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Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la…
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Life is a Dream (1636)

by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

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English (5)  Spanish (1)  All languages (6)
Showing 5 of 5
Ótima edição, comentada por Ciriaco Morón.
O título já atrai, e o livro é fascinante.
“Y teniendo yo más alma
Tengo menos libertad?” ( )
  JuliaBoechat | Mar 29, 2013 |
Segismundo´s father, Basilio, is the king of Poland and a big fan of astrology, studying the stars in order to understand the future. When his son is born, he reads that he is destined to become a cruel ruler, and so he imprisons him in an isolated mountainside fortress, telling his people that his son died in childbirth. Segismundo grows up under the tutelage of Clotaldo, who educates him in his isolated prison. When he is grown, Basilio decides that he wants to perform an experiment, testing whether or not free will can triumph over destiny as read in the stars. He gives Segismundo a drug that puts him to sleep and transports him to the palace, placing him on the throne as king. In this way, he can see whether his son can transcend the predictions of the stars and rule justly. He instructs Clotaldo to explain to Segismundo what has happened, and also to warn him that his new position as king may only be a dream, and that he may well wake up back in his prison. Segismundo as king must confront the unjust nature of his prison, and decide how to treat his subjects and his father, who imprisoned him and isolated him from the world. He also must enter into courtly society after living his life as a caged beast. Calderón´s play follows the action as Segismundo tries to understand the cruel existence that he has been forced into and examines whether or not he can be a just ruler despite his star-crossed birth and isolated, savage upbringing.

As I looked at my bookshelf trying to decide which of the handful of recently-purchased plays I wanted to read next, I decided instead to reread La vida es sueño, thinking that of all of my choices, I would enjoy it the most. Before I began reading, I was paging through the critical commentaries on the play that follow the text in my edition. There was a letter from the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev expressing his enjoyment of Calderón´s work, and he compares Segismundo with Shakespeare´s Hamlet. It´s a rather obvious choice, and as I read the play I thought about how similar the two princes are (although I haven´t read Hamlet since high school and only faintly remember it). Segismundo is made to question the world that surrounds him and ponder whether he is dreaming or awake: Hamlet´s most famous line, “To be or not to be,” in Segismundo´s world, becomes more a question of “Am I awake, or is this a dream?” Segismundo has a monologue that reminds me of Hamlet´s soliloquy on existence, and is one of my favorite passages in classic Spanish literature:

Yo sueño que estoy aquí
destas prisiones cargado,
y soñé que en otro estado
más lisonjero me vi.
¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño:
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.

These words come at the heels of a day in which Segismundo has awoken in the bed of a king, confronted the reasons behind his lifelong imprisonment, and all the while been constantly reminded that what he is experiencing may only be a dream, and that he may wake up to the shackles and isolation of his prison. His contemplation of the world and whether or not our lives are anything more than dreams was remarkable to me the first time that I read it, because of its direct challenge to reality. I assume that Calderón was familiar with Don Quijote and perhaps Segismundo´s dilemma was inspired by his adventure in the Cave of Montesinos. It´s interesting to see another scenario where a Spaniard is writing about dreams and reality in the first part of the 16th century, because it´s a topic that seems to pertain much more to literature in modern times.

La vida es sueño is written in the baroque style, which means that the language is complicated and there are many different and sometimes confusing techniques that Calderón uses to construct arguments. My edition was thoroughly annotated, and helped bring my attention to some of the aspects of the baroque style that I would have ignored otherwise. Another element that I enjoyed was the somewhat atypical comic foil Clarín, who is unique in that he shows limited allegiance to his initial master, Rosaura, and floats around from master to master. Sometimes it seemed to me that he was the one living in a dream, and his commentaries often hint at his own confusion at the fate that befalls him. There were some parts of the play that didn´t seem as strong, such as the ending, where the different plot strands are conveniently tied up in the most straightforward way possible. In the end, though, Calderon´s depiction of Segismundo´s struggle to understand his life and the world that surrounds him, makes him one of my favorite characters in Siglo de Oro theater and a worthy holder of the title “Spanish Hamlet.”

February 12, 2012

I didn't realize I'd already read and reviewed this book in 2012...I wrote another review, but it doesn't really add much to the previous one so I'll omit it here. One interesting thing I read about this book that I do think is worth mentioning concerns the difference between life and dream: we set these two terms up to be polar opposites, but maybe that's not the right way to look at them when reading a play written in the first half of the seventeenth century. Christopher Soufas is the name of the guy who wrote the article I read, and he opines that the way that humankind ordered knowledge back then was fundamentally different from the way we do now. Where we look for differences between things, people used to look for similarities. I think Foucault wrote about this in his archaeology of knowledge. Anyway, the point is that we tend to consider the idea of doing good in dreams to be rather ridiculous: how can you do good or bad in a dream? But back then it might have been more natural for Segismundo to ponder the consequences of his acts, regardless of whether he was awake or not when he committed them. ( )
  msjohns615 | Apr 30, 2010 |
This inexpensive volume is a good alternative to the free online versions, some of which are really 'adaptations'. It's also available in a dual-language version. ( )
  grunin | Sep 21, 2009 |
Neat plays, great translation, refreshing when it came in the middle of Picture and Poetry in Early Modern Europe :) ( )
  levidice | Aug 6, 2007 |
PEDRO CALDERON de la BARCA, generally refered to simply as Calderon, ranks next to Lope de Vega in the list of Spanish dramatists. Calderon's early plays had been of a secular nature. After the death of his mistress in 1648, however, his thoughts turned toward religion and he took orders, later entering the priesthood just as de Vega had done. Quite naturally his later dramas are deeply religious in theme and treatment. In fact, many commentators think that Calderon was at his best as a writer of "autos," those religious plays that so closely resemble the English Mystery plays of the Middle Ages. About 80 of these "autos" survive in addition to 120 of the regular dramas.
With Calderon the Golden Age of Spanish drama came to a close. His thought was not universal like that of Shakespeare and Molière. Instead it was intensely local. His characters are less individuals in their own right than they are personifications of certain primitive passions. His plot motives are practically limited to three: loyalty to the King, devotion to the church, and the protection or assertion of one's honor through revenge.
Calderon wrote write up to the time of his death, apparently without any diminution of his powers or his interest. Nor did the fact that much of his life was spent in poor health seem to affect the quality or quantity of his output. Probably the best known of his dramatic works, so far as present day readers are concerned, is the secular play, Life is a Dream.
(n Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 30.)
  mmckay | Aug 11, 2006 |
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Pedro Calderón de la Barcaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Verspoor, DolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There, four-footed Fury, blast
Engender'd brute, without the wit
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143104829, Paperback)

The masterwork of Spain’s preeminent dramatist—now in a new verse translation

Life Is a Dream is a work many hold to be the supreme example of Spanish Golden Age drama. Imbued with highly poetic language and humanist ideals, it is an allegory that considers contending themes of free will and predestination, illusion and reality, played out against the backdrop of court intrigue and the restoration of personal honor.

In the mountainous barrens of Poland, the rightful heir to the kingdom has been imprisoned since birth in an attempt by his father to thwart fate. Meanwhile, a noblewoman arrives to seek revenge against the man who deceived and forsook her love for the prospect of becoming king of Poland. Richly symbolic and metaphorical, Life Is a Dream explores the deepest mysteries of human experience.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:47 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Follows the life of Segismundo, a Polish prince who has been imprisoned since birth at the hands of his own father, the King. Text is presented in both English and Spanish.

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