Famous poet, a genius of the Elizabethan theater, a pillar of the human cultural history, a hopeless and romantic dreamer.
Usually dreams are just a sweet and nebulous parenthesis that inhabits the night, something to think about with a smile as soon as we awake in the morning and to forget when we become too busy to remember it during the day.
For Shakespeare dreams were absolutely nothing like that.
In the complex and imaginative world of the Shakespearean tragedies, dreams are a recurrent constant, a sort of refrain very dear to the author.
In the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream the true protagonist is the oneiric world; it orchestrates an infinite series of adventures and misunderstandings, inside a dreamy atmosphere, with its enchanted woods full of fairies, pixies and sprites. It is actually in this play that Shakespeare underlines the importance of dreams and how much they should be considered as something of “concrete” and “tangible” rather than just an illusion; in fact the author seems to encourage people to pay attention to what happens during their sleep, taking seriously their night visions and what they show.
Obviously Freud’s theories about dreams would have come only centuries after, but Shakespeare seemed to catch something of them, even if in a poetic and unclear way.
According to a scientific definition, dreams are images created by the human brain and, more in detail according to psychoanalysis, they are the manifestations of the unconscious’ will; therefore dreams are a sort of tunnel that links people with the hidden side of themselves, a window on their desires, needs and fears.
In the play Henry VIII the former queen, Catherine of Aragon, has the possibility to live first-hand these theories; the night before the execution of her sentence of death, her sleep is haunted by fears of all sorts and in her dreams some ghosts appear to comfort her, as if her unconscious was trying to reassure her at all costs.
It seems extraordinary that in 1600 William Shakespeare succeeded in understanding all these things, but probably his love for dreams took him far away from the time in which he was living, giving him the possibility to reach a fuller knowledge of the topic.
Imagining the true semblance of a dream is hard, because it is always surrounded by a smoky halo, but not for William Shakespeare; his passion made him not only underlining the importance of dreams, but also to picture them in their actual shape.
For the Elizabethan author, dreams are earthy, solid like whether object a person could handle, they are real messages made of paper, ink and letters.
In this regard is iconic the quote from his play The Tempest, in which is easy to perceive his lost voice overlapping with the one of the character of Prospero, when he says “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”.
This manic interest for dreams, almost a sort of obsession, hides something of undeniably romantic and visionary, that could have belonged only to a such ardent literary genius like the one of William Shakespeare, which greatest dream should have surely been the one of living solely and exclusively in his dreams.
– Luca A. M. Rossi (2007), https://www.shakespeareinitaly.it/disegni.html
– Roberto Mussapi (2019), http://www.succedeoggi.it/2017/03/la-trama-e-lordito-dei-sogni-siamo-noi/