Life is a Dream

by

Pedro Calderón de la Barca

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Life is a Dream: Act Two Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Clotaldo and Basilio enter the palace, and Clotaldo says that he has carried out each of the king’s orders. He mixed a powerful potion of herbs, which, with a “tyrannical force,” put Segismundo into a deep sleep resembling death. Clotaldo went to visit Segismundo in his cell under the pretense of a lesson, and took with him the potion made of opium, poppy, and henbane. Clotaldo taught Segismundo all about the mighty eagle, the “queen of the birds,” and at the mention of kingship, Segismundo was suddenly interested. “In reality,” Clotaldo says, Segismundo’s royal blood “stirs him.”  
The “tyrannical force” of the potion mirrors Segismundo’s tyrannical fate. The deep sleep induced by the potion will later allow Basilio and Clotaldo to more easily convince Segismundo that his experience as the prince was just a dream, but even that won’t keep him from becoming king—though he turns out to be a kind ruler rather than a tyrant. Clotaldo’s claim that Segismundo’s royal blood stirs him “in reality” further blurs the line between illusion and reality. Reality in the play is a matter of perception, but Clotaldo implies that Segismundo knows deep down who he really is.  
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Segismundo was surprised to learn that even the birds are obedient, and he swore that he would never submit to another “of [his] own free will.” At that point, Clotaldo gave Segismundo the potion, and he fell into a deep sleep. The guards then placed Segismundo in the carriage and brought him to the palace, where they placed him in King Basilio’s luxurious bed. Now that Clotaldo has done exactly as the king has ordered, he asks Basilio what his intentions are in bringing Segismundo to the palace.  
Segismundo’s comment that he won’t submit to another “of [his] own free will” is ironic, since Basilio is banking on Segismundo’s free will to prove the prophecy wrong. Clotaldo doesn’t know why Basilio wants Segismundo sedated and brought to the palace; he simply does as he is ordered, which again reflects Clotaldo’s honor and his unquestionable loyalty to the king.
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Segismundo, Basilio reminds Clotaldo, is destined for “a thousand misfortunes and tragedies,” and Basilio wants to find out if heaven “can be assuaged, or at least / mollified, and whether, overcome / by merit and wisdom, / it can go back on its word.” In short, Basilio wants to know if Segismundo can overcome his evil nature. If he is violent and tyrannical, however, Basilio promises he will send him back to prison at once.
Again, Basilio is looking to outsmart the stars with his “merit and wisdom.” If Segismundo can overcome his evil nature through his own free will, he will effectively prove the prophecy wrong and change his fate through his own actions. This suggests that people are active, rather than passive, participants in their destiny. Again, however, Basilio doesn’t consider that human actions—namely, his own act of imprisoning Segismundo—might also lead Segismundo to behave in ways that seem evil.
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Basilio expects that Segismundo would be exceedingly upset to find out that he is a prince only to be sent back to prison, which is why Basilio insisted that Segismundo be brought to the palace in a deep sleep. That way, Segismundo’s true nature can be tested after he wakes, and then if he does need to be sent back to prison, they can tell him it was all a dream. Clotaldo claims there are many arguments that prove Basilio’s idea wrong, but it is too late now. They hear Segismundo heading their way, and as Basilio slips out of the room, he tells Clotaldo that he should be the one to explain to Segismundo who he is.
In telling Basilio that there are many arguments that prove his idea wrong, Clotaldo implies that Basilio’s plan isn’t exactly ethical. Basilio’s plan to ascertain Segismundo’s true nature is full of deceit and is thus immoral, but they have gone too far to turn back now. This, too, adds to Clotaldo’s moral dilemma—he is expected to do things that he knows are wrong in the name of his duty to the king.
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Clarín enters, and Clotaldo is reminded that Rosaura is definitely a woman. Clarín says that Rosaura has changed into more appropriate clothing, has changed her name, and is posing as Clotaldo’s niece. She is being treated as one of Estrella’s ladies-in-waiting, and she is looking forward to the moment when Clotaldo avenges her honor. Suddenly, a very confused Segismundo enters the room followed by several servants. “To say I’m dreaming is mistaken,” Segismundo cries in disbelief. “I know very well I’m awake!” 
At some point, Clotaldo learns that Rosaura is really a woman, but this is only briefly mentioned. This interaction suggests that Clotaldo initially agrees to help Rosaura restore her honor by killing Astolfo; he only changes his mind once Astolfo saves his life later in the play. This complicates Clotaldo’s view of vengeance and morality and implies he doesn’t consider revenge wholly unethical. Segismundo’s comment again underscores the overlaps between dreams and reality. He knows that he is awake, but this reality is completely unbelievable.  
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Clotaldo approaches Segismundo and asks to kiss his hand. Segismundo is even more confused. He asks why the man who usually treats him so badly in prison is suddenly treating him with such respect. Clotaldo explains that while Segismundo may doubt it, he is actually the crown prince of Poland. He has lived shackled in the prison because it is his fate to be a wicked tyrant, but his father, King Basilio, believes that Segismundo’s good sense can overcome his evil nature. Segismundo is furious, and he immediately turns on Clotaldo.
Segismundo’s comment that Clotaldo treats him badly in prison complicates Clotaldo’s character as a man of integrity. He is depicted as a man with morals—he is, after all, the one to teach Segismundo that good deeds are never wasted—yet he doesn’t always follow this himself. Segismundo’s immediate response of anger and violence again suggests that perhaps he is an animal as the prophecy claims—or, alternatively, that he is simply responding with reasonable anger to having been treated unfairly.  
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Segismundo threatens to kill Clotaldo with his bare hands for lying to him, and a servant steps in to defend Clotaldo. The servant tries to convince Segismundo that Clotaldo was only obeying the king, but Segismundo insists that the king does not have to be obeyed if his orders violate the law. Segismundo threatens to throw the servant out the window, and Clotaldo, before slipping out of the room, tells Segismundo that he is behaving so badly and has no idea that he is only dreaming.
Here, Clotaldo plants the first seed in Segismundo’s mind that he is only dreaming. It is clear to Clotaldo that the prophecy is correct and Segismundo will have to go back to jail, and he prepares for this by telling Segismundo that he is dreaming. Segismundo, however, points out the obvious: imprisoning him against his will, for any reason, is not ethical.
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Astolfo enters, and Segismundo greets him, but Astolfo feels that Segismundo has not given him enough respect. He tells Segismundo that he is his cousin and insists they are equals, which only irritates Segismundo further. He doesn’t see how he has possibly disrespected Astolfo, but he is distracted as Estrella enters the room. She greets Segismundo warmly, and Clarín introduces her as Segismundo’s cousin. Segismundo asks if he may kiss Estrella’s hand, which upsets Astolfo. The servant again interjects, explaining to Segismundo that his behavior is too forward. Segismundo grabs the servant angrily and drags him to the balcony, throwing the man over the edge.
Astolfo’s pompous behavior further reflects his despicable character. He is arrogant, and this make Segismundo even angrier. Astolfo is jealous and threatened when Segismundo asks to kiss Estrella’s hand. Astolfo has already spoken for Estrella, which is why the servant insists that Segismundo is being too forward. Clearly, Segismundo’s violent treatment of the servant for such a benign offense again suggests that Segismundo’s true nature really is evil and tyrannical and can’t be resisted.  
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Estrella yells out for help, and Astolfo tries to convince Segismundo to calm down, but Segismundo threatens to take his head off. As Astolfo exits, King Basilio enters, demanding to know what is going on. Segismundo explains that the servant irritated him, so he threw him from the balcony. Basilio tells Segismundo that he is sorry to see him behaving so badly. He had hoped to reconnect with Segismundo, but now he is only afraid of him. Segismundo claims he doesn’t need Basilio, as no decent father would treat his son the way Basilio has treated him, “like a wild animal.” 
Segismundo later claims that it is Basilio’s poor treatment of him—not destiny or fate—that makes him behave like a violent animal. Basilio treats Segismundo “like a wild animal,” thus Segismundo has been conditioned to act this way himself. This, too, suggests that one’s life is governed by decisions and actions and is not ruled by predetermined fate, and it also reveals the difficulty of distinguishing between the two; Segismundo’s violence could reasonably be interpreted as the result of fate (the prophecy) or free will (Basilio’s cruelty).
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Basilio tells Segismundo that he wishes he had never been born, and Segismundo curses Basilio for depriving him of his liberty. Basilio tells Segismundo that even though he thinks he is awake, he is actually dreaming, but Segismundo refuses to believe him. As Basilio and Segismundo bicker, Astolfo and Estrella exit, and Rosaura enters, dressed as a lady-in-waiting.   
Again, Basilio is trying to confuse Segismundo and plant the seed that he is dreaming, so that Segismundo can be convinced that his trip to the palace never really happened. That way, upon waking Segismundo won’t know that he is actually a prince in reality, and he will continue to believe that he is just a random prisoner. 
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Rosaura is afraid that she will run into Astolfo. Clotaldo has advised her to stay away from Astolfo and claims that he will worry about avenging her honor. Segismundo is immediately taken by Rosaura’s beauty. He does not recognize her as the same stranger who wandered into his prison cell and asks her name. Rosaura says only that she is one of Estrella’s ladies-in-waiting, and Clotaldo comes back into the room.
Again, this exchange suggests that Clotaldo doesn’t initially have a problem killing Astolfo to avenge Rosaura’s honor. It is only after Clotaldo becomes indebted to Astolfo when he saves his life that Clotaldo refuses to avenge Rosaura’s honor. The fact that Segismundo doesn’t recognize Rosaura again underscores the conflict between illusion and reality. In reality, Segismundo has already met Rosaura, but his perception is something entirely different.
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Segismundo tells Rosaura that he threw the servant from the balcony, and she says she understands why it was predicted that Segismundo will be a tyrant and a “wild beast.” Segismundo says that he will show her how much of a monster he really is and orders Clarín to leave the room. Rosaura is frightened and is convinced she is about to die, but Clotaldo comes to her rescue. He again tells Segismundo that he is in a dream, but Segismundo says it doesn’t matter. He can kill Clotaldo in a dream just as easily as he can in real life.
Segismundo presumably tells Clarín to leave the room so he can kill Rosaura, which again implies that Segismundo really is a “wild beast” like the prophecy says. At this point, it seems Segismundo can’t resist his evil nature after all, and he threatens to kill everyone. Clotaldo again is seen as the savior, but his morality falls short when he continues to lie to Segismundo and claim he is in a dream. 
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Segismundo attempts to draw his dagger, but Clotaldo holds his hand. Segismundo orders him to let go, but Clotaldo refuses until Segismundo agrees to behave. The two men struggle, and Segismudo threatens to kill him. Rosaura yells for help and runs from the room, and Astolfo rushes in, coming to Clotaldo’s aid. As Astolfo and Segismundo draw their swords, Basilio enters the room with Estrella. Segismundo threatens to kill Astolfo, too, and he tells Basilio that he will get revenge for his imprisonment. Basilio assures Segismundo that before he gets his revenge, he will wake up and discover that this has all been just a dream.
Clearly, Segismundo isn’t able to resist his evil nature, and he threatens to kill everyone for the slightest affront. Of course, it’s also true that he’s been horrifically mistreated for his entire life, which complicates the question of whether fate is truly responsible for his behavior. Here, Astolfo saves Clotaldo’s life, which derails Clotaldo’s plan to help Rosaura kill Astolfo and avenge her lost honor. He later claims he cannot take the life of a man who has saved his, and he is launched into yet another moral dilemma. Clotaldo is in an impossible situation—to honor Astolfo and repay his good deed, Clotaldo must betray his daughter, and vice versa. 
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Basilio and Clotaldo exit, but Estrella and Astolfo stay behind. Astolfo claims that he isn’t surprised that Segismundo has behaved so deplorably, but he promises to treat Estrella like the lady she is. Estrella tells Astolfo that his compliments must be meant for the woman in the portrait in the pendant around his neck, and Rosaura slips into the room unnoticed. Astolfo promises to remove the portrait and replace it with Estrella’s, but as he exits, he thinks about Rosaura and asks for her forgiveness.
Clearly, Astolfo is in love with Rosaura. He keeps her portrait and apologizes to her even when she isn’t listening, but he is still willing to betray her to marry Estrella and become king, which further speaks to his despicable character. Still, he has just saved Clotaldo’s life with complete disregard for his own, which somewhat redeems his otherwise unethical behavior. 
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Estrella notices Rosaura. “Astraea!” she cries, calling Rosaura by the name Clotaldo has given her disguise. Estrella tells Rosaura that in the short time she has known her, she has grown to trust her, and she tells her all about her troubles with Astolfo. He says he wants to marry her, but he wears the portrait of another in a pendant around his neck. He has gone to get the pendant, Estrella says, to give to her, but she is embarrassed and prefers that he give it to Rosaura instead.
Estrella’s belief that Rosaura is really a lady-in-waiting named Astraea again suggests that reality is an illusion based only on perception. Estrella believes she can trust Rosaura, but their entire relationship is based on deception. Rosaura isn’t who she says she is, and, ironically, she is the root of Estrella’s problems with Astolfo. 
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Estrella exits, and Rosaura is distraught. No one has ever been forced to endure such misfortune, she cries. She doesn’t know what she should do. Clotaldo has advised her against revealing her true identity, and she doesn’t want to disappoint him, but she can’t hide herself from Astolfo forever. As Rosaura prays to God, Astolfo returns with the portrait and is shocked to find her there. Rosaura asks why he is so surprised. “I am Astraea,” she says. Astolfo says he knows that she is supposed to be Astraea, but he loves her as Rosaura.
Rosaura constantly laments her misfortune, which again implies that she has no control over her fate and is just along for the ride. In this way, Rosaura’s life is predestined to be full of heartache, and there is nothing she can do about it. Meanwhile, her attempt to convince Astolfo that she is Astraea even though he knows the truth again underscores the play’s constant confusion of illusion and reality. 
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Rosaura tells Astolfo that she doesn’t know what he is talking about. She only knows that Estrella has ordered her to wait for him and retrieve a portrait. Astolfo tells Rosaura that if she insists on keeping up her game, he will play along. He says that since he esteems Estrella so, he is sending her the portrait’s original. All Rosaura has to do, Astolfo says, is bring Estrella herself. Rosaura demands the portrait and says she will not return without it, but Astolfo refuses. Astolfo and Rosaura begin to fight over the portrait, and Estrella enters. “Astraea, Astolfo,” she asks, “what’s going on?” 
Rosaura, of course, is lying. She knows perfectly well what Astolfo is talking about, but she continues her ruse, further blurring the line between reality and illusion. In telling Rosaura that he is sending Estrella the portrait’s original by sending Rosaura, he effectively admits that the portrait is of Rosaura. The fact that Astolfo won’t give up the portrait suggests that he is still in love with Rosaura, even though he plans to marry Estrella.    
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Rosaura quickly comes up with a lie. She tells Estrella that when she ordered her to get the portrait from Astolfo, it reminded her that she had brought her own portrait. She had stopped to look at it as she waited and dropped it. Astolfo picked it up and now refuses to give it back. Instead of giving her the portrait in his possession, he has taken hers and now has two.
In telling this lie, Rosaura further blurs the line between reality and illusion. In reality, Astolfo has Rosaura’s portrait because he is in love with her, but Estrella’s perception is that the portrait really belongs to Rosaura and Astolfo has just picked it up off the ground.
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Estrella orders Astolfo to give her the portrait and snatches it from his hand. She looks at it and agrees it indeed fits Rosaura’s likeness. She then demands that Astolfo give her the portrait she asked for. She doesn’t intend to ever speak to him again, Estrella says, but she refuses to let him keep the portrait. Astolfo wonders how he will ever get out of such a terrible situation. He tells Estrella that he can’t give her the portrait, and Estrella says he can’t give it to her because he is a no-good man. “Damn you, Rosaura!” Astolfo yells, as Segismundo, sleeping and dressed in animal skins with his legs shackled, is carried out of the palace by soldiers.
Segismundo is obviously being sent back to prison. He has behaved like an animal just as the prophecy predicted, and he is dressed in animal skins to reflect his wild and evil nature. But this poor treatment—being shackled and treated like an animal—is precisely why, Segismundo later says, he behaves violently. This implies it is Basilio’s actions, not fate, that influence Segismundo’s nature and make him a tyrant. 
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Clotaldo, Clarín, and two servants enter, and Clotaldo orders Clarín seized and locked up. Clarín asks why, and Clotaldo claims it is because Clarín knows his secrets. “You’re a ‘Clarion,’” Clotaldo says. Basilio enters, upset that Segismundo must be sent back to prison. Segismundo begins to dream and talk in his sleep, and Clotaldo and Basilio move in closer to listen. As Segismundo sleeps, he calls for Clotaldo’s death and for Basilio to bow at his feet.  
A “clarion” is a trumpet, and in comparing Clarín to a clarion, Clotaldo implies that Clarín can’t keep Clotaldo’s secret that he is Rosaura’s father. Clotaldo’s imprisonment of Clarín also complicates Clotaldo’s image as a man of integrity. Imprisoning Clarín certainly isn’t ethical or moral, but Clotaldo does it easily enough, demonstrating that no one succeeds in upholding moral ideals all of the time.
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Back at the prison, the potion begins to lose its strength, and Segismundo wakes. “God help me,” Segismundo yells, “all the things I dreamt!” Clotaldo scolds Segismundo for sleeping all day. He claims that Segismundo fell asleep during his lesson on eagles, and has been sleeping ever since. Clotaldo asks Segismundo what he has dreamt, and Segismundo says that he was the prince of Poland. He admits that he tried to kill Clotaldo twice, sought revenge on his father for imprisoning him, and met beautiful women. Clotaldo exits, but before he does, he tells Segismundo that he should have honored the king. “[B]ecause even in dreams,” Clotaldo says, “good deeds are never wasted.”
Basilio’s plan to convince Segismundo that he was only dreaming has been successful, as is evident in Segismundo’s comment about the unbelievable things he dreamt. Clotaldo’s comment that “good deeds are never wasted,” not even in dreams, underscores Calderón’s primary argument. Calderón contends that one can never be completely certain they aren’t dreaming. Thus, it is best to always act in a moral way, since one can’t be sure what is reality and what isn’t. Reality is only a perception, but kindness and good deeds are real. 
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Segismundo knows that Clotaldo is right, as “living is merely dreaming.” Segismundo questions what life is and decides it is only an “illusion.” Life is nothing but a dream, Segismundo concludes, “and even dreams are dreams.”
Again, Calderón implies that all of life is an illusion. In this way, nothing is real, except, Calderón implies, the way one behaves and how they treat other people. Kindness and morality are real, but everything else is an illusion.
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