— Life’s A Dream Essay, Research Paper
These days, it seems that everything we encounter poses us
with a question; however, there is no more important question to
be answered than Life — what is it? Is it merely the days we
spend here on Earth, or is there some larger life that we all
aspire to? Though none of us can answer these questions, we
continue to plague ourselves with questions such as: What is it
to be alive? As humans are we subject to a predetermined fate,
or do we have free will, or is there really some combination
between the two? Life s A Dream takes these age old questions
and gives us answers; answers that are meant to serve as a lesson
for each of us in how we should live our lives.
Basilio believes the prophecy of the stars to be the fate
for his son Sigismund; thus, he locks Sigismund in a dungeon
depriving him of two very important tenants that are essential to
growth as a human being, social interaction and love. On a
somewhat selfish whim, Basilio releases Sigismund in hope of
defying this destiny; however, he quickly sees that Sigismund s
behavior seems to be fulfilling the prophecy that has already
been laid out by the stars. Basilio decides to re-imprison
Sigismund, forcing his only son back into a dungeon to believe
that his single day of real freedom was only a dream. His
decision is an attempt to keep his kingdom peaceful, but his plan
backfires when the citizens of his country rise against him to
fight for Sigismund, the rightful heir to the throne, to assume
his duty as their king. Sigismund, disoriented and in a state of
suspended disbelief after awakening from a drug-induced sleep, is
freed by the citizens and goes after his crown and revenge upon
his father stating, I am as my stars make me (III, I, 162).
The reader, or audience, assumes that fate is at work and the
prophecy will come true; however, Pedro Calderon de la Barca
subtly foreshadows the reversal of our expectation in Clotaldo s
lesson to Sigismund:
But you would do well, even in your dreams,
To honour those who care for you each day.
Kindness is never wasted, even in dreams,
And gentleness is never thrown away,
(II, ii, 81).
Because of this subtle foreshadowing, we are pleased to discover
that Sigismund has, in fact, learned from his dream and his
advisor, Clotaldo. His remark shows that he denies his own
selfish desire for revenge; thus, not only does he change his
fate by free will, but he manages to restore honor to Poland s
royalty: My soul cries out for vengeance but I see my victory
must be my own surrender (III, ii, 222).
But what does all of this really mean? What are we to learn
about fate and free will? The lessons are in the text, and there
are several embedded in the speeches of various characters.
Pedro Calderon de la Barca must have been a wise man to answer
such puzzling questions in a solitary piece of literary art. I
believe that his assertion, and my own, is that life is a gift,
much like our dreams, and a window to the bigger picture of
eternity, which is our fate:
In this strange world to live s a kind of
And each of us must dream the thing he is
Till he awakes. The King dreams he s a King…
For every King that rules men in his King-dream
Must wake at last in the cold sleep of death….
And what is real is nothing, and a man
Is nothing neither…. It is all a dream
(II, ii, 88).
This is the underlying meaning of this play, and thus, the link
to nearly every other play we have read; the ancient Greeks that
taught us of fate, the easterners that taught us that we must
submit to the natural order, the humanity plays that taught us to
have faith in something greater than ourselves (God). Pedro
Calderon de la Barca manages to bring all of these former lessons
together to teach us the duality of this small experience of life
on the grand scale of eternity. Like the Greeks, he teaches us
that fate does exist in death – we will all die; it s an
inescapable fact. Furthermore, like the easterners, he teaches
us to submit to a higher, natural order:
A learned man s the victim of his learning,
For he who has foreknowledge of his fate
Murders himself…, (I, ii, 91).
We are not supposed to know what lies ahead, that s why we are
given free will. If we knew the path we were supposed to take,
we would not have free will. It is this free will that
distinguishes us from all other species; the only predestination
we have is death; our eternity is chosen by us through the
choices we make in this life. This idea lends itself to the
Christian teaching in the humanity plays Abraham and Isaac and
Everyman, asserting that while fate and free will both exist,
what is important is our faith in eternal life and that we live
our lives so that we may die in peace and go to heaven. In
Sigismund s speech at the end of act three, scene one, he
transforms from the student to the teacher when he states:
…What matters is to try
To do what is right.
Then if it is real
Right justifies itself,
And if it is unreal
It does no harm to have
Some credit up in heaven
It may be useful on the day
That we awake and end the play,
(III, I, 165).
Here we learn that life is like a play and a dream; it is short
in comparison to eternity, and serves merely as practice for it.
As Christians, our belief in eternal life in heaven or hell is a
driving force in life that is fueled only by our faith with
absolutely no proof. Because Sigismund treats his new life in
faith that it is not a dream, he will reap the reward he so
desires. It is his fear of being re-imprisoned that parallels
the Christian fear of eternal damnation, both of which are held
in faith to be avoided.
Basilio teaches us through his own error; he thought he
could cheat fate, and when he thinks he cannot, he admits, I ran
away, and ran to what I ran from. I hid a thing, and hiding it I
found it (III, ii, 43). The lesson we gain from Basilio is that
we cannot escape fate, and by asserting that the only fate we
know is death, we realize our mortality and submit ourselves to a
higher order. We use our free will as a compass to guide us
through our life here on Earth and even though we know that we
will die, it is our actions in life that will determine where we
live eternally. Because the evolved Sigismund chooses to deny
himself revenge, he wins himself the crown, and in doing so
restore Rosaura s honour, makes Estrella a queen, and allows
Basilio to watch his legitimate heir assume the role of King.
Therefore, the prophecy is a hoax because the only predetermined
fate is death, and when Sigismund does ascend to the throne he
proves to be even more learned and great than his father.
Each of us should have taken from this play a valuable
lesson on how to live so that our fate may be favorable. I
believe whole-heartedly that this was Pedro Calderon de la
Barca s intention in writing this play. Sigismund, a monster, is
symbolic of his own tormented self, and his moment of desengano
is symbolic of the reconciliation between his own passions and
the higher order:
I believe now that all human lives
Are just like dreams. They come, they go.
Perfection is impossible, we know.
Then noble hearts, show mercy thus,
And for our worst faults gently pardon us
(III, ii, 281).
Barca s lesson for us is the same as it was for Sigismund. The
ultimate fate is death – the only predestination; everything else
is up to us. Should we choose to have faith and live right,
eternal happiness shall be ours.