagery continues when Goneril and Regan decide they will leave him "not one follower." "What need one?" They say that Lear's "injuries"—these physical deprivations, when they "cut off his "men" (manhood)—must be his "schoolmaster," a phrase conveying his reduction from the state of virile manhood to the impotence of childhood.22 Lear will be deprived of his "train" or tail; his "size" or taille will be "scanted"—made short, insufficient or lacking—as in Freud's report of a dream in which a tailor caught a wolf by his tail and pulled it off, which Freud said was undeniably an allusion to the castration complex.23 Not even one of his followers, those "men of. . . rarest parts" (I.iv), the rare/rear parts that make up his train, will be left—not one symbol of power or potency.24

But Lear defies their treatment, saying he will not "bear it tamely . . . let not women's weapons, water-drops, / Stain my man's cheeks!" They can not TAME him (literally, cut, carve out, prune), make him less wild, with its connotations of sexual ardor. He will not be effeminized and "bear it," Shakespeare's customary phrase for the female role, in which bearing refers to the coital position and child-bearing. The Fool had been wise: "fathers that bear bags / Shall see their children kind"; fathers should retain their power, bear only two things: money bags and the bag of their scrotum.25

Since in some dreams a general reversal takes place, so that the male organ is represented by the female and vice versa, Freud recommended caution in interpreting bisexual symbols. Shakespeare's metaphors require equal alertness. Lear will not use women's weapons or water-drops; he will use man's "weapon"—for Freud and Shakespeare a phallic symbol.26 Be-cause of its context, Lear's metaphor suggests dream language, where bodily secretions such as tears, mucus, urine and semen are interchanged, the "indifferent" one replacing the significant one, such as semen.27 Waterdrops,by they tears, urine, or semen, will not stain—a word Shakespeare uses for sexual defilement and uncleanliness—Lear's cheeks, a common displacement for the buttocks, in dreams and in seventeenth century literature.28 Lear's preoccupation was always with his manhood, maleness;29 and these are specifically his "man's" cheeks.

Lear's metaphor could be innocent; but on a deeper level, it could also reveal his desire to dispel the image of impotence. He will not permit those "unnatural hags," his daughters, to make him also unnatural, to stain his cheeks with tears; he will not wet his cheeks/buttocks by urinating like a woman or in futile ejaculation. In a parallel scene of the emasculation of the old and once powerful Gloucester, Regan turned to her husband who had "set his foot on the eye" (Freudian symbol for penis) of Lear's close friend and said, "One side will mock another; the other too" (a one, two quibble having genital implications), after which they threw the "eyeless" (displacement for castration) Gloucester out of doors, just as they had shut their doors on Lear.30

Threatened thus, Lear remembers his third daughter, Cordelia, whom he felt had also denied him love and married "the hot-blooded France," another king, not himself Staying with his two castrating daughters is as hateful to him as if he had to kneel to France and "beg to keep base life afoot" (Folio: a foot)—beg to keep his life (sexuality) a FOOT, common pun on French foutre, to coit (cf. similar pattern in 3 Henry IV: "A foutre for . . . worldlings base!" Italics added). He would rather be a "slave and sumpter / To this detested groom," he says, pointing to Oswald, the DETESTED/de-teste-d, expressing his fear of an encroaching threat of kinship with his daughter's servant, whom he had earlier called "slave" and "beggar," the same terms with which he now describes himself Since a sumpter is a beast of burden or a porter, it seems that one way or another, Lear fears he must bear, be effeminized.31 Nevertheless, for reasons we shall soon see, this al-ways vengeful man (who a few lines later plans "revenges") says his daughters need not fear he will tell "tales to high-judging Jove" of their wanting to cut off his tail or train.

As we peel away the layers of his thoughts and discover that the "hot-blooded France that . . . took" Cordelia (and took her sexually) is ever on his mind, then the appropriateness of the French puns is even more apparent.

Three crucial elements from Act II, "groom," "king," and "Jove," the superior judge of all men, reappear, again clustered, in the line from Act IV that we originally set out to analyze. Now Lear is all three, groom, king, and jovial (i.e. merry and Jove-like). This king who is going to die, to marry death, the third of the Fates, his chosen third daughter Cordelia whom he carries in his arms at the play's end, still thinks of himself as a brave and lusty bridegroom. This is the same Lear who, when the play began, had wanted to know which of his daughters "doth love us most." As Freud said, though old, though dying, he is not "willing to renounce the love of women" and insists on being told how much he is loved.32 When speaking of Cordelia's suitors, there may be ambiguity in Lear's saying, "The princes, France and Burgundy, / Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love, / Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn." True, they were rivals to each other, but is Lear not also expressing his own part in the rivalry for Cordelia's love: their amorous presence seemed "long" to him in his "court" (court = French for short), a quibble on their virility and his lack of it. When he addressed Burgundy, "who with this king / Hath rivali 'd for our daughter," presumably he looked toward France, but this king is also himself. He was certainly furious with the reprimand to him implicit in Cordelia's question, "Why have my sisters husbands, if they say / They love you all?" and with her promising to give "Half my love" to her husband: "I shall never marry like my sisters, / To love my father all."

It is this truth that precipitates his dismissing Cordelia with the revealing phrase, "I loved her most, and thought to set my rest / On her kind nursery." Annotations usually say this refers to a card game and means I stand pat or I stake my all. That gloss, however, ignores several emotive phrases. First, let us consider that Shakespeare and his contemporaries made puns on "rest" as sexual repose, with the penis in its desired place of rest.33 Second, in the context of the emotional argument on degrees and kinds of love, Lear's hope to set his rest on Cordelia's "kind nursery" brings to mind Shakespeare's habitual associations of a nursery with a breeding place, a womb: "nurse and breeder" (The Two Gentlemen of Verona), "This nurse, this teeming womb" (Richard II)—-consistent with the "child-changed" Lear's saying (IV.vii) Cordelia "must bear with" him. Third, there is Shakespeare's frequent use of "kind" in its sixteenth century meaning of sex, as in "the deed of kind" (The Merchant of Venice) or "to be after kind," to seek sex (As You Like It). Lear himself told of a man who "hotly lust'st to use" a whore "in that kind / For which [he] whipp'st her" (II.vi). He also spoke of his daughter Regan as "kind and comfortable," as having eyes that "Do comfort," as knowing "The offices of nature," and not being one "to oppose the bolt / Against my coming in." Comfortable is another of Shakespeare's sexually charged phrases; for example, Portia asks Brutus is she only to "comfort your bed" (Julius Caesar) and Juliet's new husband will "Ascend her chamber . . . and comfort her" (Romeo and Juliet). Certainly, at least in his unconscious, Lear substitutes his daughters for the wife he does not have.

When Lear compares himself to Jove, another king, does Shakespeare not mean the archetypal "lusty Jove" of Much Ado About Nothing, his "multipotent Jove" of Troilus and Cressida? This is how Lear wishes to see himself. Now we understand why he need not tell tales about his daughters to "high-judging Jove." He is that king of heaven; he will be Jovial; he will pass judgment on his daughters—as he has always done, as he did when the play opened and again in his simulated arraignment and trial of them (III.vi).

This man who sees himself as a smug bridegroom had just finished reviling women's sexuality: "Down from the waist they are Centaurs," a comparison to their being the half-men, half-horses known as symbols of sexual bestiality; and a pun on their physiological CENTERS, Elizabethan word for the vulva, called the "centrique part" by poet John Donne and the "Garden's Centre" by poet Charles Cotton. In this attack he gave unconscious expression to a sexual aspect of himself. King Lear is Jove, heaven's archadulterer and sometimes bestial lover, as in The Merry Wives of Windsor, where Jove "wast a bull for Europa" and committed "a beastly fault" seducing her in the form of a bull, and then a "foul fault in the semblance of a fowl," seducing Leda in the form of a swan.

A line of thought in Pericles may be pertinent to our understanding the dynamics of King Lear. By alluding to Jove's incestuous history, a cautious Pericles conveys to King Antiochus his knowledge of the king's incestuous relationship with his own daughter: "Kings are earth's gods; in vice their law's their will; / and if Jove stray, who dares say Jove doth ill." The mad Lear also feels impervious to censure: "They cannot touch me for coining: I am the king himself." Coining was often used figuratively, "esp. in a bad sense 1561" (OED); and Shakespeare has several puns on coining or stamping children, as in Measure for Measure, II.iv: "these filthy vices . . . [to] coin heaven's image / In stamps that are forbid," that is, to beget children illicitly.

Here then, in those two deceptively simple lines of Lear's is material quite similar in function to "dream-material," subjected to compression and displacement, and requiring for its understanding an approach akin to dream analysis. A vital difference, however, is that the productions of the dream-work were "not made with the intention of being understood, "34 whereas Shakespeare's productions were. Of course, just as the dreamer often utilizes verbal wit for the purpose of disguise, and the political writer resorts to Aesopian language to outwit his censor, so Shakespeare may have at times intended that his wit be fully understood only by an inner circle.35 Freud had asked himself whether many of the symbols representing sexual material might not have permanently established meanings like "short-hand" signs; and it is interesting to note how many of the substitutions he identified had been used several centuries earlier by Shakespeare as sexual puns and metaphors.

That the symbolism used by Shakespeare, Joyce, and others, consciously and unconsciously, is very often the same with which we disguise our dream thoughts may be a partial explanation of the resistance it arouses, the reluctance to probe critically beneath the surface of what is apparent, the resentment toward the disclosure of multi-layered meanings, as if what is remote must be sinister. Hence the question to what extent a Shakespearean pun or metaphor is a conscious literary device is raised most often and assumes a particular urgency when it is a specifically sexual one, the implication being that if it is unconscious, then it is irrelevant, can be dismissed and not heard.

However, bawdry (too frequently omitted in texts and productions) can be expunged only by doing violence to the vitality of the plays.36 Unfortunately, Shake-speare's amazing word-play is not always recognized as being verbally and conceptually related to the serious elements of the play, but on the contrary often meets resistance akin to that put up by the dreamer who says that the particular stuff of dreams has no meaning and can be adequately explained as deriving from an attack of indigestion or the inchoate remains of the last conscious thoughts of the day.

This bias against attributing meaning is exemplified in a comment made by literary critic A. P. Riemer, who, of Shakespeare's comedies, has written, "exegesis they resist":

Comedy is sport; to go beyond that statement is to risk perverting the essentially meaningless nature of these plays . . . The function of the profundities and significances contained in them is almost always abstract and "aesthetic". . . .37

Riemer relies on a quote from A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream," following which he says that "Critics have not taken . . . sufficient heed of Bottom's warning." But certainly the critical attempt to find meaning in the apparently meaningless is attempted by analysts who see that the "warning" was delivered by Bottom, who calls himself and is called by others an "ass"—whereas his dream is the creation of Shakespeare, who is not one.

In a section on "Absurd Dreams," Freud observed that the presence of the ridiculous in some dreams was the chief ammunition of the opponents of dream interpretation. But, he explained, it is just where the dream seems most absurd that it may have its profoundest meaning: "In every epoch of history those who have had something to say but could not say it without peril have eagerly assumed a fool's cap."38 To illustrate that it is only with an aim that the dream-work produces anything ridiculous, Freud cited an absurd dream whose purpose was to show that this is a "topsy-turvy" world where society is "crazy" and those who do not care for a thing get it while those who deserve it do not.39

In this, Freud could not have been talking more to the point of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which develops the folly of aspects of love (including "too high to be enthralled to low") and the irresponsibility of lovers who flee offered love and seek those whom they conquer by force, those who are forbidden to them, or those who reject them. And one integral element of the play is the topsy-turvy dream of the lowly artisan who agrees to "undertake" a part in a small play where he, "Nick Bottom"40 is "set down for Pyramus" (italics added). During the preparations in the wood, where Bottom expected to "rehearse most obscenely and courageously" he is "changed" and "translated" and falls asleep a few feet from four foolish lovers who are having equally confused dreams. And there "Bully Bottom," whose "chief humour" was to play "a tyrant"—but who settled for a role he describes as that of a "poor knight"—has a midsummer night's / knight's dream in which he may wear an ass's head and eat an ass's food, but a queen, the wife of a tyrant who instigated her adultery, becomes "enamour'd" of him! Only when the shamed woman agrees to give up a beloved child to her bullying husband is she released by him from her dream bondage. Then Bottom, who in real life is lucky to earn "sixpence a day," awakens from his dream of luxury and mismated love with a woman too high to be enthralled to lowly Bottom. And though he says it is "past the wit of man" to understand his dream, still he would like to sing it at "the latter end of a play" in which he is an actor.

This is not meant to suggest that Shakespeare realized symbolic dream language served to disguise repressed sexual material. Nevertheless, it is interesting how many times he does directly link dreams to sexuality: in Cymbeline, he alludes to the unlikelihood that Diana, goddess of chastity, "had hot dreams"; in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Ford dreams of his wife's infidelity in terms of a "hole made in [his] best coat"; in Henry VIII, a constant woman is defined as "One that ne'er dreamed a joy beyond his [her husband's] pleasure"—pleasure being a favorite euphemism for sexual joy;41 in Othello, there is the open eroticism of Cassio's alleged dream of sexual intercourse with Desdemona, as recounted by his male bed-companion Iago, in which Cassio laid his leg over Iago's thigh and did "kiss me hard"; and in Coriolanus, there is the homoeroticism of Coriolanus's entry into the house of Aufidius, whose enraptured heart then "dances"42 more "Than when I first my wedded mistress saw / Bestride my threshold"; and, Aufidius continues, "I have nightly since / Dreamt of encounters ["love-bout": Partridge; "amatory meeting, Shaks.": OED] 'twixt thyself and me; We have been down together in my sleep / Unbuckling helms, fisting each other's throats"; and so on.

Modern scholars agree that the Elizabethans heard words in ways that we do not and that many of Shakespeare's double entendres are overlooked by modern audiences. What can be counter-productive is to stress the dichotomy "between 'unconscious' and 'conscious' meaning . . . What we really experience instead of either of these extremes is a range of different ways of being aware."43 And even in those cases where Shake-speare's word-play was not conscious or was a habitual verbal association, as through consonance or assonance, we, his audience, also have "unconscious minds."44

One cannot emphasize too strongly the need to give full weight to each of Shakespeare's words, asking why the line is so and not otherwise. Shakespeare's creative material was, after all, not paint or clay or the musical note, but the color, form and sound of "Words, words, words," "wild and whirling words," "hard words," and "Words of so sweet breath composed / As made the things more rich" (Hamlet). On them he relied for the conveyance of his creative impulse; they were his material and his stuff.


1 Each of these reflections that life is (like) a dream,brief, its meaning eluding us, followed a masque that spoke of love, the marriage blessing and increase: "the womb" and "nature [that] Moulded the stuff so fair." They draw on familiar Shakespearean symbols: beginning with the sleep in the womb, life is "rounded" ("round-wombed," King Lear), comes full circle, with the final sleep—and perhaps rebirth—in another womb, the grave ("The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb; / What is her burying grave that is her womb," Romeo and Juliet). Sleep, that "rounded," "begot" and "created," began life in another sense also, for it meant then, as now, lie with in sexual intercourse: the eroticism of "two branches . . . whose circling shadows kings have sought to sleep in" (Titus Andronicus) is meant to connote not only Lavinia's arms but her legs ("my legs like loaden branches," Henry VIII) with their circling (pudendal) shadows. For other examples that circle = vulva, see Eric Partridge, Shakespeare's Bawdy (London: Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1968) and E. A. M. Colman, The Dramatic Use of Bawdy in Shakespeare (London: Longman, 1974). Hereafter, these books will be cited respectively as Partridge and Colman.

2 Words that are printed in capital letters are discussed fully in Frankie Rubinstein, A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Sexual Puns and Their Significance (London: Macmillan, 1984), hereafter cited as Rubinstein.

3 Sigmund Freud, "Some Character-Types Met with in Psycho-Analytic Work," in St. Ed. 14, p. 321. I would add that the child-parent motif—"Mac," a Gaelic prefix = son (of)—starts with Macbeth, "wayward son" of the "weird [O.E. wyrd = fate] sisters" (italics added); and culminates in the childless, "unmann'd" Macbeth's ultimate impotence against another fateful son, Macduff, "from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd."

4 For example, Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélla Kahn, eds., Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980); and Marianne Novy, Love's Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).

5 Freud, "The Theme of Three Caskets," St. Ed. 12, pp. 291-301. See Shakespeare's comic employment of the Fates in 2 Henry IV: "Untwine the Sisters Three! Come Atropos, I say!"

6 "Pale as lead" was a familiar simile, as in "The King and the Beggar," a ballad cited in two of Shakespeare's plays. However, "plainness" has the conceivable advantage of punning on the plainsong that "moves" (also a musical term) Bassanio (with its flagrant rhymes on lead and references to birth) to realize that the plain (can = belly: Partridge) lead casket is the plein (French for full) casket, the belly or womb that "contains" / "contained" Portia, or that Portia contains (by the process of inversion in dreams and wit). See Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, St. Ed. 4, p. 154: German Büchse = box and a vulgarism for the female genitals.

7 Freud, "The Theme of Three Caskets," St. Ed. 12, p. 301.

8 Freud, "The Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words," St. Ed. 11, p. 155.

9Joseph Pequigney, Such Is My Love (Chicago: Uni-versity of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 1, 46, 47.

10 For example, The Two Gentlemen of Verona: "how stands the matter with them?"—"Marry, thus; when it stands well with him, it stands well with her."

11The Golden Ass of Apuleius, trs. W. Adlingt(New York: The Modern Library, 1928), pp. 94-5.

12 Patrick Cruttwell, The Shakespearean Moment (New York: Random House, 1960), Chapter 2.

13Ibid., p. 51.

14 John Florio, A World of Words (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Microfilms, n.d.): fossa, a pit, woman's pleasure pit. Hereafter cited as Florio. See Rubinstein, s.v. Pit; and Partridge, s.v. Hell: a symbol for the vagina, as in Boccaccio's story of "putting the devil in hell" (Tales of Decameron, Day 3, Tale 10). The "burning" of venereal disease (Oxford English Dictionary, hereafter cited as OED) is also suggested in Sonnet 144, where the vaginal "hell" will "fire" the man in it. "Consumption" (as in the Donne quote, p. 343) means sexual absorption—by woman's con/cunt. See Stephen Booth, Shakespeare's Sonnets (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), p. 231, on the "potential for suggesting "vulva" . . . that Shakespeare was ready to hear in any word containing con, or cun, or a similiar sound"; also Helge Kökeritz, Shakespeare's Pronunciation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), s.v. Con. Hereafter cited as Kökeritz.

15OED defines shame as the privy members, quotining Isaiah 47: 2 . . . 3. Cf. Randall Cotgrave, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1950) s.v. vergongne, shame and the privy parts. Hereafter cited as Cotgrave. Shakespeare used "to take" in the sense of to admit the male sexually; of the male, to possess carnally (Colman, Partridge). See Partridge: Make, Man.

16 Freud, "A Special Type of Choice of Object Made by Men," St. Ed. 11, p. 174.

17 See Meredith Skura in Schwartz and Kahn, op. cit., p. 205, for the significance of the "hinted" threats of incest between Leontes and his rediscovered daughter (The Winter's Tale) and in Prospero's jealousy of a potential son-in-law (The Tempest) and Cloten's desire to wed his step-sister (Cymbeline).

18 Madelon Gohlke, in Schwartz and and kahn, ibid., pp. 172-182, gives important expression to a feminist psychoanalytic interpretation of "sexual intercourse" as "a kind of murder."

19 David Willibern, in Schwartz and Kahn, ibid., p. 245, states that "Shakespeare's overdetermined language typically includes bawdy meanings," as in Cordelia's "nothing" (no thing or phallus) and the "ubiquitous anxieties in the play concerning bodily injury or losses, such as Gloucester's eyes, Lear's 'cut-off train of soldiers . . . Lear himself as nothing ('an O without a figure')."

20 Partridge; and Colman, s.v. Tale: "speake to her, a woman has ever a hole open to receive a man's tale" (1640).

21 Thomas W. Ross, Chaucer's Bawdy (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972), s.v. Conclusioun. Hereafter cited as Ross. Note the innuendo in hard at hand, a phallic symbol to Freud and a pun on the penis to Shakespeare (Kökeritz, p. 59).

22 Joel Fineman, in Schwartz and Kahn, op. cit., p. 100, speaks of the "viperish sexuality" of Lear's daughters, two of Shakespeare's "horrible women" whose males are "correspondingly emasculated, infantilized, almost (and the language of the plays bears this out) feminized by their relationship" to these women.

23 Freud, "The Occurrence in Dreams of Material from Fairy Tales," St. Ed. 12, p. 285.

24 Rear/RARE were spelling doublets, hence subject to quibbles as in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where Bottom says he could play an actor's part "rarely"; and relates his "rare" vision of having been an ass.

25 Cf. The Winter's Tale: "No barricado for a belly; know't; It will let in and out the enemy with bag and baggage." Partridge: bag = scrotum; baggage = penis or scrotum. See Frued, The Interpretation of Dreams, St. Ed. 5, p. 358: "luggage often turns out to be an unmistakable symbol of the dreamer's own genitals."

26 Freud, ibid., pp. 354, 356. Romeo and Juliet: "Draw thy tool . . ."—"my naked weapon is out."

27 Freud, ibid., p. 359. Shakespeare and his contemporaries also interchanged these elements: milking, masturbating and urinating produced comparable ejaculations. Ben Jonson, The Alchemist: "For she must milk his epididimis [a duct of the testicle]." John Wilmot, "The Disappointed:" "May'st thou ne'er piss that did'st refuse to spend [emit semen]." In All's Well That Ends Well, Parolles, who sat in the stocks all night, "weeps like a wench that had shed her milk; he had confessed himself"—a condensed picture of a man who had poured out at every orifice: his eyes, his mouth; had probably wet himself and may have ejaculated, for he is as wet as the wench whose milk was, not spilt—the expected word—but SHED, literally to ejaculate semen or cast seed out of a receptacle. She reminds one of a similar wench in The Tempest: "as leaky as an unstanched wench."

28 Freud, op. cit., p. 387: cheeks (German Backen) are a dream symbol for the buttocks (Hinterbacken, back-cheeks). See Dekker and Webster, Northward Hoe: "If I catch master pricklouse ramping so high again . . . I'll make him know how to kiss your blind cheeks sooner"; A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which Bottorn (a "tender ass") has "yellow cowslip cheeks"—YELLOW (the color of ordure) as cowslip, Old English cu-slyppe, cow-dung.

29As early as I. 1, behavior the others call mad, Lear calls his "power," "nature," and "potency made good." By I.iv, he defines his rejection in terms of emasculation: he is "ashamed" his daughters can "shake my manhood thus . . . Thou shalt find / That I'll resume the shape which thou dost think / I have cast off for ever." In the context of weakened "manhood"—Latin virilitas, common euphemism for the male organ, usually occurring "in contexts in which castration is at issue" (J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982], pp. 69-70)—SHAKE assumes its sixteenth century coital implications, and Lear's cast off SHAPE takes on its meaning of male as well as female sex organs (OED, s.v. shape; Ross, s.v. shap). See Partridge and Ross, s.v. Man(ly), for link to copulatory service. Also see Gohlke, op. cit., p. 231: for Lear "tears threaten not only the dreaded perception of himself as feminine, and hence weak, but also the breakdown of his psychic order."

30 Freud, "The Uncanny," St. Ed. 17, p. 231: a "substi-tutive relation between the eye and the male member" exists in dreams, myths and fantasies. In blinding himself, Oedipus was "carrying out a mitigated form of the punishment of castration."

31 For these euphemisms and frequent word associa-tions, see (a) Colman and Partridge, s.v. Foot, Foutre; (b) Thomas Nashe's erotic poem "The Choice of Valentines," with its pun on sexual satisfaction, her "content'Vcunt and his "life"/penis: "O not so fast! my revished mistress cries, / Lest my content that on thy life relies, / Be brought too soon"; and (c) the "barren detested" vale where "nothing breeds" (Titus Andronicus, II.iii).

32 Freud, "The Three Caskets," St. Ed. 12, p. 301.

33 A lance in rest was in position for the charge. Tho-mas Dekker, The Comedy of Old Fortunatus: "set your heart at rest, for I have set up my rest . . . to get a young king or two . . . of you." He set up his rest to beget a child, as in Romeo and Juliet, IV.v: "Sleep for a week; for the next night . . . County Paris hath set up his rest / That you shall rest but little."

34 Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, St. Ed. 5, p. 341.

35 Philip Edwards writes in Sir Walter Raleigh (Lon-don: Longman, Green, 1953), p. 52, that many courtly poets of Shakespeare's age wrote only for their own circles, which "provided an attentive audience with sensibility" like their own; and many of Shakespeare's plays were written for performance before the sophisticated audiences in The Inns of Court, the house of some nobleman, or the royal court.

36 A persuasive argument against literary abridgement is that of Isaac Disraeli, Amenities of Literature (New York: W. J. Middleton, 1874), edited by his famous son Benjamin Disraeli: "Great writers admit of no abridgment. If you do not follow the writer through all the ramifications of his ideas . . . you can receive only interrupted impressions, and retain but an imperfect and mutilated image of his genius."

37 A. P.Riemer, Antic Fables (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980), pp. 223, 228.

38 Freud, op. cit., p. 444.

39 Freud, ibid., p. 435.

40 Nick = breach and slit (vulva): Colman s.v. Nick, and Kökeritz, pp. 72, 131, 133.

41 Partridge, s.v. Pleasure: "Th'incestuous pleasure of his bed," Hamlet, II.iii.

42 Dance is an old euphemism for fornicate; see "the oide daunce" (Ross, s.v. Daunce); and Thomas Dekker, The Honest Whore, Part 1: the bawd "guard'st the dore / Whiles couples go dauncing."

43 Skura, op. cit., pp. 203-204.

44 M. M. Mahood, Shakespeare's Wordplay (London: Metheun, 1979), p. 17.

Terrence N. Tice (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "Calphurnia's Dream and Communication with the Audience in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar," in Shakespeare Yearbook, Vol. 1, Spring, 1990, pp. 37-49.

[In the following essay, Tice comments on the importance of Calphurnia's dream in Julius Caesar, especially as it is used to communicate the psychological state of depression to the viewing audience.]

Shakespeare's 1599 play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, though a mere year away from Hamlet, is only a bridge to the more deeply existential later plays; and, as such, it has won less thoroughgoing attention among recent critical scholars.1 Yet, as Harold Bloom has recently stated, it is "a very satisfying play, as a play, and is universally regarded as a work of considerable aesthetic dignity."2 Moreover, this drama bearing the name of the historical figure most often mentioned by Shakespeare, and about whose life circumstances the playwright showed sustained interest, continues to move audiences profoundly. Certainly it evokes strong feelings of recognition and concern during any time marked by high anxiety about the public's future, by revelations of self-justifying evil connivance among powerful men in whom the public has placed its trust, and by ambitious, prideful, incautious decisions on the part of leaders. These conditions would appear to be even more pronounced and worrisome for present-day audiences than for Shakespeare's own. Thus the play bears a special capacity to connect with contemporary moods encompassing failure, loss, hurt, or impending disaster.

I wish to use some remarks on the dream of Caesar's wife, Calphurnia, a dream portending his murder, in order ultimately to suggest an underlying depressive theme in the work and, along the way, to indicate where both merits and limits in psychoanalytic contributions to interpreting literature may be found. The focus is placed on communication of affect-laden awarenesses to the audience—first by the writer, then by subsequent directors and actors. Sometimes, I believe, this occurs by extraordinarily subtle means, even in a reputedly "simple" drama like Julius Caesar; often the awareness is absorbed unconsciously by the audience, and occasionally it appears to be purveyed unconsciously by the author or later surrogates.

Analysis of Dream Material in Shakespeare

Calphurnia's dream itself has attracted very little notice in the literature. The chief reasons are probably that its function as a portent has been thought to be self-evident—sufficient in itself—and that psychoanalytic interpretations of Shakespeare have tended to focus on Shakespeare and his characters rather than on other material that is to me more fully and legitimately analyzable: notably, relations between events in the plays and expectable audience responses. The latter I take to be an important, more nearly supportable function of such interpretation, which has often tended, without real warrant, to import schema normally suitable only for an extended analysis of a living person.3 I have selected Calphurnia's dream precisely because extremely little is told of her, so that the interpreter must look almost exclusively at its actual manifest content and at plausible associations within the play as a whole.

Over the past three decades and more, three books have purported to emphasize dreams and visionary content in Shakespeare, and a search for articles has yielded only bits and pieces (e.g., Camden and Rubenstein). Only one, by Marjorie Garber, has dealt with dream in Julius Caesar, of necessity referring to Calphurnia's dream, though John Arthos also alludes to the dream and many others mention it in passing. Arthos winsomely interprets a poem and four plays, including Julius Caesar, as conveying "metaphysical matters"—"the sense of realms of being across the threshold of the waking sight" (13, 9). Kay Stockholder cleverly offers a psychoanalytically informed interpretation of the plays, but not specifically treating Julius Caesar, as "dream works." In doing this she attempts to show "ways in which the most...

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Dreams And Imagination

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.

Hamlet III.i.83


(The entire section is 17529 words.)

Dreams And Violence: Macbeth

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 17910 words.)

Posthumus's Dream: Cymbeline

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 13546 words.)

Further Reading

(Shakespearean Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 341 words.)