Life is a Dream

by

Pedro Calderón de la Barca

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Segismundo Character Analysis

Segismundo is King Basilio’s son and the protagonist of Life is a Dream. After a prophecy claims that Segismundo will be an evil tyrant, Basilio locks him up in a secret prison, and his only human contact is his jailer, Clotaldo. One day, Segismundo wakes up at the palace in Warsaw, and Clotaldo informs him that he is really the crown prince of Poland. Segismundo is enraged. He throws a servant from a balcony and is further irritated by Astolfo, his cousin and potential heir to the throne. Segismundo threatens to kill Clotaldo and challenges Astolfo to a duel, and when Basilio enters, Segismundo curses his father for robbing him of his divine right and freedom. Basilio tries to convince Segismundo that he is dreaming, and when he later wakes up back in his prison cell, Segismundo is indeed convinced it was a dream. He tells Clotaldo all about it and the terrible way he behaved, and Clotaldo tells him that “good deeds are never wasted,” not even in dreams. A mob of rebelling commoners soon breaks Segismundo out of prison cell and hails him as their prince. Segismundo doesn’t know if he is dreaming, but he vows to affirm the prophecy and take up arms against his father. Clotaldo surrenders at his feet, but, softened by Clotaldo’s words about good deeds, Segismundo spares his life. At the palace, Clotaldo’s daughter, Rosaura begs Segismundo to kill Astolfo and avenge her lost honor, but Segismundo refuses. After the uprising defeats the king’s soldiers and Basilio surrenders, Segismundo forgives his father and shows him mercy. Convinced by Segismundo’s kindness that the prophecy is wrong, Basilio makes Segismundo the new king, and Segismundo immediately orders Astolfo to marry Rosaura and restore her honor. Segismundo takes the beautiful Estrella as his wife, and he is so happy, he feels as if he is dreaming. The character of Segismundo illustrates the conflict between dreams and reality, and his character also suggests that fate is not predestined but decided by one’s free will. Through Segismundo, Calderón argues that life itself is an illusion while simultaneously underscoring the importance of morality.

Segismundo Quotes in Life is a Dream

The Life is a Dream quotes below are all either spoken by Segismundo or refer to Segismundo. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of Life is a Dream published in 2012.
Act One Quotes

Segismundo, if you know
that your misfortunes are so great
that you died before you were born
because of a heavenly law; if you know
that these shackles are a bridle to your arrogant
fury to keep it in check,
and reins to call it to a halt,
why do you brag? Guards, lock
the door to this cramped prison;
hide him within it.

Related Characters: Clotaldo (speaker), Segismundo, Rosaura/Astraea, Clarín
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

By Clorilene my wife
I had an unlucky son,
during whose gestation the heavens
exhausted their miracles
even before he emerged into the lovely light
from the living grave
of the womb (because birth
and death are similar).
Infinite times his mother,
amid the visions and delirium
of dreams, saw her entrails
being burst by a bold
monster in human shape;
dyed in her blood,
he was killing her, born
to be the human viper of the age.

Related Characters: Basilio (speaker), Segismundo, Astolfo, Estrella
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

The day of her delivery arrived
and, the forecasts coming true
(because evil forecasts never lie,
or, if so, only belatedly),
he was born at such an astrological conjunction
that the sun, tinged with its blood,
was fiercely entering
into a joust with the moon,
and, with the earth for their barrier,
the two celestial lamps
were struggling light to light,
since one cannot say “hand to hand.”
The greatest, most terrifying
eclipse ever suffered by
the sun from the time when it bloodily
bewailed the death of Christ,
was this one: because the globe,
drowned in living flames,
seemed to be suffering
its final paroxysm.

Related Characters: Basilio (speaker), Segismundo, Astolfo, Estrella
Page Number: 18-9
Explanation and Analysis:

I, referring to my books,
found in them, and in all things,
that Segismundo would be
the most insolent man,
the most cruel prince,
and the most impious monarch,
through whom his kingdom would come
to be fragmented and divided,
a school for treason
and an academy of vice;
and that he, carried away by his fury,
amid fearful crimes,
would one day set his foot
on me, and that I, surrendering
would find myself groveling before him
(with what anguish I say this!),
the gray hairs of my beard
serving as a carpet to his feet.

Related Characters: Basilio (speaker), Segismundo, Rosaura/Astraea, Astolfo, Estrella
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Well, I, lending credence
to soothsaying fate,
which forecast harm to me
in dire predictions,
decided to lock up
the wild beast that had been born,
to see whether a wise man
can prevail over the stars.

Related Characters: Basilio (speaker), Segismundo, Clotaldo, Astolfo, Estrella
Page Number: 19-20
Explanation and Analysis:

The third and final factor
is the realization that it was a tremendous mistake
to lend easy credence
to the predictions of events;
because, even if his nature
is inclined toward outrages,
perhaps it won’t overcome him,
since even the most dire fate,
the most violent inclination,
the most evil planet,
merely dispose our free will in a certain direction,
but never compel it in that direction.

Related Characters: Basilio (speaker), Segismundo, Astolfo, Estrella
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:
Act Two Quotes

I wish to determine whether heaven
(which cannot lie,
especially after giving us
such great displays of its severity
with regard to his cruel nature)
can be assuaged, or at least
mollified, and whether, overcome
by merit and wisdom,
it can go back on its word;
because man has dominion over the stars.

Related Characters: Basilio (speaker), Segismundo, Clotaldo
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Sire, you ought to know
that you are crown prince
of Poland. If you have lived
in hiding and retirement,
it was in obedience
to the severity of fate,
which promises a thousand disasters
to this realm at such time
as the laurel of sovereignty
wreathes your noble brow here.
But, in the firm belief that your good sense
will make you cancel the planets’ decree—
because a highminded man
can resist them—
you have been brought to the palace
from the tower in which you were dwelling
while your spirits
were overcome by sleep.

Related Characters: Clotaldo (speaker), Segismundo
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

I’m not dreaming, because I feel and believe
that which I was and that which I am.
And, even though you regret it now,
there’s not much you can do about it:
I know who I am, and even if you sigh
and grieve, you won’t be able
to undo the fact that I was born
heir to this crown;
and if you saw me formerly
a prisoner of my shackles,
it was because I didn’t know who I was;
but now I have been informed
as to who I am, and I know that I’m
a hybrid of man and beast.

Related Characters: Segismundo (speaker), Basilio
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Since we had been speaking
about that eagle, when you slept
you dreamt of empire,
but even in dreams it would have been proper
at that time to honor the man
who raised you with such great pains,
Segismundo, because even in dreams
good deeds are never wasted.

Related Characters: Clotaldo (speaker), Segismundo, Basilio, Astolfo
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

It’s true, then: let me restrain
my fierce nature,
my fury, my ambition,
in case I ever dream again.
And I will, since we exist
in such a peculiar world
that living is merely dreaming;
and the experience teaches me
that the man who lives dreams
his reality until he awakes.

Related Characters: Segismundo (speaker), Clotaldo
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
a shadow, a fiction,
and our greatest good is but small;
for, all of life is a dream,
and even dreams are dreams.

Related Characters: Segismundo (speaker), Clotaldo
Page Number: 57-8
Explanation and Analysis:
Act Three Quotes

I know you by now, I know you by now,
and I know that you do the same thing
to everyone who falls asleep.
For me there is no more pretense,
because, now undeceived,
I know perfectly well that LIFE IS A DREAM.

Related Characters: Segismundo (speaker), Rosaura/Astraea, Clarín
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

Rise,
rise, father, from the ground;
for you must be the North Star and guide
to whom I entrust my success;
for 1 now know that I owe
my upbringing to your great loyalty.
Come and embrace me.

What are you saying?

That I’m dreaming, and that I wish
to do good, because good deeds
aren’t wasted, even in dreams

Related Characters: Segismundo (speaker), Clotaldo (speaker)
Page Number: 64-5
Explanation and Analysis:

Fortune, let me go and reign!
Don’t awaken me if I’m asleep,
and, if this is reality, don’t put me to sleep.
But, whether it’s reality or a dream,
to do good is what matters;
if it should be reality, just because it is good;
if not, for the sake of winning friends
for the time when we awaken.

Related Characters: Segismundo (speaker), Clotaldo
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

I was born, so resembling her
that 1 was a portrait, a copy of her,
not in beauty
but in luck and deeds;
and so, I won’t need
to say that, an unfortunate
heiress to her lot,
I had the same as hers.
The most I can tell you
about myself is about the lord and master who has stolen
the trophies of my honor,
the remains of my good name.

Related Characters: Rosaura/Astraea (speaker), Segismundo, Clotaldo, Astolfo, Violante
Page Number: 74-5
Explanation and Analysis:

Sire, even though fate knows
every pathway and finds
the man it seeks amid the thickness
of rocks, it isn’t a Christian
belief to say that there’s no protection against its fury.
There is, for the man with foresight
can gain victory over fate;
and, if you are not yet secure
against distress and misfortune,
create that security for yourself

Related Characters: Clotaldo (speaker), Segismundo, Basilio, Astolfo
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Why are you surprised? Why are you astonished,
when my teacher was a dream,
and in my anxiety I’m afraid
I may wake up again and find myself
once more in my locked
cell? And even if that doesn’t happen,
merely dreaming it might is enough:
for in that way I came to know
that all of human happiness
passes by in the end like a dream,
and I wish today to enjoy mine
for as long as it lasts,
asking pardon for
our faults, since it so befits
noble hearts to pardon them!

Related Characters: Segismundo (speaker)
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Life is a Dream LitChart as a printable PDF.
Life is a Dream PDF

Segismundo Character Timeline in Life is a Dream

The timeline below shows where the character Segismundo appears in Life is a Dream. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
As Rosaura and Clarín move closer to the building, they hear a man, Segismundo, crying inside. “Ah, woe is me!” Segismundo cries. Rosaura immediately feels sympathy for the stranger,... (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Dreams vs. Reality Theme Icon
Segismundo says his only crime is having been born. He laments his imprisonment, questioning what law... (full context)
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Segismundo is softened by Rosaura’s pleas and lets her go. He tells her that he has... (full context)
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...royal decree by entering the prison. He demands their weapons and orders them to surrender. Segismundo begs Clotaldo not to kill them, threatening to tear himself apart with his bare hands... (full context)
Dreams vs. Reality Theme Icon
Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
The guards close and lock the door to Segismundo’s cell, and he continues to cry from the other side, lamenting his imprisonment and lack... (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
...gave birth to a son, but the “monster in human shape” killed her. The boy’s, Segismundo’s, birth was accompanied by an “astrological conjunction” that claimed he would be an evil man... (full context)
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Under Segismundo’s rule, Basilio claims, Poland is destined to be torn and full of dissent. Their country... (full context)
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Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
...lengths to keep them safe from a tyrant. Secondly, the fact that Basilio has deprived Segismundo—his own son—of the rights given to him by law, both “human and divine,” is not... (full context)
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Basilio has decided to bring Segismundo to the palace tomorrow. Segismundo will be placed on Basilio’s throne and told to govern... (full context)
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Astolfo agrees to Basilio’s plan to bring Segismundo to the palace, and the people yell out for their prince. As Astolfo, Estrella, and... (full context)
Act Two
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Dreams vs. Reality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
Segismundo was surprised to learn that even the birds are obedient, and he swore that he... (full context)
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Segismundo, Basilio reminds Clotaldo, is destined for “a thousand misfortunes and tragedies,” and Basilio wants to... (full context)
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Dreams vs. Reality Theme Icon
Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
Basilio expects that Segismundo would be exceedingly upset to find out that he is a prince only to be... (full context)
Dreams vs. Reality Theme Icon
Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
Clotaldo approaches Segismundo and asks to kiss his hand. Segismundo is even more confused. He asks why the... (full context)
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Segismundo threatens to kill Clotaldo with his bare hands for lying to him, and a servant... (full context)
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Astolfo enters, and Segismundo greets him, but Astolfo feels that Segismundo has not given him enough respect. He tells... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Basilio tells Segismundo that he wishes he had never been born, and Segismundo curses Basilio for depriving him... (full context)
Dreams vs. Reality Theme Icon
Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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Dreams vs. Reality Theme Icon
Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
Segismundo tells Rosaura that he threw the servant from the balcony, and she says she understands... (full context)
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Segismundo attempts to draw his dagger, but Clotaldo holds his hand. Segismundo orders him to let... (full context)
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...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.... (full context)
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Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Dreams vs. Reality Theme Icon
Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
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Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
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... (full context)
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Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
Segismundo knows that Clotaldo is right, as “living is merely dreaming.” Segismundo questions what life is... (full context)
Act Three
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...over. The soldier offers to kiss Clarín’s feet, and all the men shout: “Long live Segismundo!” Clarín wonders if it is some sort of tradition in Poland to arrest someone each... (full context)
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Segismundo appears and asks who is calling his name, and the soldiers look at Segismundo and... (full context)
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As the soldiers shout and praise Segismundo, Clotaldo enters to investigate the noise. Seeing the soldiers and Segismundo, Clotaldo immediately throws himself... (full context)
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Clotaldo informs Segismundo that if doing good is the theme of the day, he cannot possibly join forces... (full context)
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As the alarm sounds and Segismundo and Clotaldo exit the tower, Basilio and Astolfo enter. Basilio laments that his kingdom is... (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
...to be soaked in blood. Clotaldo rushes in, bringing news of the soldiers who broke Segismundo out of the tower. “[Segismundo] aims to make heaven’s prediction come true,” Clotaldo warns. Basilio... (full context)
Morality, Honor, and Vengeance  Theme Icon
...if that means killing Astolfo, but things have changed since Astolfo saved his life. When Segismundo wanted to kill Clotaldo, it was Astolfo who stopped him. So how, Clotaldo asks, is... (full context)
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As Clotaldo and Rosaura exit, trumpets sound and Segismundo enters with Clarín and a group of soldiers. Moments later, Clarín points to Rosaura as... (full context)
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Rosaura tells Segismundo that she was born to a noblewoman in Muscovy. Her mother, Violante, had been very... (full context)
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...would take notice, and she does this now as promised. She has come to offer Segismundo her assistance, and together she hopes they can stop Astolfo and Estrella’s wedding. She already... (full context)
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Segismundo is confused and doesn’t know whether or not he is dreaming. If this is a... (full context)
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...enters with Clotaldo and Astolfo, retreating from the fighting. Basilio’s men have been defeated by Segismundo’s supporters, and he tells Clotaldo that it is time to run. Gunshots erupt, and Clarín... (full context)
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...as a “man with foresight / can gain victory of fate.” Another alarm sounds, and Segismundo enters. Clotaldo tells Basilio to run, but he refuses. Instead, he throws himself at Segismundo’s... (full context)
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Segismundo addresses the people with Basilio at his feet. He claims his father, the king, has... (full context)
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On account of Segismundo’s good will, Basilio immediately names him king of Poland. As his first act as king,... (full context)