Life is a Dream HTML version

he became a Knight of the Order of Santiago, and in 1651 he entered the
priesthood, rising to the dignity of Superior of the Brotherhood of San
Pedro in Madrid. He held various offices in the court of Philip IV, who
rewarded his services with pensions, and had his plays produced with
great splendor. He died May 5, 1681.
At the time when Calderon began to compose for the stage, the Spanish
drama was at its height. Lope de Vega, the most prolific and, with
Calderon, the greatest, of Spanish dramatists, was still alive; and by
his applause gave encouragement to the beginner whose fame was to rival
his own. The national type of drama which Lope had established was
maintained in its essential characteristics by Calderon, and he produced
abundant specimens of all its varieties. Of regular plays he has left
a hundred and twenty; of "Autos Sacramentales," the peculiar Spanish
allegorical development of the medieval mystery, we have seventy-three;
besides a considerable number of farces.
The dominant motives in Calderon's dramas are characteristically
national: fervid loyalty to Church and King, and a sense of honor
heightened almost to the point of the fantastic. Though his plays
are laid in a great variety of scenes and ages, the sentiment and the
characters remain essentially Spanish; and this intensely local quality
has probably lessened the vogue of Calderon in other countries. In the
construction and conduct of his plots he showed great skill, yet the
ingenuity expended in the management of the story did not restrain the
fiery emotion and opulent imagination which mark his finest speeches
and give them a lyric quality which some critics regard as his greatest
Of all Calderon's works, "Life is a Dream" may be regarded as the most
universal in its theme. It seeks to teach a lesson that may be learned
from the philosophers and religious thinkers of many ages--that the
world of our senses is a mere shadow, and that the only reality is to be
found in the invisible and eternal. The story which forms its basis
is Oriental in origin, and in the form of the legend of "Barlaam and
Josaphat" was familiar in all the literatures of the Middle Ages.
Combined with this in the plot is the tale of Abou Hassan from the
"Arabian Nights," the main situations in which are turned to farcical
purposes in the Induction to the Shakespearean "Taming of the Shrew."
But with Calderon the theme is lifted altogether out of the atmosphere
of comedy, and is worked up with poetic sentiment and a touch of
mysticism into a symbolic drama of profound and universal philosophical