Библиографическое описание:

Киличева М. Р. The role of dream vision in the tragedies of William Shakespeare // Молодой ученый. — 2014. — №13. — С. 304-305.

All nations divide dreams into two categories: real and symbolic dreams. Real dreams happen as they are. But symbolic dreams interpret the events with symbols. Actually real dreams show the path to a person where he is and where he is going to. As an aesthetic event they play the same role in literary work. In literature using symbolic dreams as a fictional means has already become a tradition. This tradition belongs to Middle Ages literature too. Famous dramatists and writers of that age used dream vision for many purposes such as to emphasize the ideological meaning of the work, to show the spiritual world of episodes, as well as to shorten the composition of the work. Furthermore, this motive serves to influence on the audience by showing the interconnection of characters with supernatural powers, intensifies effectiveness of the message being conveyed, the author may state his opinion more effectually to the reader. Namely, dream can be the means of upbringing and manipulation to the reader. As A. C. Spearing says, “it was expected that something could be learned from real dreams, and hence from literary dreams: advice or warnings about the future or philosophical truths which it would be important to know in waking life.” [1]

Dreams, which were generally regarded in popular belief as the most intelligible form of supernatural warning, represented a useful dramatic device for the Elizabethan playwrights, since they foreshadowed events of plot, provided the audience with needed information, and imparted a vivid atmosphere of mystery to the play. [2]

One of the most famous English literary figures from the Elizabethan era, William Shakespeare knew what was effective on a stage and how his ideas had to be presented to bring forth their full power. Shakespeare utilized dream vision in his a number of plays. In his plays dream motive mostly helps to impress the reader and to foretell the fate of heroes in order to make the events more dramatic and to add a sense of fatality. In plays the frequent use of dreams has many dramatic purposes. Even in Shakespeare's earliest plays, besides being a form of presentation and a predictive device of plot, dreams are a way of presenting the process of the mind at work in memory, emotion, and imagination. [2]

The dream of Julius Caesar in “Julius Caesar”, Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet”, Richard III in “Richard III” can be bright examples of it. In these works though dream is used in a purpose of drama, intensifying the tragedy, it plays great role in plot-construction too. Because with its help the playwright, firstly, reduces the extra depiction of events, secondly, provides the systematic linkage of events of the plot. In the very“Julies Caesar” dream richens the plot and links the events in order. The peculiarity of dreams in this work is in that by them the playwright not only reveals the inner world and wishes of personages but also shows the political games of that period. As Marjorie B. Garber states, dream is the high peak of the tragedy that is chosen to foretell the upcoming events of the play. [3] In “Julius Caesar” the dream is also vital to the plot and is opportunely inserted into the development of the tragedy, which deals with the conflict between monarchical and democratic parties in the political world of Rome. “Julius Caesar” is full of omens and dreams, such as Calpurnia's dream, the dream of Cinna the poet, and the advice of the augurers, which are misinterpreted, making tragedy inevitable. The dream imagery of this tragedy, in which a primary emphasis is placed on the potential ambiguity of interpretation, also constitutes a means of examining character and consciousness, and, as in Richard III, divides men into two categories: those who attempt to control dream and destiny, and those who are controlled by them. [2]

The depiction of dreams and its interpretation is given in match with the belief of people. Particularly, the dream of Calphurnia, the wife of Caesar, attracts our attention. As the misinterpretation Calphurnia’s dream led to worse and unexpected situations. In particular, the very tragedy helps to reveal the meaning of the work.

On the night before Caesar’s assassination, Calphurnia dreams prophetically of his murder, and the next morning Caesar recounts her dream to Decius Brutus as his reason for not attending the Senate that day:

“She dreamt tonight she saw my statue,

Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts,

Did run pure blood, and many lusty Romans

Came smiling and did bathe their hands in it” [4]

This dream is both detailed and specific and of course, a truth-bearing dream, and its content corresponds to the manner of death Caesar will face in addition to calling attention to a thematic issue of identity in the play. [2]

But Dessiy misinterprets the dream intentionally:

“This dream is all amiss interpreted

It was a vision, fair and fortunate

Your statue spouting blood in many pipes

In which so many smiling Romans bathed Signifies that from you great Rome shall suck Reviving blood, and that great men shall press

For tinctures, stains, relics and cognizance

This by Calphurnia’s dream is signified

Besides it were a mock,

Apt to be rendered, for someone to say, ‘Break up the Senate till another time When Caesar’s wife shall meet with better dreams’” [4]

Thus the passage ends with Caesar’s disastrous statement of dismissal:

“How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia?

I am ashamed I did yield to them, Give me my robe, for I will go” [4]

As a result Caesar doesn’t pay attention to his wife’s symbolic signs of her dreams and killed brutally by his enemies.

As historical papers state, Caesar believed in dreams, but in most cases didn’t pay attention to his wife’s dreams. So, as we can see Shakespeare matched the historical truth with fictional truth and tried to use dream vision as poetic means. Marjorie B. Garber asserts “ The audience knew the history of Julius Caesar, the author employing dream vision in this tragedy reveals a symbolic power. [3]

Another most memorable reference by Shakespeare “Romeo and Juliet” contains this literary means too. Dream vision as an aesthetic episode owns a significant position in this tragedy. At the beginning of the play dream is mentioned in Romeo’s conversation with Merkutio in order to develop and link the upcoming events logically. Furthermore, he used dream so that he could increase the actuality, liveliness and color of the play. Another importance of dream is that it shows a way to the characters. Particularly, Romeo’s dream warns him about his destiny. But he interprets it for good, doesn’t understand a real message of it and dies tragically. Shakespeare states his knowing of his death in the following lines:

If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,

My dreams presage some joyful news at hand:

My bosom's lord sits lightly in his throne;

And all this day an unaccustom'd spirit

Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts.

I dreamt my lady came and found me dead--

Strange dream, that gives a dead man leave

to think!--

And breathed such life with kisses in my lips,

That I revived, and was an emperor.

Ah me! how sweet is love itself possess'd,

When but love's shadows are so rich in joy![5]

Romeo dreams it in Mantua, when Juliet is far away drinking the medicine which Friar Laurence gives. By this dream the author wants to express the spiritual world of Romeo, his thinking of his lover, as well as to show the ensuing events. The placement of dream vision in this very position fastens the development of happenings and provides compositional wholeness.

Besides, other character’s dream is also given in this play. Romeo’s servant Balthazar dreams that he wins in the battle. He sleeps under the tree and sees this dream, at that very moment Romeo and Paris fight and Romeo kills him. Not knowing this Balthazar retells it to Laurence:

As I did sleep under this yew-tree here,

I dreamt my master and another fought,

And that my master slew him. [5]

As we see, in this tragedy dreams appear as supernatural sign warning about the future and destiny of personages. Both characters’ dream happen as they are and development of events end with the occurrence of these dreams.

The dream of Romeo bears a certain similarity to Calphurnia’s dream. Although it probably contains — from what Romeo says this is possible to assume — only material that could be shown on stage, it is not necessary to show it before the tragic events that will soon unfold on stage. Shakespeare cannot afford a pointless repetition of a scene, but for his dramatic purpose he has to have Romeo dream of the future events. [6]

In conclusion, William Shakespeare could employ dream motive in significant positions in these tragedies. With its help he provided his plays to be more believable and close to life, tried to show the mood and psychological state of characters. The symbolic gist of dreams in the above studied tragedies served to intensify fictional effect, to foreshadow events of plot, to warn the reader about the destiny of heroes, to provide compositional capacity, to make the content more meaningful and colorful. Moreover, dream as an aesthetic event manipulated the plot-construction, development of events and helped to shorten the pack of events, tie the events in a logical order


1.      Spearing, A. C. Medieval Dream-Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP,1980

2.      James R. Lewis, Evelyn Dorothy Oliver. The Dream Encyclopedia. Visible Ink Press, 2009

3.      Marjorie B. Garber Dream in Shakespeare: From Metaphor to Metamorphosis (New Haven: Yale UP, 1974)

4.      http://shakespeare.mit.edu/julius_caesar/full.html

5.      http://shakespeare.mit.edu/romeo_juliet/full.html

6.      Arthos, John. Shakespeare’s Use of Dreams and Visions. London: 1980


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