Life is a Dream, by Pedro Calderon de la Barca


SCENE I. — The Tower, etc., as in Act I. Scene I.

Segismund, as at first, and Clotaldo.


Princes and princesses, and counsellors

Fluster’d to right and left — my life made at —

But that was nothing

Even the white-hair’d, venerable King

Seized on — Indeed, you made wild work of it;

And so discover’d in your outward action,

Flinging your arms about you in your sleep,

Grinding your teeth — and, as I now remember,

Woke mouthing out judgment and execution,

On those about you.


Ay, I did indeed.


Ev’n now your eyes stare wild; your hair stands up —

Your pulses throb and flutter, reeling still

Under the storm of such a dream —


A dream!

That seem’d as swearable reality

As what I wake in now.


Ay — wondrous how

Imagination in a sleeping brain

Out of the uncontingent senses draws

Sensations strong as from the real touch;

That we not only laugh aloud, and drench

With tears our pillow; but in the agony

Of some imaginary conflict, fight

And struggle — ev’n as you did; some, ’tis thought,

Under the dreamt-of stroke of death have died.


And what so very strange too — In that world

Where place as well as people all was strange,

Ev’n I almost as strange unto myself,

You only, you, Clotaldo — you, as much

And palpably yourself as now you are,

Came in this very garb you ever wore,

By such a token of the past, you said,

To assure me of that seeming present.




Ay; and even told me of the very stars

You tell me here of — how in spite of them,

I was enlarged to all that glory.


Ay, By the false spirits’ nice contrivance thus

A little truth oft leavens all the false,

The better to delude us.


For you know

’Tis nothing but a dream?


Nay, you yourself

Know best how lately you awoke from that

You know you went to sleep on? —

Why, have you never dreamt the like before?


Never, to such reality.


Such dreams

Are oftentimes the sleeping exhalations

Of that ambition that lies smouldering

Under the ashes of the lowest fortune;

By which, when reason slumbers, or has lost

The reins of sensible comparison,

We fly at something higher than we are —

Scarce ever dive to lower — to be kings,

Or conquerors, crown’d with laurel or with gold,

Nay, mounting heaven itself on eagle wings.

Which, by the way, now that I think of it,

May furnish us the key to this high flight

That royal Eagle we were watching, and

Talking of as you went to sleep last night.


Last night? Last night?


Ay, do you not remember

Envying his immunity of flight,

As, rising from his throne of rock, he sail’d

Above the mountains far into the West,

That burn’d about him, while with poising wings

He darkled in it as a burning brand

Is seen to smoulder in the fire it feeds?


Last night — last night — Oh, what a day was that

Between that last night and this sad To-day!


And yet, perhaps,

Only some few dark moments, into which

Imagination, once lit up within

And unconditional of time and space,

Can pour infinities.


And I remember

How the old man they call’d the King, who wore

The crown of gold about his silver hair,

And a mysterious girdle round his waist,

Just when my rage was roaring at its height,

And after which it all was dark again,

Bid me beware lest all should be a dream.


Ay — there another specialty of dreams,

That once the dreamer ‘gins to dream he dreams,

His foot is on the very verge of waking.


Would it had been upon the verge of death

That knows no waking —

Lifting me up to glory, to fall back,

Stunn’d, crippled — wretcheder than ev’n before.


Yet not so glorious, Segismund, if you

Your visionary honour wore so ill

As to work murder and revenge on those

Who meant you well.


Who meant me! — me! their Prince

Chain’d like a felon —


Stay, stay — Not so fast,

You dream’d the Prince, remember.


Then in dream

Revenged it only.


True. But as they say

Dreams are rough copies of the waking soul

Yet uncorrected of the higher Will,

So that men sometimes in their dreams confess

An unsuspected, or forgotten, self;

One must beware to check — ay, if one may,

Stifle ere born, such passion in ourselves

As makes, we see, such havoc with our sleep,

And ill reacts upon the waking day.

And, by the bye, for one test, Segismund,

Between such swearable realities —

Since Dreaming, Madness, Passion, are akin

In missing each that salutary rein

Of reason, and the guiding will of man:

One test, I think, of waking sanity

Shall be that conscious power of self-control,

To curb all passion, but much most of all

That evil and vindictive, that ill squares

With human, and with holy canon less,

Which bids us pardon ev’n our enemies,

And much more those who, out of no ill will,

Mistakenly have taken up the rod

Which heaven, they think, has put into their hands.


I think I soon shall have to try again —

Sleep has not yet done with me.


Such a sleep.

Take my advice —’tis early yet — the sun

Scarce up above the mountain; go within,

And if the night deceived you, try anew

With morning; morning dreams they say come true.


Oh, rather pray for me a sleep so fast

As shall obliterate dream and waking too.

[Exit into the tower.]


So sleep; sleep fast: and sleep away those two

Night-potions, and the waking dream between

Which dream thou must believe; and, if to see

Again, poor Segismund! that dream must be. —

And yet, and yet, in these our ghostly lives,

Half night, half day, half sleeping, half awake,

How if our waking life, like that of sleep,

Be all a dream in that eternal life

To which we wake not till we sleep in death?

How if, I say, the senses we now trust

For date of sensible comparison —

Ay, ev’n the Reason’s self that dates with them,

Should be in essence or intensity

Hereafter so transcended, and awake

To a perceptive subtlety so keen

As to confess themselves befool’d before,

In all that now they will avouch for most?

One man — like this — but only so much longer

As life is longer than a summer’s day,

Believed himself a king upon his throne,

And play’d at hazard with his fellows’ lives,

Who cheaply dream’d away their lives to him.

The sailor dream’d of tossing on the flood:

The soldier of his laurels grown in blood:

The lover of the beauty that he knew

Must yet dissolve to dusty residue:

The merchant and the miser of his bags

Of finger’d gold; the beggar of his rags:

And all this stage of earth on which we seem

Such busy actors, and the parts we play’d,

Substantial as the shadow of a shade,

And Dreaming but a dream within a dream!


Was it not said, sir,

By some philosopher as yet unborn,

That any chimney-sweep who for twelve hours

Dreams himself king is happy as the king

Who dreams himself twelve hours a chimney-sweep?


A theme indeed for wiser heads than yours

To moralize upon — How came you here? —


Not of my own will, I assure you, sir.

No matter for myself: but I would know

About my mistress — I mean, master —


Oh, Now I remember — Well, your master-mistress

Is well, and deftly on its errand speeds,

As you shall — if you can but hold your tongue.

Can you?


I’d rather be at home again.


Where you shall be the quicker if while here

You can keep silence.


I may whistle, then?

Which by the virtue of my name I do,

And also as a reasonable test

Of waking sanity —


Well, whistle then;

And for another reason you forgot,

That while you whistle, you can chatter not.

Only remember — if you quit this pass —


(His rhymes are out, or he had call’d it spot)—


A bullet brings you to.

I must forthwith to court to tell the King

The issue of this lamentable day,

That buries all his hope in night.

[To FIFE.]

Farewell. Remember.


But a moment — but a word!

When shall I see my mis — mas —


Be content:

All in good time; and then, and not before,

Never to miss your master any more.



Such talk of dreaming — dreaming — I begin

To doubt if I be dreaming I am Fife,

Who with a lad who call’d herself a boy

Because — I doubt there’s some confusion here —

He wore no petticoat, came on a time

Riding from Muscovy on half a horse,

Who must have dreamt she was a horse entire,

To cant me off upon my hinder face

Under this tower, wall-eyed and musket-tongued,

With sentinels a-pacing up and down,

Crying All’s well when all is far from well,

All the day long, and all the night, until

I dream — if what is dreaming be not waking —

Of bells a-tolling and processions rolling

With candles, crosses, banners, San-benitos,

Of which I wear the flamy-finingest,

Through streets and places throng’d with fiery faces

To some back platform —

Oh, I shall take a fire into my hand

With thinking of my own dear Muscovy —

Only just over that Sierra there,

By which we tumbled headlong into — No-land.

Now, if without a bullet after me,

I could but get a peep of my old home

Perhaps of my own mule to take me there —

All’s still — perhaps the gentlemen within

Are dreaming it is night behind their masks —

God send ’em a good nightmare! — Now then — Hark!

Voices — and up the rocks — and armed men

Climbing like cats — Puss in the corner then.

[He hides.]

[Enter Soldiers cautiously up the rocks.]


This is the frontier pass, at any rate,

Where Poland ends and Muscovy begins.


We must be close upon the tower, I know,

That half way up the mountain lies ensconced.


How know you that?


He told me so — the Page

Who put us on the scent.

Soldier. 2.

And, as I think,

Will soon be here to run it down with us.


Meantime, our horses on these ugly rocks

Useless, and worse than useless with their clatter —

Leave them behind, with one or two in charge,

And softly, softly, softly.


— There it is!

— There what?

— The tower — the fortress —

— That the tower! —

— That mouse-trap! We could pitch it down the rocks

With our own hands.

— The rocks it hangs among

Dwarf its proportions and conceal its strength;

Larger and stronger than you think.

— No matter;

No place for Poland’s Prince to be shut up in.

At it at once!


No — no — I tell you wait —

Till those within give signal. For as yet

We know not who side with us, and the fort

Is strong in man and musket.


Shame to wait

For odds with such a cause at stake.



Of such a cause at stake we wait for odds —

For if not won at once, for ever lost:

For any long resistance on their part

Would bring Basilio’s force to succour them

Ere we had rescued him we come to rescue.

So softly, softly, softly, still —

A SOLDIER [discovering Fife].



— Hilloa! Here’s some one skulking —

— Seize and gag him!

— Stab him at once, say I: the only way

To make all sure.

— Hold, every man of you!

And down upon your knees! — Why, ’tis the Prince!

— The Prince! —

— Oh, I should know him anywhere,

And anyhow disguised.

— But the Prince is chain’d.

— And of a loftier presence —

—’Tis he, I tell you;

Only bewilder’d as he was before.

God save your Royal Highness! On our knees

Beseech you answer us!


Just as you please.

Well —’tis this country’s custom, I suppose,

To take a poor man every now and then

And set him ON the throne; just for the fun

Of tumbling him again into the dirt.

And now my turn is come. ’Tis very pretty.


His wits have been distemper’d with their drugs.

But do you ask him, Captain.


On my knees,

And in the name of all who kneel with me,

I do beseech your Highness answer to

Your royal title.


Still, just as you please.

In my own poor opinion of myself —

But that may all be dreaming, which it seems

Is very much the fashion in this country

No Polish prince at all, but a poor lad

From Muscovy; where only help me back,

I promise never to contest the crown

Of Poland with whatever gentleman

You fancy to set up.


— From Muscovy?

— A spy then —

— Of Astolfo’s —

— Spy! a spy

— Hang him at once!


No, pray don’t dream of that!


How dared you then set yourself up for our Prince Segismund?


I set up! — I like that

When ’twas yourselves besiegesmunded me.


No matter — Look! — The signal from the tower.

Prince Segismund!

Soldier. [from the tower].

Prince Segismund!


All’s well. Clotaldo safe secured? —

Soldier. [from the tower].

No — by ill luck,

Instead of coming in, as we had look’d for,

He sprang on horse at once, and off at gallop.


To Court, no doubt — a blunder that — And yet

Perchance a blunder that may work as well

As better forethought. Having no suspicion

So will he carry none where his not going

Were of itself suspicious. But of those

Within, who side with us?


Oh, one and all

To the last man, persuaded or compell’d.


Enough: whatever be to be retrieved

No moment to be lost. For though Clotaldo

Have no revolt to tell of in the tower,

The capital will soon awake to ours,

And the King’s force come blazing after us.

Where is the Prince?


Within; so fast asleep

We woke him not ev’n striking off the chain

We had so cursedly help bind him with,

Not knowing what we did; but too ashamed

Not to undo ourselves what we had done.


No matter, nor by whosesoever hands,

Provided done. Come; we will bring him forth

Out of that stony darkness here abroad,

Where air and sunshine sooner shall disperse

The sleepy fume which they have drugg’d him with.

[They enter the tower, and thence bring out Segismund asleep on a pallet, and set him in the middle of the stage.]


Still, still so dead asleep, the very noise

And motion that we make in carrying him

Stirs not a leaf in all the living tree.


If living — But if by some inward blow

For ever and irrevocably fell’d

By what strikes deeper to the root than sleep?

— He’s dead! He’s dead! They’ve kill’d him —

— No — he breathes —

And the heart beats — and now he breathes again

Deeply, as one about to shake away

The load of sleep.


Come, let us all kneel round,

And with a blast of warlike instruments,

And acclamation of all loyal hearts,

Rouse and restore him to his royal right,

From which no royal wrong shall drive him more.

[They all kneel round his bed: trumpets, drums, etc.]


— Segismund! Segismund! Prince Segismund!

— King Segismund! Down with Basilio!

— Down with Astolfo! Segismund our King! etc.

— He stares upon us wildly. He cannot speak.

— I said so — driv’n him mad.

— Speak to him, Captain.


Oh Royal Segismund, our Prince and King,

Look on us — listen to us — answer us,

Your faithful soldiery and subjects, now

About you kneeling, but on fire to rise

And cleave a passage through your enemies,

Until we seat you on your lawful throne.

For though your father, King Basilio,

Now King of Poland, jealous of the stars

That prophesy his setting with your rise,

Here holds you ignominiously eclipsed,

And would Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy,

Mount to the throne of Poland after him;

So will not we, your loyal soldiery

And subjects; neither those of us now first

Apprised of your existence and your right:

Nor those that hitherto deluded by

Allegiance false, their vizors now fling down,

And craving pardon on their knees with us

For that unconscious disloyalty,

Offer with us the service of their blood;

Not only we and they; but at our heels

The heart, if not the bulk, of Poland follows

To join their voices and their arms with ours,

In vindicating with our lives our own

Prince Segismund to Poland and her throne.


— Segismund, Segismund, Prince Segismund!

— Our own King Segismund, etc.

[They all rise.]


Again? So soon? — What, not yet done with me?

The sun is little higher up, I think,

Than when I last lay down,

To bury in the depth of your own sea

You that infest its shallows.




And now,

Not in a palace, not in the fine clothes

We all were in; but here, in the old place,

And in our old accoutrement —

Only your vizors off, and lips unlock’d

To mock me with that idle title —



Indeed no idle title, but your own,

Then, now, and now for ever. For, behold,

Ev’n as I speak, the mountain passes fill

And bristle with the advancing soldiery

That glitters in your rising glory, sir;

And, at our signal, echo to our cry,

‘Segismund, King of Poland!’ etc.

[Shouts, trumpets, etc.]


Oh, how cheap

The muster of a countless host of shadows,

As impotent to do with as to keep!

All this they said before — to softer music.


Soft music, sir, to what indeed were shadows,

That, following the sunshine of a Court,

Shall back be brought with it — if shadows still,

Yet to substantial reckoning.


They shall?

The white-hair’d and white-wanded chamberlain,

So busy with his wand too — the old King

That I was somewhat hard on — he had been

Hard upon me — and the fine feather’d Prince

Who crow’d so loud — my cousin — and another,

Another cousin, we will not bear hard on —

And — But Clotaldo?


Fled, my lord, but close

Pursued; and then —


Then, as he fled before,

And after he had sworn it on his knees,

Came back to take me — where I am! — No more,

No more of this! Away with you! Begone!

Whether but visions of ambitious night

That morning ought to scatter, or grown out

Of night’s proportions you invade the day

To scare me from my little wits yet left,

Begone! I know I must be near awake,

Knowing I dream; or, if not at my voice,

Then vanish at the clapping of my hands,

Or take this foolish fellow for your sport:

Dressing me up in visionary glories,

Which the first air of waking consciousness

Scatters as fast as from the almander —

That, waking one fine morning in full flower,

One rougher insurrection of the breeze

Of all her sudden honour disadorns

To the last blossom, and she stands again

The winter-naked scare-crow that she was!


I know not what to do, nor what to say,

With all this dreaming; I begin to doubt

They have driv’n him mad indeed, and he and we

Are lost together.

A SOLDIER [to Captain].

Stay, stay; I remember —

Hark in your ear a moment.



So — so — so? —

Oh, now indeed I do not wonder, sir,

Your senses dazzle under practices

Which treason, shrinking from its own device,

Would now persuade you only was a dream;

But waking was as absolute as this

You wake in now, as some who saw you then,

Prince as you were and are, can testify:

Not only saw, but under false allegiance

Laid hands upon —

Soldier 1.

I, to my shame!

Soldier 2.

And I!


Who, to wipe out that shame, have been the first

To stir and lead us — Hark!

[Shouts, trumpets, etc.]


Our forces, sir,

Challenging King Basilio’s, now in sight,

And bearing down upon us.


Sir, you hear;

A little hesitation and delay,

And all is lost — your own right, and the lives

Of those who now maintain it at that cost;

With you all saved and won; without, all lost.

That former recognition of your right

Grant but a dream, if you will have it so;

Great things forecast themselves by shadows great:

Or will you have it, this like that dream too,

People, and place, and time itself, all dream

Yet, being in’t, and as the shadows come

Quicker and thicker than you can escape,

Adopt your visionary soldiery,

Who, having struck a solid chain away,

Now put an airy sword into your hand,

And harnessing you piece-meal till you stand

Amidst us all complete in glittering,

If unsubstantial, steel —

Rosaura [without].

The Prince! The Prince!


Who calls for him?


The Page who spurr’d us hither,

And now, dismounted from a foaming horse —

[Enter Rosaura]


Where is — but where I need no further ask

Where the majestic presence, all in arms,

Mutely proclaims and vindicates himself.


My darling Lady-lord —


My own good Fife,

Keep to my side — and silence! — Oh, my Lord,

For the third time behold me here where first

You saw me, by a happy misadventure

Losing my own way here to find it out

For you to follow with these loyal men,

Adding the moment of my little cause

To yours; which, so much mightier as it is,

By a strange chance runs hand in hand with mine;

The self-same foe who now pretends your right,

Withholding mine — that, of itself alone,

I know the royal blood that runs in you

Would vindicate, regardless of your own:

The right of injured innocence; and, more,

Spite of this epicene attire, a woman’s;

And of a noble stock I will not name

Till I, who brought it, have retrieved the shame.

Whom Duke Astolfo, Prince of Muscovy,

With all the solemn vows of wedlock won,

And would have wedded, as I do believe,

Had not the cry of Poland for a Prince

Call’d him from Muscovy to join the prize

Of Poland with the fair Estrella’s eyes.

I, following him hither, as you saw,

Was cast upon these rocks; arrested by

Clotaldo: who, for an old debt of love

He owes my family, with all his might

Served, and had served me further, till my cause

Clash’d with his duty to his sovereign,

Which, as became a loyal subject, sir,

(And never sovereign had a loyaller,)

Was still his first. He carried me to Court,

Where, for the second time, I crossed your path;

Where, as I watch’d my opportunity,

Suddenly broke this public passion out;

Which, drowning private into public wrong,

Yet swiftlier sweeps it to revenge along.


Oh God, if this be dreaming, charge it not

To burst the channel of enclosing sleep

And drown the waking reason! Not to dream

Only what dreamt shall once or twice again

Return to buzz about the sleeping brain

Till shaken off for ever —

But reassailing one so quick, so thick —

The very figure and the circumstance

Of sense-confess’d reality foregone

In so-call’d dream so palpably repeated,

The copy so like the original,

We know not which is which; and dream so-call’d

Itself inweaving so inextricably

Into the tissue of acknowledged truth;

The very figures that empeople it

Returning to assert themselves no phantoms

In something so much like meridian day,

And in the very place that not my worst

And veriest disenchanter shall deny

For the too well-remember’d theatre

Of my long tragedy — Strike up the drums!

If this be Truth, and all of us awake,

Indeed a famous quarrel is at stake:

If but a Vision I will see it out,

And, drive the Dream, I can but join the rout.


And in good time, sir, for a palpable

Touchstone of truth and rightful vengeance too,

Here is Clotaldo taken.


In with him!

In with the traitor!

[Clotaldo brought in.]


Ay, Clotaldo, indeed —

Himself — in his old habit — his old self —

What! back again, Clotaldo, for a while

To swear me this for truth, and afterwards

All for a dreaming lie?


Awake or dreaming,

Down with that sword, and down these traitors theirs,

Drawn in rebellion ‘gainst their Sovereign.

Segismund. [about to strike].

Traitor! Traitor yourself! —

But soft — soft — soft! —

You told me, not so very long ago,

Awake or dreaming — I forget — my brain

Is not so clear about it — but I know

One test you gave me to discern between,

Which mad and dreaming people cannot master;

Or if the dreamer could, so best secure

A comfortable waking — Was’t not so?

[To Rosaura].

Needs not your intercession now, you see,

As in the dream before —

Clotaldo, rough old nurse and tutor too

That only traitor wert, to me if true —

Give him his sword; set him on a fresh horse;

Conduct him safely through my rebel force;

And so God speed him to his sovereign’s side!

Give me your hand; and whether all awake

Or all a-dreaming, ride, Clotaldo, ride —

Dream-swift — for fear we dreams should overtake.

[A Battle may be supposed to take place; after which]

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52