Life is a Dream


Pedro Calderón de la Barca

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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.
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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:

Heaven help me! What’s this I hear?
I still can’t decide whether what’s happening is
an illusion or reality.
This sword is the one that I
left with beautiful Violante
as a token that the man who bore it
girded to his waist would find me
as a loving son
finds an affectionate father.
So, what am I to do (woe is me!)
in a dilemma like this,
if the man who wears it for his benefit
is actually wearing it for his death,
seeing that he has surrendered to me
under sentence of death! What a singular
dilemma! What a sad fate!
What a changeable fortune!

Related Characters: Clotaldo (speaker), Rosaura/Astraea, Violante
Related Symbols: Rosaura’s Sword
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Besides that, if I now pay heed
to the fact that he said he had come
to take revenge for an affront, a man
who has been affronted is base.
He isn’t my son, he isn’t my son
and doesn’t bear my noble blood!
But if it was some
critical situation of the sort that no one
can avoid, because honor
is of such brittle stuff
that it is broken with a gesture
or besmirched by a puff of air,
what more can he do, what more,
on his part, as a nobleman,
than to come in quest of his honor
at the cost of so many risks?
He is my son, he bears my blood,
since he possesses such great merit!

Related Characters: Clotaldo (speaker), Rosaura/Astraea
Page Number: 12-3
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, 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:
No matches.