Imputed Dreams: Dreaming and Knowing in Tudor England
Cet essai s’intéresse aux récits de rêves prophétiques d’une domestique catholique, pendue au milieu du XVIe siècle pour avoir prédit la mort d’Henry VIII – affaire qui impliqua des personnages aussi puissants que l’Évêque John Fisher. Afin d’explorer la question des dangers inhérents au rêve, il aborde ensuite, plus longuement, deux exemples de rêves, l’un écrit par Thomas Nashe et l’autre par William Shakespeare, qui reflètent, à travers des genres différents, prose et théâtre, les peurs auxquelles sont encore associés les rêves en 1595. L’article étudie l’idée terrifiante – qui parcourt le théâtre d’alors – selon laquelle l’âme ne serait pas solidement fixée à un corps, identifiable et spatialement circonscrit, et réfléchit au fait que, du point de vue du songe et de la vision, les limites du corps comme celles de la vie corporelle ne sont pas stables. De telles formes de peurs se rencontrent dans les Terrors of the Night de Nashe, en particulier la peur de l’erreur onirique, qui consisterait à errer de part et d’autre de limites généralement vécues comme rigides et définitives. À l’aube de la modernité, Nashe et Shakespeare nous aident à mieux voir les enjeux psychologiques et politiques – tout sauf anodins – de la validation ou du rejet des rêves.
Mots-clés :Rêve, songe, jugement, pensée, prophète, scepticisme, possession, Elizabeth Barton, Thomas Nashe, William Shakespeare, Platon, Ion
Keywords :dream, judgement, thinking, prophet, skepticism, possession, Elizabeth Barton, Thomas Nashe, William Shakespeare, Plato, Ion
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My judgment is, that they ought all to be despised; and ought to serve but for winter talk by the fireside. Though when I say despised, I mean it as for belief; for otherwise, the spreading, or publishing, of them, is in no sort to be despised. For they have done much mischief; and I see many severe laws made, to suppress them.
(Francis Bacon, “Of Prophecies,” Essays, 1625)
I am now awake, and I perceive somewhat that is real and true: but because I do not yet perceive it distinctly enough, I shall go to sleep of express purpose, so that my dreams may represent the perception with greatest truth and evidence.
(René Descartes, “Meditation II,” Meditations on First Philosophy, 1641)
Those who lose dreaming are lost.
(Aboriginal Australian proverb)
1This essay concerns some sixteenth-century dreams which may not have been dreamed, but are said to have been, with serious if in some cases imaginary consequences. Here, on the brink of the vast epistemological shifts of early modern rationalism, absolutism, and “mechanical philosophy,” we can get a look at what the English dream could mean and do, as object of discussion/ or interpretation of experience – whether any actual dream took place or not. Was the imputation of dreaming an insult? An accusation of dangerous knowledge? An evasion of “reality”? A thought-experiment? Did anybody know?
- 1 The Palais de la fortune or Le Palais des curieux, où l’algèbre et le sort donnent la décision des (...)
- 2 Major recent works in English on early modern prophecy in western Europe include Patrick Curry, Pro (...)
2Dream in early modern Europe was especially salient within the broader matrix of prognostication, an operation now mainly confined to experimental and statistical methods in the natural sciences. Prediction about one’s domestic, erotic or commercial business was a power accorded to dream consciousness transhistorically across the greater Mediterranean and Atlantic regions of Europe. With the production of chapbooks, broadsides and duodecimos in the sixteenth century, other methods spread wide and left their written traces as well, from palm- and mole-reading to astrology to number games like that expounded in Vulson de la Columbière’s Palais de la fortune.1 But during climactic periods of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, as well as the English Revolution and the Interregnum, prophecy became the most popular and most dangerous of all forms of prognostication, by far the most collective and thus consequential. And dreams worth narrating predicted futures.2
- 3 On dream as incompatible with thinking see chapter 3 of Averroes’ commentary on Aristotle’s treatis (...)
3Dreaming is a kind of thinking, despite the Iraqi Aristotelian Alhazen’s stern claim that one could not do both at once and live.3 It is at any rate a cognitive activity that overlaps with forms of intellection now considered exclusive of sleep or trance, in particular those related to narrative, mathematics, poetic productivity and problem-solving. Some of our thoughts are prophetic, whether waking or sleeping; most are not. It is of course a mark of ambition and a move towards power to circulate one’s prophetic thoughts, especially in an era more attentive to that power and more sensitive to words than our own. But prophecy is only one kind of dream-thinking, one less salient in a culture whose sense of time and fulfillment are now oriented (among the educated elite) to predictive natural sciences. What links all kinds of dream-thought, for our purposes, is their unusual depth, or should I say height: the quality they share of proximity to “truth,” of a clarity found perhaps more easily in mental activity conducted at a distance from social performance – though the distance is not as great as one might think. As thought conducted outside the realm of waking attention, one other thing importantly links them in the early modern – an emerging derision among the elite: my epigraph from Descartes is ironic, a sentence intended as self-evidently absurd.
- 4 I hate to exclude Nashe from the rank of the poets, as the author of the period’s single most beaut (...)
4This essay will begin by examining reports of prophetic dreaming by a Catholic servant eventually hanged for predicting the death of Henry VIII (or so the story goes) and, in the process, implicating such powerful men as Bishop John Fisher. It will then consider at greater length two contemporaneous literary dream-texts by the prose writer Thomas Nashe and the poet and playwright William Shakespeare.4 The extreme ambivalence of my opening epigraph from Bacon will serve as the tonic of the chapter’s scale, the Australian proverb as a sign of what’s to come. What I argue we can see in these representative writers’ struggle with the potential reality of dream experience, differently managed in the associative prose of the essay and the poetry of a palpably enacted play, is a troubled oscillation between the affects of the epigraphs. For that matter we can see it in Bacon’s words themselves: dreams are to be despised as objects of belief, but not as powerful catalysts of action: “for they have done much mischief.” And indeed they had.
- 5 I quote Nashe from McKerrow’s edition, Thomas Nashe, The Terrors of the Night Or, A Discourse of Ap (...)
5Despite the risks intimated above, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries produced several charismatic dreamers and visionaries: commoners who chose to involve themselves in public affairs. These include, in addition to Italy’s late fifteenth-century prophet Savonarola, England’s sixteenth-century dreamer and astrologer John Dee, and Spain’s street prophet Peidrola, such notorious women as Jeanne d’Arc in Orléans in the 1420s, Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent in the 1530s, and Lucrecia de León in Spain in the 1590s – which was also the decade of two of England’s greatest literary dream texts, Thomas Nashe’s The Terrors of the Night and Shakespeare’s early masterpiece, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.5
- 6 Howard Dobin’s offers some examples of prophecy’s dangers in Tudor England in Merlin’s Disciples: “ (...)
6Of course there were other famous dreamers too, including such literate visionaries as the Spanish saints Teresa d’Avila and John of the Cross, whose concerns did not touch upon the body politic, but the English Protestants Nashe and Shakespeare were secular writers and their literary works foreground secular dreaming: dreaming not understood as the guiding voice of God or the angels. And my point here is that dreaming of secular matters, in particular among those in or with access to powerful secular Tudor circles, was a phenomenon of consequence, a troubler of waters, in the century and the nation that Nashe and Shakespeare grew up in and inherited.6
- 7 See Artemidorus, The Interpretation of Dreams: Oneirocritica by Artemidorus, trans. and comm. Rober (...)
- 8 On dream types see Artemidorus, op. cit., 1.2-3, p. 14-16; Macrobius’ related but different Latin v (...)
- 9 It may however be worth noting here that Christianity did not penetrate many mountain villages of I (...)
- 10 See, e.g., Thomas W. Laqueur, “Crowds, Carnival and the State in English Executions, 1604–1868,” in (...)
7Dreams like those of the people I have mentioned, which required or attracted promulgation as matters of general and civic import, were known to the second-century Greek-speaking dream interpreter Artemidorus – whose book was all the rage in Latin and vernacular translations across Renaissance Europe – as “common” and “cosmic” dreams, though he restricted these types to people of power or influence.7 Elizabeth Barton, on the other hand, whose dreams were of this kind, began as an illiterate and possibly illegitimate servant in rural Kent.8 Antique Greek theorists were being re-read in a civilization that had passed through another millennium and more of dream experience, and the enormous transformations of medical, philosophical and theological contexts resulting from the slow spread of Christian hegemony.9 Even the “Neoplatonists” of the Renaissance were actually Neo-neoplatonists. Most relevant among the particularities of the English sixteenth century for a discussion of dreaming were the emergence of the professional theater, both in playhouses and in the civic life of the nation, and the threatening intensification of religious reformism – which in turn gave rise to a dramatic genre of soliloquy spoken from the stocks, the gallows and the pyre.10
- 11 See Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1983 (...)
- 12 Shakespeare’s great essay on this issue, under the rubric of erotic love, is “The Phoenix and the (...)
- 13 Descartes, 2nd Meditation, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G. R. T (...)
8To penetrate the labyrinth of early modern theatricality – its debates, productions, both dramatic and ritual, and the paradoxical relation to it of Christian reformers and dissenters, l will take hold of just one thread running through it: the fearful idea that souls are not securely fixed in individual, nameable and placeable bodies. Neither the border of the body nor the border of bodily life are stable from the point of view of early modern dream and vision. The confessors and divines of Continental Europe worried as well, especially in the case of women, but England was giving birth not just to “experimental” and “mechanical philosophy” but the concepts of private property, including (with help from French law) ownership of the self: it would soon enough produce John Locke.11 The possibility of the soul’s wandering in dream or trance or the body’s invasion by demon or angel in sleep, and the actor’s apparent possession on stage or in street performance by a soul not his own: these were particularly clear examples of this chaotic reality, so threatening to baptism, taxation, identity, property – not to mention fundamental concepts of ontology and epistemology.12 René Descartes’ vision from a window over the street of “hats and coats which may cover [automata]” was not just a heuristically absurd limit case of doubt, but a real fear that required a major labor of philosophical thinking to manage.13
9Here follows, in an Act of Attainder of 1553/54 against the prophetic dreamer Elizabeth Barton and her associates, a realization of that fear in the political realm. The situation is Henry’s controversial wish to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn:
First one Elizabeth [Barton] nowe being Nonne [...] hapned to be visited with sicknes and by occasion thereof brought in such debilitie and wekenes of her brayne, by cause she coulde not eate ne drynke for a longe space, that in the violence of her infirmitie she semed to be in traunses and spake and uttered many folysshe and idell words [...].
10One thing led to another, and over a period of a few years Elizabeth and her visionary dreams and trances got a reputation, and a world of trouble. Climactically:
- 14 Statutes of the Realm, printed by command of His Majesty King George the III, 25 Henry VIII, chap.1 (...)
there was also wrytyn and conteyned among the seid false and feyned revelacions, that when the Kynges Highnes was at Caleis in entreview between hys Majestie and the Frenche Kynge and herynge masse in the Churche of our Lady at Caleis, that God was so displeased with the Kynges Highnes that hys grace saw not that tyme at the masse the blessed Sacrament in forme of breade, for it was taken away from the Prest [...] by an angell, and mynystered to the seid Elizabeth then being there present and invysible, and soddenly conveyed and rapte thens ageyn by the power of God in to the seid Nonnerie where she is p[ro]fessed; with many other false feyned fables and tales devised conspired and defended by the seid Elizabeth Edwarde Bokyng and John Deryng wryten as miracles in the seid bokes for a memorial to sett fourth the false and feyned hypocrisie and cloked sanctitie of the seid Elizabeth to the people of this Realme.14
- 15 R. L. Kagan, op. cit., p. 86.
11Elizabeth and her friends (for as Richard Kagan reminds us, “prophecy is a social act, a collective enterprise, a public endeavor”) were hung, and all sympathetic records of her dreamwork destroyed.15 The future tense, it seems, is not for prophets but the law.
And [...] in every of the seid p[ro]clamations shall also be added and conteyned that ev[er]y such p[er]son and p[er]sones which hath in their custody any kepynge any bok[e] scrolles or writing[e] conteyning any the false feyned revelacions and dissimuled myracles of the seid Elizabeth shal within xl dayes nexte after such p[ro]clamations brynge or cause to be brought the seid bok[s] scrolles and wrytynge unto the Lord Chauncellour of Englonde Lord Tresourer Lord President of the Kynges most honorable counsell and Lord privay seale, [...] upon payne of imprisonement and fine makynge to the Kynge our Soveraigne Lord; and if any p[er]son [...] knowingly and wyllyngely do reteyne and kepe any such bokes escrolles or writing [...]
- 16 Things have changed by the time a later Lord Chancellor of England, Francis Bacon, can write of dre (...)
- 17 See D. Watt, op. cit., p. 57-58; cf. William Lambarde, A Perambulation of Kent: conteining the decr (...)
12They can expect the same rough treatment.16 As a result, no such “bokes escrolles or wrytnge” have come down to us, but for a single sheet thought to be a Latin draft of Elizabeth’s confessor and co-defendant Richard Bocking’s introduction to a book of her revelations. We know what we know through the Act of Attainder, and William Lambarde’s much later refutation of her “revelacions” in his 1576 tract A Perambulation through Kent.17
- 18 Thomas was not, however, cured of dreaming: his prophetic dream of a theft from the bursar of Oxfor (...)
- 19 Louis Montrose, “Shaping Fantasies: Figurations of Gender and Power in Renaissance Culture,” Repres (...)
- 20 Quoted in C. Levin, op. cit., p. 153. I could not however find Levin’s citation from Gormon’s lette (...)
13As Carole Levin’s Dreaming the English Renaissance demonstrates, consequential dreaming and dreaming among people of consequence was rife in England in the later sixteenth century. In that hard-dreaming family the Wottons, for instance, Henry Wotton’s great-uncle Nicholas dreamed in 1553 that his young nephew Thomas, Henry’s father, “was inclined to be a party” to Wyatt’s plot against Mary Tudor, and immediately arranged to get Thomas temporarily imprisoned to prevent his involvement, for which not only Nicholas later but Henry in his family history were properly grateful.18 A couple of years after the premiere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the well-connected physician-astrologer Simon Forman had a wonderfully flirtatious dream of the elderly Queen, in which his flirtation was sparked by the attentions to the Queen of a red-haired weaver Louis Montrose describes “as if Nick Bottom had wandered out of Shakespeare’s Dream and into Forman’s.”19 Shakespeare’s landlady was one of Forman’s patients and Forman on record as a fan of Shakespeare’s, so this link is not farfetched, but Levin thinks the red-haired Bottom figure is the doomed, insubordinate Essex, once Elizabeth’s favorite. Like Elizabeth, Essex appeared in many contemporary dreams, most notably Joan Notte’s, who dreamed twice that Essex planned to assassinate the Queen, and made her husband relate the dreams to a justice of the peace, who sent them to Robert Cecil – reporting later that “part [of them] is to be tried out and the offenders punished.”20 Essex was executed for treason a couple of months later.
14I offer these instances of the way contemporary English politics were woven into the dream lives of non-ideological persons close to power as snapshots of the immediate dreamscape upon which Nashe’s and Shakespeare’s “false feyned fables and tales” of 1595 staged their interventions. But behind that dreamscape, or above it, not to be forgotten, is the largely Catholic scene of visionary intervention, with its organized groups of rebels, reformers and revolutionaries, dependent on dream for sanction and doomed by those dreams to death at the hands of the state. Despite the black comedy of Nashe’s manic satire, and the apparently sunny comedy of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, the story of dreaming in the early centuries of modernity was one that could end in death. I look to Nashe and Shakespeare for imaginatively intelligent commentary on the condition, not of Henry VIII, Mary Tudor or the Earl of Essex, but of dreams themselves: a form of unwilled fiction that could lead souls to salvation and nations to perdition, now usually put away as a “childish thing”: a privileged form of knowledge that would be abandoned in less than a century as ignorance. Dreams would come to be understood as trivial somatic illusions rather than as a form of vision in the grand sense, or possession by a god or spirit with a message. But these texts adumbrate the final wave of consequential English dreaming, in the revolutionary period neither Shakespeare nor Nashe consciously anticipated or lived to see.
Demetrius: It seems to me
That yet we sleep, we dream […] (Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, .4.1.192-193)
- 21 See Carla Gerona, Night Journeys: The Power of Dreams in Transatlantic Quaker Culture, Charlottesvi (...)
15Historians of early modern England and its colonies have recently shown us the value of dream records and dream texts of various public kinds for recovering information about the period’s affective topography and social forms.21 But historians tend to read denotatively: the desire they bring to texts is that they be evidence, and their practice demands a working belief in the potential transparency or denotative power of language. My recent work in service of their literary history, or a history of dream in literary as well as colonial contexts, has aimed to consider dreams and their theory in their ontological and epistemological challenge to readers and listeners: I look at dreams as a genre, one that interferes with the history of knowing. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the emergent stage, a public, commercial and secular matrix of influential fictions, is an ideal location for staging contemporary transformations of epistemological authority and the drama of dream’s challenge to what we now call, in a stripped, pragmatic usage, “vision” (as in “vision insurance”). Unlike any other art form, a stage play takes place in real, shared time but an unreal place. With our “corporeal eye” we see actors see things invisible to us; they fail to see the things we see, and vice versa; and we see things we know are impossible and, where possible, unreal. The modality through which the theatrical art is conveyed is challenged, in an ironic but productive turn, by a theatrically enforced inability to believe our own eyes. Ghosts, “shades” and dreams are, by the nature of the experience of seeing them, or watching others see them, undecidable. And, in the understanding of the time, unmoored.
16In 1595, within months of the publication Thomas Nashe’s complex rhetorical performance in his satirical jeremiad against belief in dreams, The Terrors of the Night, Shakespeare produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Though many prophetic dreams would still be dreamed, and many dreams that uncovered clues for police investigations and scientists, the playwright here inserted into the conversation a vivid representation of the skepticism that dream knowledge could both provide and be doubted away with. Both Nashe’s The Terrors of the Night and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream bespeak a world to which knowing was inadequate, human knowledge at a threshold: Europeans were losing a form of knowledge in the act of losing a form of ignorance. Terrors enacts a sense of the inescapability, however furiously and hilariously resisted by its speaker, of dream as the envelope of human consciousness; A Midsummer Night’s Dream asks us to imagine what it might feel like to know that. Why were the inescapability of dream, and the feeling of knowing it, foregrounded here and now? The long-term answer might be: a culture-wide presentiment of loss, of the sort anticipated in the Australian proverb that serves as an epigraph to this essay (“Those who lose dreaming are lost”). The short-term answer may be an equally deep and unsettling sense of the elusiveness of the real. Skepticism is not only an intellectual attitude: it is an opening to a potentially frightening state of experience.
- 22 Michel de Montaigne, “ On Experience,” in Essays, trans. J. M. Cohen, Hammondsworth, Penguin Books, (...)
- 23 T. Nashe, The Terrors of the Night (op. cit.), here p. 355, 380-381, 377.
- 24 Ibid., p. 382.
- 25 Ibid., p. 360.
17The Terrors of the Night is a marvel of passionate ambivalence in a new and unruly genre of its period, the essay: the trying-out or feeling-about. Although influenced by Montaigne in its choice of theme – ordinary experience, of a kind not subject (yet) to polemic – it is far from him in style and mood. Montaigne on dreams, however closely his essays hew to what we recognize as the concatenative structure of remembered dream, is bland, perhaps provocatively so: “I dream but seldom, and then of chimaeras and fantastic things, commonly produced from pleasant thoughts, and rather ridiculous than sad; and I believe it to be true that dreams are faithful interpreters of our inclinations; but there is art required to sort and understand them.”22 He writes an essay “On Sleep” without mentioning dreams once. Nashe (whose diet was perhaps less regulated) is in a mood for diatribe: “a dreame is nothing els but a bubling scum or froath of the fancie, which the day hath left vndigested.” And yet avails himself, with relish, of the associative concatenation of dream (proper to the great essayists, missing in Bacon), and concludes his zany’s railing with an account of five linked waking dreams, which he refers to in theatrical terms as “pageants” and “acts,” seen by “a Gentleman of good worship and credit” two days before his death: “at the reporting of [which] he was in perfect memorie; nor had sickness yet so tirannizd ouer him to make his tongue grow idle.”23 Indeed, it is this Gentleman’s sequence of dreams that has inspired Nashe’s essay: “Vpon the accidentall occasion of this dreame or apparition [...] was this Pamphlet [...] speedily botched vp and compiled. “24 Nashe’s own tongue “grows idle” several times in his long and anxious amble of an essay, in which he brings himself back to whatever he designates as his latest focus with such self-excusing declarations as “all this whole Tractate is but a dreame.”25 It is perhaps the most dreamlike, or the most nightmarish, feature of Nashe’s essay that we bump into his account of its origin only at the end, just as he is about to tear himself free from his topic.
- 26 Ibid., p. 382.
- 27 Ibid., p. 381; for Bors’ temptations by devils disguised as women see, e.g., bk. 16, chap. 11 and 1 (...)
- 28 T. Nashe, op. cit., p. 385.
- 29 Ibid., p. 381.
18The Gentleman falls into a “trifling dotage,” within hours of the last “Act” and “rauing dyde within two daies.”26 And of what did this Gentleman dream, awake, at the end of his days as a conscious soul, in the five acts or pageants of his transition, not from this world but from our form of consciousness? The dream recalls the trials familiar from the testing of Perceval and Bors in the Grail romances: after an opening scene in which the unnamed gentleman sees his sickroom festooned with the nets and hooks of the devil, who is fishing for his soul, he is tested in a series of scenes, pageants, or “Acts” by the temptations of drink, wealth, sex – and demons disguised as nuns. The form taken by this last temptation may seem rather obscurely related to the temptations of the World, but it echoes Chretien’s and Thomas Malory’s romance episodes of the temptations of Sir Bors by imaginary maidens (the only one of the Grail knights who returns alive from his ecstatic glimpse of their object) and is interrupted at the moment of truth by the appearance of a messenger from an anachronistic “Knight of great honour thereabouts,” carrying a “quintessence” which seems either to have disabused our Gentleman of the illusion or caused his lapse into fatal dementia “within foure howers.”27 Or both. Nashe’s essay coils rapidly to its conclusion, continuing to ruminate on the mysterious credibility of this dream, which draws in its wake memories of other mysteries reported to the author, and offering advice based on its “pageants” (surely wasted on the dying dreamer). It finishes in a diatribe against corrupt Iudges and Magistrates, “that looke as iust as Iehovah by day” but whose guilty thoughts he hopes “will betray them by night to euery idel fear and illusion.”28 The essay reads as though it existed to convey precisely the dream-before-death avoided throughout its labyrinth of erudition and satire, whose eventual emergence wakes its reporter into a fit of final moral tidying, but lingers unexplained. For while those demure demonic nuns prayed on their knees by his bed, “there appeared a cleare light, and with that he might perceive a naked slender foote offring to steale betwixt the sheets in to him.”29
- 30 Ibid., p. 376. On the anxiety of early modern English dreams see Peter Burke, “L’histoire sociale d (...)
- 31 T. Nashe, op. cit., p. 382.
19It is an essay on night terrors tout court, and across the ages, but at least in England’s age of anxiety, dreams had unleashed power to terrify. “A solitarie man in his bed, is like a poore bed-red lazer lying by the high way side; unto whose displaied wounds and sores a number of stinginge flyes doo swarme for pastance and beuerage: his naked woundes are his inward hart-gripping woes, the waspes and flyes of his idle wandering thoughts [...].”30 What had been a sought-after source of knowledge, and as such a hedge against uncertainty, is provocatively described in Nashe’s essay as an epitome of waste (“yours as free as anie waste paper that euer you had in your liues”).31 The anxiety of this essay on anxiousness, the dreaminess of this diatribe against dreams, the associative logic and monstrous wordplay of the style of this anti-superstitious invocation, climaxing in a recitation of dreams uttered from the threshold of death, by a “Gentleman [...] of good credit,” suggest not only that dream has become more anxious than in the days when Artemidorus compiled his dictionary, but that both dream and anxiety are constitutive qualities or constraints of consciousness itself, rather than its incidental contents. In a diatribe against dreaming, Nashe performs an inability to escape the dream either as aesthetic, formal structure, or as material.
- 32 OED sv. “reality” : “I. 1. Real existence ; what is real rather than imagined or desired ; the aggr (...)
- 33 A Pleasant Conceited Historie, called The taming of a Shrew (London, 1594), in The Old Taming of a (...)
- 34 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, op. cit.
20Nashe’s essay stands out for its genre, but it is not alone in its concerns. The first years of the 1590s saw a fair amount of literary and theatrical exploitation of, not just dreams as objects of representation, but dream as a frame of reference – even as an alternate version of what we now call “reality” (a seventeenth-century word, but the OED offers one usage in the sense here employed as early as 1583, from, notably, a clause in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments).32 This use of dream to unsettle our ontological locatedness would carry on well into the seventeenth century, of course – in dramatic literature alone to such landmarks as Calderón de la Barca’s La Vida Es Sueño (written in 1635), Brome’s The Antipodes (c. 1636) or the Songes des hommes esveillez of Brosse (1644). As Shakespearians know, these successful works, beginning with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, were preceded in publication if not in performance by an anonymous 1594 alternative to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, The Taming of a Shrew, long if unpersuasively considered a “bad quarto” of Shakespeare’s play but radically different in its dream framing – and likely to have given him the idea of framing the action of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as, optionally, a dream. In The Taming of a Shrew, the drunkard Slie – transported in both plays from his stupor on the alehouse steps to Petruchio’s house to be cozened into thinking he’s a Lord – is returned at the end of the dramatic action (during which he is both visible and audible on stage) to the same spot. The play ends when Slie wakes up there, as Bottom does in Act 4 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, thinking he has had a very Big Dream – “ oh Lord sirra, I haue had/ The brauest dreame to night, that euer thou/ Hardest in all thy life” – and unaware that it was not a dream at all.33 Both “dreamers,” Slie and Bottom, have the immediate instinct to broadcast their dream, for Big Dreams were a form of specially vouchsafed knowledge: Slie calls his “dream” “the bravest that euer thou / Hardest” (emphasis mine) and Bottom, for whom the tongue of man cannot “conceive, nor his heart [...] report what my dream was [...] will get Peter Quince to write a ballet [ballad] of this dream” (4.1.209-11).34
- 35 See William West, Theaters and Encyclopedias in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge Studies in Renaissan (...)
- 36 OED sv. “theatre” : 7.
- 37 On incubation see, e.g., Patricia Cox Miller, Dreams in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Imagination (...)
- 38 For modern English translations see Artemidorus, op. cit., and Achmet, The Oneirocriticon of Achmet (...)
21The idea of the dream frame was not new in European letters, nor restricted to theatrical drama. Oneiric fictions, in prose and verse both, go back to classical antiquity, a period rich as we have seen with dream theory and manuals drawn from or pretending to be drawn from the lore of the “East,” Egypt, Turkey and Persia especially. Even Nashe’s essay refers to itself – with good reason – as a dream (360). But theatrical drama in the modern sense is new: the word “theater” itself was first attached to a permanent venue for performance (of trained animals as well as trained humans) when in 1576 James Burbage built something called “The Theatre” in the “liberty” of Shoreditch.35 In the word’s more common use it referred to, as the OED puts it, “A book giving a ‘view’ or ‘conspectus’ of some subject; a text-book, manual, treatise.”36 One thinks of the great atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of Abraham Ortelius (1570), or John Speede’s 1610 Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain. The word also signified a venue for the staging of an action, as in such surviving usages as “theater of war” or “operating theater.” One particularized venue from the dream culture revived by humanists in translations of the oneirocritica of Artemidorus and Achmet that did not undergo an explicit Renaissance revival was the incubatorium. This was an enclosed space served by priestesses and dedicated to the practice of invoking dreams of import especially to the family or community of the dreamer, who had often travelled some distance to the site for the purpose of encountering an hypnos in his or her sleep, who would speak an important truth.37 It is a temptation beyond resisting for a student of European histories of dream to see theatres built for the staging of imaginary actions, concerned – as are the dream synopses of Artemidorus and Achmet – with love, enmity, fortune and fatality, as the incubatoria of a more purportedly skeptical age.38
22But the difference is profound – and explored in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as adumbrated in the anonymous Taming of a Shrew the year before. It is the difference made by representation, for the most part: the intentional foregrounding of the narrative and verbal logic of dreams, even of the experience of dreaming itself, in meta-theatrical presentations that fictionalize what sixteenth-century dreamers did not experience or remember as fictive. (It is not experienced as fiction even by XXIst-century dreamers, but we live in a culture suffused with fictions, and on waking shunt dreams reflexively into that category as soon as we realize that the actions in them didn’t “happen.”) Another categorical difference inheres in the public, three- or indeed four-dimensional, embodied aspect of theatrical event – in its sensual continuity with lived experience. Although painting can stage the visible conundrums of invisibilia (and in the case of the stigmata of Francis, the dream of Jacob, or the saintly halo, often did), the status of a painting as “mere” representation is more evident than that of an actor kissing or striking another actor’s body. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare one-ups any painting of a dreamer, by giving us the option of believing we are seeing and hearing her dream as well. Which means we are sharing it. The theatrical dream frame offers an alternative reality that shares with the actual a fundamental quality of simultaneous collective apprehension.
- 39 On corroboration in the development of modern science see Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Object (...)
- 40 On Iroquois (and Huron) dream theory and interpretation the locus classicus remains Anthony Wallace (...)
23Hippolyta, the most under-comprehended character in a play where “comprehend” and “apprehend” form a major verb pair, makes an important point explicit when musing with Theseus, on their return from the haunted wood to enlightened Athens, over the odd phenomenon of the four lovers’ shared dream. That is, if it was a dream: “all their minds transfigured so together,/ More witnesseth than fancy’s images/ And grows to something of great constancy” (5.1.24-6, emphasis mine). The central epistemological problem of the dream, exacerbated by the seventeenth-century development of experimental protocols such as repetition and public demonstration, is that it is experienced as a narrative of events and utterances that only one person has seen or heard.39 It cannot be corroborated. That problem has long generated ingenious cultural formations to bolster the credibility and authority of certain kinds of dreams, including the formalized practice of incubation itself (or, among the Iroquois and Huron confederacies of Nouvelle France, the practice of obligatory communal satisfaction of what one ethnohistorian calls “wish-fulfillment dreams”).40 The dream is hardly corroborated in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But the play offers its audience – its spectators – a personal and also communal experience of dream’s epistemological challenge, and the captive war bride/Amazon queen Hippolyta, the least ideologically captivated of the characters, tries to make a point about this dream. It falls on deaf ears, as does everything she says or implies throughout. (Which proffers its own deliciously troubling irony: have we dreamed her?)
- 41 On gallants’ loud mockery during performances in London theaters see Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shak (...)
- 42 A. Gurr however quotes a 1594 letter from the Lord Chamberlain (patron of Shakespeare’s company) to (...)
24Our challenge, having seen the action take place before us in multi-sensual, four-dimensional actuality, is to decide the undecidable. If the thickening plot of the labyrinthine wood is not a dream, then it is what it seems to the “corporeal eye”: a plot executed, partly through magical means, by fairies. If we don’t believe in fairies, then it must be a theatrical illusion. But that is the degree zero of playgoing: to watch the illusion as illusion only (as if one were, for example, the prompter) is not to be a “spectator,” not in fact to play one’s part. In case we were not bearing that in mind, the play offers an extended example of not-being-a-playgoer despite the presence of players and a play, in the rude aristocrats’ mockery of the rude mechanicals’ darkly relevant Pyramus and Thisbe.41 Watching that excruciatingly watched performance requires identification either with Theseus, whose elegantly voiced but self-consuming scorn of “madmen, lovers and poets” temporarily infuses the whole courtly audience, all of them poetic fictions, or with the rude mechanicals, for whom figural significance is unimaginable. Meanwhile, the play manages self-consciously to call fairies and actors and dreams, all, “shadows.” And surely by 6 pm of a London evening, much of the year at Burbage’s “Theatre,” the shadows have lengthened palpably.42
- 43 See A. Gurr, op cit., p. 102-16 (“Audiences or Spectators”).
- 44 On Peele’s dream vision “The Honour of the Garter” (1593) in relation to other dream poems and vers (...)
25Of course any poet or dramatist enjoys the production of a mind game for its own sake, with its characteristic effect of compounding “meaning” into an incomprehensible and dazzling density: no polemic or “message” need be derived. But at a time when the guarantor of knowledge is beginning to shift from the esoteric figure of the magus or illuminatus toward the sober consensus of the community, and to shift from the authority of the word, to which one listens, to the “ocular evidence” one observes in the operating theater of Leyden; when playhouses are beginning to be called theaters too, and Shakespeare himself will stop calling those who fill them “auditors” and begin to call them “spectators,” we are licensed by context to pursue a little farther the mind game that so focused his attention in the first decade of his writing career.43 It was a decade that also saw the construction of the first purpose-built enclosed theaters, the publication of Nashe’s Terrors, the dream poems of Robert Greene, George Peele and Thomas Churchyard, and the erection of Burbage’s Blackfriars playhouses: in one of which Terrors’ dedicatee, the poet Elizabeth Carey, was married in 1595 – her non-fictional wedding a likely occasion for the premiere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.44
26The conventional knowingness of a playgoer, often threatened in Shakespeare’s plays, is based on both superior access to ocular evidence – we see more than any character can – and the soliloquies that allow us privileged entry into the invisible minds of imaginary people. But soliloquy is all but absent in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the characters always at least think they’re addressing somebody else; the most characteristic voicing is motet rather than aria. Only Bottom has a true soliloquy in which he speaks to himself, alone on the stage, awakened from the even more lone and isolated experience of, as he sees it, an ecstatic dream.
- 45 Indeed, Bottom himself says “Not a word of me” to Peter Quince’s “Let us hear, sweet Bottom” (4.2.2 (...)
27Having decided they are awake on the shaky ground that they remember collectively meeting Theseus and Hippolyta in the wood, though they also remember collectively their subjection to the fairies’ magic, the lovers have just trooped off stage to Demetrius’ suggestion that “by the way we recount our dreams” (4.1.197). “Bottom wakes,” says the stage direction: we know that like the others he has been recently asleep but we are, as we were in the lovers’ case, under the strong impression he has not been dreaming. He carries directly on from the scene (3.1) in which he was last “himself,” addressing his fellow mechanicals: “When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer” (4.1.198). Then, realizing he is alone, he continues the interrupted soliloquy he had begun when first abandoned by his frightened fellows in 3.1: “Peter Quince? Flute the bellows-mender? [...] God’s my life! Stolen hence, and left me asleep? I have had a most rare vision” (4.1.199-202). These continuities have the effect of making us feel, with all the enchanted characters, that Acts 2 and 3 constitute a kind of alternate-world parenthesis. Have we all been dreaming? Bottom’s immediate reaction to realizing that he is alone with his “dream”-memory is to “recount” it anyway, and failing in the attempt, to conceive of getting the mechanicals’ resident poet, Peter Quince, to write it, so he can sing it “at the latter end of the play” (4.1.214). Such a performance would mirror, in an embedded chiasmus, the insertion of the mechanicals’ play “at the latter end” of Shakespeare’s play. His vision seems a dream in the grand old style, vouchsafing wisdom, requiring the subsequent audience of a community, reflecting what we peculiarly know, or rather think we know, to be a truth – in this case because we saw it happen. But of course what we saw “happen” was just the action, or acting, of “shadows.” In the new style of dreaming, an experience of mysterious import accessible even to common persons, the dream was, as the experience of modern dreams tends to be, indescribable: “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was” (4.1.207-10). We will never know what Peter Quince gets up, if anything, because the Duke, that modern despiser of dreams, echoing the Act of Attainder against Elizabeth Barton, forbids its performance: “let your epilogue alone” (4.1.353).45
28Have we too, the audience, cheated of Peter Quince’s ballad as well as the conversation of the lovers on their way back to Athens, become disbelievers in dreams? We have “ocular evidence” that nothing taken as dream or “shadow” by the plays’ characters was a dream, though we are also foggily aware that nothing we saw was true, that all was feigned. The options Robin Goodfellow – a fairy – offers, in the epilogue we do get to hear, seem equally untenable:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended;
That you have but slumbered here […]
We will make amends ere long,
Else the puck a liar call. (5.1.1414-16, 1425-26)
29But we did not slumber or dream, as far as we know, and “the puck” is not “a liar” (l. 426) – as far as we know. Of course, there is one other option: that the play itself is a dream, as the title labels it: “and this weak and idle theme, / No more yielding but a dream.” The action is certainly as anxious as Nashe alleges of dreams generically, and if the whole play, or its whole action, is a dream it is again the enclosure of consciousness rather than its object. Although from this time forward dream becomes increasingly an object of elite derision, before disappearing from serious discourse in English after the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy, one might wonder from this pair of texts that take it on so frontally, and brilliantly, whether it was becoming in some sense more powerful rather than less. A dream that serves as the frame or envelope of a piece of information or wisdom is useful, and writers had long used it, but it is not more important than the dream that serves as the envelope of human experience itself: which hath no bottom.
- 46 The great sixteenth-century French tragedian Robert Garnier published his Hippolyte in 1594, and Ga (...)
30Both Nashe’s and Shakespeare’s dreamy, anxious texts confront the specter of Sleep’s brother Death at the end: Nashe’s in the five-act performance of the dying gentleman’s dream sequence, and Midsummer Night’s Dream in its cleverly obscured performance of “Pyramus and Thisby,” an alternate tale of star-crossed lovers who run off to meet in the woods outside town and thus escape their parents’ disapproval. In the action of the play from which the rude mechanicals try as best they can to protect “the ladies,” and themselves, the dark, confusing wood becomes the site, not of fairy puppetry or marvelous dreams, but violence and death. It is best on the happy occasion of the weddings not to notice that this was always one turn the lovers’ stories could have taken, best too that only the audience know that the happy issue wished for by the fairies as they prepare the house on the wedding night will be Hippolytus, tragic object of Theseus’s next wife Phaedra’s lust.46 Nashe, likewise, protects himself from the weird, provocative clarity of the “waking” dream at the brink of death – the cold foot in the bed – by drawing moral clichés from its scenes of the body’s ebbing pleasures and its oncoming corruption in the grave, then changing the subject altogether to the metaphoric corruption of (earthly) judges. Both Shakespeare’s ensemble drama and Nashe’s prose soliloquy claim ironically to be dreams, but neither quite are. They have precisely those qualities I pointed out earlier as distinguishing real dream from experimental science: they are collectively experienced, and repeatable. Both are full of strange narratives represented as dreams which, from a rationalist point of view, are not dreams. From that point of view there seem in fact to be no dreams here at all, if even Nashe’s dying country gentleman is represented as attending a play in scenes and acts rather than dreaming, though in both cases we have works of art that can be experienced as dreams-from-without, as artists doing our dreaming for us, aided by the peculiar isolation of silent reading or the suggestive darkening of the theater.
31But there is in fact one indubitable dream in Shakespeare’s comedy, and since there is we have leave, importantly, to see his other characters’ beliefs that they are dreaming as delusions. In the scene preceding the middle act of the play, a character falls asleep; she remains on stage during the scene and waking at its end speaks, briefly – telling her dream to no one until, like Bottom, she realizes she is unexpectedly alone. Hermia has missed the action we just watched in which Lysander – his eyelids mistakenly bathed in fairy juice by Puck, who expected, on the model of “Pyramus and Thisby,” only one pair of lovers in the wood – has abandoned her for Helena. But in a bottomless twist she knows all about it, whether or not she knows she knows, and addresses what is not a soliloquy to the absent lover she assumes must be around somewhere:
Help me, Lysander, help me! Do thy best
To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast.
Ay me, for pity. What a dream was here!
Lysander, look how I do quake with fear.
Methought a serpent ate my heart away,
And you sat smiling at his cruel prey.
Lysander! What, removed? Lysander! Lord! (2.2.145-151)
- 47 Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. and ed. James Strachey, New York, Avon Books, 1 (...)
32While speaking, Hermia wakes twice, once from her dream and once from the illusion that she is narrating it to Lysander. Soon enough she will wake from the illusion that her dream was an illusion. Her dream was what Artemidorus would have called “theorematic,” one in which we dream or “see” (theorein) what is actually happening where we sleep (Freud’s famous example is the man who dreamed correctly that his son’s hand was on fire on the next room).47
33This we know then was, within the play’s fiction, an actual dream, against which we can measure Bottom’s “dream” or the overlapping “dreams” of the lovers, which they propose to discuss on their way back to Athens in the morning. And yet, although it has the symbolic styling of a dream, it is oddly less “dream-like” than Bottom’s experience of metamorphosis and impossible good luck, or the morphing identities and affections of the lovers in the labyrinthine wood of night. It has little of the oddity of dreams, none of the impenetrable mystery of that naked foot sliding into the dying gentleman’s sheets in Nashe’s essay. It is an allegorical lyric, like many before it that relied on a dream to generate or perhaps justify its figures.
- 48 T. Nashe, op. cit., p. 360.
34The imputation of dreaming, in this play that includes one authentic but shopworn bit of somnium, appears to be motivated by an aversion to alternative ontological readings of events. If the lovers’ topsy-turvy night was not a set of overlapping dreams, then it was both what it looked like to us: a puppet-show played by fairies with human puppets, and what it felt like to them: an ineluctable sliding from one passion to another, as fairy pharmaceuticals fooled with the deepest dispositions of their minds. The expression “but a dream” is earliest attested in the OED in 1616 (from Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens), but it is incipient here, where confronting the alternatives to dream as an explanatory label for the experience would conjure existential terror. And of course we have seen it literally in Nashe’s 1594 demurral: “all this whole Tractate is nothing but a dream.”48
35Perhaps the most annoying lines in Shakespeare, to poets and actors (and Shakespeare was both), belong to Theseus’s speech at the opening of Act 5, his only actual response to something his Amazon betrothed says: “’Tis strange, my Theseus, that these lovers speak of” (5.i.1). She is obsessed with the way their story doesn’t fit together right, with intuitions of why not, but Theseus, all smug authority, finds nothing strange he can’t mow down with his received ideas. He answers Hippolyta’s brief but potent utterance with a long, famous, rhetorical speech on imagination that smug authorities have used ever since to avoid the impact and challenge of poetry, or of voices from the edge. After insulting poetry and love as “airy nothings” (dangerous words for a lover who is himself nothing but iambic lines in a script!) and likening poets to lovers and lunatics, he arrives at his conclusion in a consideration of dreams:
Such tricks hath strong imagination
That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear! (5.1.18-22)
- 49 Cf. Plato’s Ion, 533d-e, also Andrew S. Becker, “A Short Essay on Deconstruction and Plato’s Ion,” (...)
36Theseus’s speech echoes in turn perhaps the most irritating of Plato’s dialogues for poets and actors, the Ion, which demonstrates that poets and rhapsodes – performers of Homer’s epics –know nothing, have no techne, no capacity for judgment, and therefore speak, when they speak to the point, from inspiration or possession. This dementia (entheos) is presented in the Ion through the analogy of the magnet, which magnetizes whatever iron objects it touches, which in turn magnetize whatever iron they touch, so that the poet’s possession by the god becomes the rhapsode’s possession by the poet, the spectator’s possession by the rhapsode, and so on. Ion represents the production and experience of acts of the imagination as a kind of invasion of the body’s integrity by a force from without, and indeed in Plato’s time this was a way of understanding important dreams, which arrived as messages delivered by gods, their messengers, or ancestors. In book 4 of the Odyssey, Athene sends a true Dream to Penelope, who stands at the head of her bed and tells her that Odysseus is near and will soon be home. Early in the Iliad Zeus, who is having trouble getting to sleep, gets the war going again by sending Agamemnon a false hypnos, himself “inspired by the god” (entheos) who goes on to “inspire” and waken Agamemnon to rouse up battle-rage: soon no one can sleep.49
37This belief in poetry and by extension drama as a matter of contagious derangement, invasion by the spirit of another, is a fearful position, akin to Plato’s fear of rhetoric. But Theseus is not the only representative of fear and denial in Shakespeare’s play, or in the 1590s. Nashe’s extended soliloquy, “all this whole Tractate” – a diatribe against the foolishness of belief in dreams, if a suspiciously oneiric one – turns out to be inspired itself by fear. Fear of a dream Nashe cannot shake, and must relate. A dream with which, despite his derisive, satirical stakeout on the banks of reason, he is complicit, drawing morals from those borderland chimerae and reaching from their shallows to the greatest terror possible in a culture-wide time of epistemological crisis, when even one’s eyes are fools: the terror of false judgment. The terror of Error (Spenser’s bogey in that other great poem of the 1590s, The Faerie Queene). Nashe’s wandering thoughts end in denunciation of corrupt judges, the executor of justice in Shakespeare’s poetic fairy play by denouncing imagination. Both texts make visible and audible the effort of repression under way in the period, but in so aggressively lowering the status of dream, the imputation of dreaming may ensure the survival of its might in other heads and hands. It is not the duke or the magistrate who says “I have a dream.”
- 50 I am grateful for a fellowship at the Newberry Library during which I first drafted this essay, to (...)
38The field of dreams in any period – if periods there are – is always limitless, as limitless almost as there are dreamers to extend it, though most of its dreams we can never know. I have not intended in this essay to suggest a simple diagram of steady downward loss for dreams as vehicle or genre of knowledge or wisdom, even in the single nation of England. It is the case that we now live in a society, descended in part from that of early modern England, in which a dream cannot get you imprisoned or hung, although Martin Luther King suffered both fates, and in which elite members of society do not travel great distances to incubatoria when they feel in need of guidance from the gods. They simply fly to island resorts. What interests me in examining these and other literary works by writers who were alive for the execution of Elizabeth Barton is the palpable tortuousness of their handling of dream as object. Joseph is sure his biblical dreams have knowable meaning, are significant for the future of a nation. The twentieth-century physician Freud is sure his dreams have meaning too, and carry a burden of liberatory knowledge, if only for the dreamer (and, in consequence, those with whom he has intimate relations). We are, in a twenty-first century of global capitalism and ecological catastrophe, hearing again from urgent dreamers, but no longer only in Freud’s terms: the pull of the “common” and “public” dream is felt again within a widespread consciousness of danger. But we share the ambivalence I have sketched in the works of Shakespeare and Nash – and could have examined as well in Spenser’s prophetic dreams, or in the dreams with which, soon enough, Descartes would announce his philosophical career: one henceforth at pains to erase the ground of dream’s epistemological value. Literary studies has been perennially fascinated by the emergence of skepticism in a time we choose to see as looking forward to a “scientific revolution.” But skepticism, as I have suggested, is an affect as well as a cognitive disposition, including components of fear and awe as well as rigorous doubt and critical “objectivity.” I invite the reader to wonder with me whether Macbeth’s dreams were true, whether Hamlet’s father was a hypnos, whether the misogynist tale of Kate and Petruccio is Slie’s dream after a tavern binge he knows he will catch hell for when he gets home. And perhaps to shiver with me at the frightful power of a dream that can kill.50
1 The Palais de la fortune or Le Palais des curieux, où l’algèbre et le sort donnent la décision des questions les plus douteuses, et où les songes et les visions nocturnes sont expliquées selon la doctrine des anciens of Marc Vulson, Sieur de la Columbière first appeared in a mélange entitled Les Oracles divertissans (Paris, 1647). Other such texts across the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries include Thomas Hill, The most Pleasaunte Arte of the interpretacion of Dreames (London, 1576) and anon., The Art of Courtship, or The School of delight : […] and rules for carving flesh, fish, fowl […] to which is added the significance of moles […] as likewise the interpretation of dreams ([London], 1686). Dream glossaries were also included in compendia of divination genres such as palm-reading and dice-casting in both countries ; see, e.g., Richard Saunders, Physiognomie, and chiromancy, metoposcopy, the symmetrical proportions and signal moles of the body […] with their natural-predictive significations. The subject of dreams ; divinative, steganographical and Lullian sciences (London, 1653).
2 Major recent works in English on early modern prophecy in western Europe include Patrick Curry, Prophecy and Power: Astrology in Early Modern England, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1989; Howard Dobin, Merlin’s Disciples: Prophecy, Poetry and Power in Renaissance England, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1990; Richard L. Kagan, Lucrecia’s Dreams: Politics and Prophecy in Sixteenth-Century Spain, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1990; Marion Leathers Kuntz, The Anointment of Dionisio: Prophecy and Politics in Renaissance Italy, University Park, PA, Penn State University Press, 2001; Brendan Dooley, Morandi’s Last Prophecy and the End of Renaissance Politics, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2002; Tim Thornton, Prophecy, Politics and the People in Early Modern England, Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK, Boydell Press, 2006; Katharine Hodgen et al. (eds.), Reading the Early Modern Dream : The Terrors of the Night, London, Routledge, 2008 ; Carole Levin, Dreaming the English Renaissance, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008 ; Ann Marie Plane and Leslie Tuttle (eds.), Dreams, Dreamers, and Visions : The Early Modern Atlantic World, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, 2013. Note the absence of major work on prophecy in France. I know only of Line Cottegnies, Anne-Marie Miller-Blaise, et al. (eds.), Voix de Dieu : Littérature et prophétie en Angleterre et en France à l’âge baroque, Paris, Presses Sorbonne nouvelle, 2008 : the editors, however, are professors of English. The absence of interest in early modern French studies (despite Florence Dumora’s and Sylviane Bokdam’s books on French literary dream, respectively : L’Œuvre Nocturne : Songe et représentation au XVIIe siècle, Paris, Champion, 2005, and Métamorphoses de Morphée : Théorie du rêve et songes poétiques à la Renaissance en France, Paris, Champion, 2012) will be rectified in English by Leslie Tuttle, op. cit., who is writing an early modern history of dream in the French world. Since this essay was written a collection by Jacqueline Carroy and Juliette Lancel has appeared in France : Jacqueline Carroy and Juliette Lancel (eds.), Clés des songes et sciences des rêves, , Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2016.
3 On dream as incompatible with thinking see chapter 3 of Averroes’ commentary on Aristotle’s treatise on sleep and dream, Epitome of Parva Naturalia, Harry Blumberg (ed.), Corpus Philosophorum Medii Aevi: Corpus Commentariorum Averrois in Aristotelem, Versio Anglica, Cambridge, Medieval Academy of America, 1961, vol. VII, p. 58-60 ; Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1977) ; rev. ed., Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1990, a seriously under-studied text, provides a fascinating explanation of the depth and antiquity of the opposition between thinking or judgment and dreaming, at least for the Mediterranean and its Eurasian and North African surround, for which evidence was directly accessible to Jaynes.
4 I hate to exclude Nashe from the rank of the poets, as the author of the period’s single most beautiful English poem, “A Litany in Time of Plague” (“Brightness falls from the air;/ Queens have died young and fair;/ Dust hath closed Helen’s eye:/ I am sick; I must die,” Thomas Nashe. Selected Works, Stanley Wells (ed.), London and New York, Routledge Revival, 1964, p. 130). But Plato in the Ion (on which more later) would explain the poem as a sport of the gods : Nashe’s techne was the art of prose, and it is as a worker in that relatively new and open medium that I include him here.
5 I quote Nashe from McKerrow’s edition, Thomas Nashe, The Terrors of the Night Or, A Discourse of Apparitions (London, 1594), in The Works of Thomas Nashe, Ronald B. McKerrow (ed.), rev. F. P. Wilson, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1958, vol. 1, p. 337-386 ; and Shakespeare from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Peter Holland (ed.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995. For Lucrecia and Piedrola see R. L. Kagan, op. cit., and for Elizabeth Barton, Andrew Neame, The Holy Maid of Kent : The Life of Elizabeth Barton, 1506-1534, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1971, and Diane Watt, “Of the Seed of Abraham : Elizabeth Barton, the ‘Holy Maid of Kent’,” in her Secretaries of God : Women Prophets in Late Medieval and Early Modern England, Cambridge, D. S. Brewer, 2001, p. 51-80.
6 Howard Dobin’s offers some examples of prophecy’s dangers in Tudor England in Merlin’s Disciples: “Other English astrologers and prophets had died for committing the same offense [as John Dee was briefly imprisoned for, having cast Mary Tudor’s horoscope]. During Henry VIII’s reign, Elizabeth Barton was hanged for predicting Henry’s death, and the sorcerer Nicholas Hopkins was executed for encouraging the treasonous intent of the Duke of Buckingham by prophesying Henry’s death without an heir. The astrologer Robert Allen died in 1551 for rumoring King Edward’s death. Mary Tudor, the monarch most threatened by prophets, enjoined the justices of Norfolk in 1554 to hunt out the promulgators of ‘vain Prophecies’ and ‘seditious, false, or untrue Rumours,’ which she considered ‘the very Foundation of al Rebellion’” (H. Dobin, op. cit., p. 1).
7 See Artemidorus, The Interpretation of Dreams: Oneirocritica by Artemidorus, trans. and comm. Robert J. White, Park Ridge, NJ, Noyes Press, Noyes Classical Studies, 1975 ; here I. 2, p. 17 : “It is impossible for an unimportant man to receive a vision of great affairs beyond his experience.”
8 On dream types see Artemidorus, op. cit., 1.2-3, p. 14-16; Macrobius’ related but different Latin versions were available in his Commentarii in somnium Scipionis (fl. 430) throughout the middle ages before the humanist translations of Artemidorus.
9 It may however be worth noting here that Christianity did not penetrate many mountain villages of Italy, e.g., until the end of the XVIIIth century.
10 See, e.g., Thomas W. Laqueur, “Crowds, Carnival and the State in English Executions, 1604–1868,” in A. L. Beier et al. (eds.), The First Modern Society : Essays in English History in Honour of Lawrence Stone, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 305-355 ; Frances E. Dolan, “‘Gentlemen, I have one thing more to say’ : Women on Scaffolds in England, 1563-1680,” Modern Philology, 92, 1994, p. 157-178 ; P. J. Klemp, “‘He That Now Speakes, Shall Speak No More Forever’ : Archbishop William Laud in the Theater of Execution,” Review of English Studies, 61. 249, 2010, p. 188-213.
11 See Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1983, for an account of the origins in France of the legal concept of self-identity as property. On Locke in relation to dreaming, or internal vision, see my “The Inner Eye : Early Modern Dreaming and Disembodied Sight,” in A. M. Plane and L. Tuttle (eds.), op. cit., p. 33-48, here p. 38-39.
12 Shakespeare’s great essay on this issue, under the rubric of erotic love, is “The Phoenix and the Turtle” (“Property was thus appalled/ That the self was not the same;/ Single nature’s double name/ Neither two nor one was called,” l. 37-40), see http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.03.0066 (accessed 3 November 2016).
13 Descartes, 2nd Meditation, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross, New York, Dover Publications, 1955, 2 vols., here vol. 1, p. 155.
14 Statutes of the Realm, printed by command of His Majesty King George the III, 25 Henry VIII, chap.12, p. 448. Italics mine.
15 R. L. Kagan, op. cit., p. 86.
16 Things have changed by the time a later Lord Chancellor of England, Francis Bacon, can write of dreams in an essay on prophecies: “My judgment is, that they ought all to be despised; and ought to serve but for winter talk by the fireside. Though when I say despised, I mean it as for belief ; for otherwise, the spreading, or publishing, of them, is in no sort to be despised. For they have done much mischief ; and I see many severe laws made, to suppress them” (“Prophecies,” in The essays, or councils, civil and moral, of Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, [...] Newly Enlarged (London, 1625), ed. and introd. Mary Augusta Scott, New York, Charles Scribner’s, 1908, p. 169. And yet Bacon seems tempted here to unsay everything he says.
17 See D. Watt, op. cit., p. 57-58; cf. William Lambarde, A Perambulation of Kent: conteining the decription, historie and customes of that shyre, London, 1576.
18 Thomas was not, however, cured of dreaming: his prophetic dream of a theft from the bursar of Oxford University was recorded by many at the time and in generations afterwards: see e.g. Robert Plot’s Natural History of Oxfordshire, Oxford and London, 1677, p. 46.
19 Louis Montrose, “Shaping Fantasies: Figurations of Gender and Power in Renaissance Culture,” Representations, 1.2, 1983, p. 61-94, here p. 65. For Forman’s dream see also A. L. Rowse, Simon Forman : Sex and Society in Shakespeare’s Age, London, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1974. Carole Levin discusses this dream and Nicholas Wotton’s in the most valuable chapter, “Sacred Blood and Monarchy,” of Dreaming the English Renaissance, op. cit., p. 128-129 and 151-155.
20 Quoted in C. Levin, op. cit., p. 153. I could not however find Levin’s citation from Gormon’s letter : she gives it as in Historical Manuscripts Commission, Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Most Honorable the Marquis of Salisbury, R. A Roberts (ed.), London, 1883-1976, vol. ix.
21 See Carla Gerona, Night Journeys: The Power of Dreams in Transatlantic Quaker Culture, Charlottesville, University of Virginia Press, 2004; Ann Marie Plane, Invisible Worlds: Colonialism and the Cultural Meaning of Dreams in Seventeenth-Century New England, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014; Patricia Crawford, “Women’s Dreams in Early Modern England,” in Daniel Pick and Lyndal Roper (eds.), Dreams and History: The Interpretation of Dreams from Ancient Greece to Modern Psychoanalysis, New York, Routledge, 2004; A. M. Plane and L. Tuttle, op. cit.; C. Levin, op. cit.; and of course R. L. Kagan, op. cit.
22 Michel de Montaigne, “ On Experience,” in Essays, trans. J. M. Cohen, Hammondsworth, Penguin Books, 1958, p. 343-406, here p. 385.
23 T. Nashe, The Terrors of the Night (op. cit.), here p. 355, 380-381, 377.
24 Ibid., p. 382.
25 Ibid., p. 360.
26 Ibid., p. 382.
27 Ibid., p. 381; for Bors’ temptations by devils disguised as women see, e.g., bk. 16, chap. 11 and 12 in Caxton’s edition of Le Morte d’Arthur.
28 T. Nashe, op. cit., p. 385.
29 Ibid., p. 381.
30 Ibid., p. 376. On the anxiety of early modern English dreams see Peter Burke, “L’histoire sociale des rêves,” Annales, 28.2, 1973, p. 329-342.
31 T. Nashe, op. cit., p. 382.
32 OED sv. “reality” : “I. 1. Real existence ; what is real rather than imagined or desired ; the aggregate of real things or existences ; that which underlies and is the truth of appearances or phenomena. […] 1583 J. Foxe Actes & Monuments (ed. 4) I. 353/2 : ‘If it be alledged that those causes stand vpon reality, [...] & for that consideration the cause to be remitted to the temporall law [...].’”
33 A Pleasant Conceited Historie, called The taming of a Shrew (London, 1594), in The Old Taming of a Shrew: Upon Which Shakespeare Founded His Comedy […], Shakespeare Society Publications 25, Thomas Amyot (ed.), London, The Shakespeare Society, 1844, p. 51.
34 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, op. cit.
35 See William West, Theaters and Encyclopedias in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003.
36 OED sv. “theatre” : 7.
37 On incubation see, e.g., Patricia Cox Miller, Dreams in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Imagination of a Culture, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 109-117. Although “hypnos” is often translated as “dream” it is more accurately a figure who appears in sleep to speak to the dreamer.
38 For modern English translations see Artemidorus, op. cit., and Achmet, The Oneirocriticon of Achmet: A Medieval Greek and Arabic Treatise on the Interpretation of Dreams, trans and comm. Richard M. Olberhelman, Lubbock, TX, Texas Tech University Press, 1991 ; there were sixteenth- and seventeenth-century translations in Europe into Latin, English, French, German, Welsh and Italian, also publication in Greek.
39 On corroboration in the development of modern science see Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity, New York, Zone Books, 2007.
40 On Iroquois (and Huron) dream theory and interpretation the locus classicus remains Anthony Wallace, “Dreams and Wishes of the Soul: A Type of Psychoanalytic Theory among the Seventeenth-Century Iroquois,” American Anthropologist, 60. 2, 1958, p. 234-248. An updated article-length study is needed, or rather several.
41 On gallants’ loud mockery during performances in London theaters see Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London, 3rd ed., Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004, esp. “Auditorium Behavior,” p. 51-57.
42 A. Gurr however quotes a 1594 letter from the Lord Chamberlain (patron of Shakespeare’s company) to the Lord Mayor of London suggesting “that where heretofore they began not their Plaies till towards Fower a clock, they will now begin at two and have done between fower and five” (op. cit., p. 178). It is harder to see in a roofed theater, and though a roof may extend the playgoing season, it is dark by 3 :00 pm in a London winter.
43 See A. Gurr, op cit., p. 102-16 (“Audiences or Spectators”).
44 On Peele’s dream vision “The Honour of the Garter” (1593) in relation to other dream poems and verse dramas of the 1590s in which Elizabeth is desired or at least present, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, see Helen Hackett’s wonderful essay “Dream Visions of Elizabeth I,” in Hodgen et al. (eds.), op cit., p. 45-66.
45 Indeed, Bottom himself says “Not a word of me” to Peter Quince’s “Let us hear, sweet Bottom” (4.2.29-30).
46 The great sixteenth-century French tragedian Robert Garnier published his Hippolyte in 1594, and Garnier was influential with English writers and playwrights (Mary Sidney Herbert e.g. translating his Antonius in 1592 and Thomas Kyd Cornelia in 1594).
47 Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. and ed. James Strachey, New York, Avon Books, 1965, p. 47-48.
48 T. Nashe, op. cit., p. 360.
49 Cf. Plato’s Ion, 533d-e, also Andrew S. Becker, “A Short Essay on Deconstruction and Plato’s Ion,” Electronic Antiquity, 1.4, Sept. 1993, n. p.
50 I am grateful for a fellowship at the Newberry Library during which I first drafted this essay, to the Fellows Seminar there and to Richard Strier and the Chicago Renaissance Seminar for provocative discussion of it, and to Line Cottegnies for giving me the chance to share it with an ideal audience at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle and rethink it for this volume.Haut de page
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Mary Baine Campbell, « Imputed Dreams: Dreaming and Knowing in Tudor England », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 30 | 2016, mis en ligne le 06 février 2017, consulté le 30 avril 2017. URL : http://episteme.revues.org/1337 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.1337Haut de page
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