Calderón de la Barca
Life is a dream / La vida es sueño
Setting: Poland
Cast: (5 male, 2 female)
Characters in caps are named but do not appear on stage
Astolfo Grand Duke of Moscovia; Russian
Astrea Lady-in-waiting of Estrella; Polish; niece of Clotaldo; pseudonym of Rosaura
Basilio King of Poland; Polish; old
Clarin Servant of Rosaura; comic; prisoner; Russian
Clotaldo Guard and tutor of Segismundo; Polish; old
Estrella Polish princess, cousin of Astolfo and Segismundo; marries latter
Rosaura bastard; noble, Russian; daughter of Clotaldo; marries Astolfo
Segismundo Prince of Poland; Polish; prisoner
Servants, Ladies, Guards, Soldiers, Musicians
Act I:
Rosaura, dressed as a man, is stranded in the mountains of Poland with Clarín, her servant. They meet the captive Prince Segismundo, imprisoned since birth. Clotaldo, the elderly man who guards him, has them disarmed and blindfolded, and orders Segismundo more closely confined. When Rosaura surrenders her sword, Clotaldo is startled; but when he asks where it came from, she replies only that a woman gave it to her, saying that she would be helped if she displayed it. Clotaldo recalls giving the sword to Violante, and decides to let the King name the punishment of the young "man" who has violated the royal decree that no one may see Segismundo.
Astolfo, Gran Duque de Moscovia, and Estrella, his cousin, discuss their conflicting claims to the throne. The aging King then tells of Segismundo's birth, attended by many weird omens, which meant that the Prince would overthrow his father, and be a cruel and wicked King. Basilio accordingly let everyone think that Segismundo was born dead, and imprisoned him, to be seen and taught only by Clotaldo. Basilio now regards this as a mistake, and plans to bring Segismundo to his palace, letting him rule without telling him who he is. If he disproves the omens, well and good; if not, Astolfo and Estrella will share the throne. Thus, Basilio is not angry when Clotaldo tells him that someone has seen the Prince, but asks Clotaldo to return later. Released, Rosaura tells Clotaldo of an offense that she mentioned earlier, saying that Astolfo committed it, and that the affront was worse than the slap in the face that Clotaldo has suspected. Her remarks make Clotaldo realize that she is a woman; but before he can ask her more, she leaves, saying that the insult will be complete if Astolfo aims to marry Estrella.
Act II:
Clotaldo tells Basilio that Segismundo, drugged, is in a room at the palace, and learns that the King is conducting the experiment because he believes that man can work out his own destiny, despite the stars. The drug is to make Segismundo think that he has been dreaming, and save him from despair. Clotaldo, not greatly impressed, is told by Clarín that Rosaura has now resumed woman's garb, calling herself Clotaldo's niece, Astrea.
Segismundo, already wondering if he is asleep or awake, is further confused when Clotaldo treats him with great respect, and calls him príncipe heredero of Poland. Told of his trip from the tower, and that Basilio will tell him the rest later, Segismundo says that it is enough to know who he is. When Clotaldo leaves, greatly depressed, Segismundo greets Astolfo with little enthusiasm, but is struck by Estrella's beauty. He treats her ceremoniously; but when a servant points out that he is causing awkwardness by trying to kiss her hand, Segismundo throws the man from a balcony, and answers Astolfo's protest by threatening to have him beheaded. Astolfo leaves, and makes it hard to feel affection for him. Segismundo retorts that he does not mind this from a father who imprisoned him. The King finally says that Segismundo is a barbarian, as prophesied, warns him that all this may prove a dream, and leaves Segismundo to wonder what he meant.
Segismundo is again impressed when Rosaura appears, and calls her back when she tries to leave. She recalls him in his tower, but pretends that she is a lady serving Estrella. As he praises her, Clotaldo appears, watches from hiding, and again fears for his honor when Segismundo threatens force if Rosaura keeps trying to go. He finally emerges and scolds Segismundo, who draws a dagger. They struggle, and Clotaldo falls; Astolfo returns, and draws his sword, thus causing a fight that stops when the King appears. Basilio grieves at his son's disrespect for Clotaldo, but Segismundo contemptuously answers that he is still not avenged for the way that he has been treated. The King repeats his warning about a dream, and leaves with Clotaldo.
Astolfo pleads his case with Estrella, who says that she does not doubt his words, but believes that they are for the lady whose picture he wore when he came to see her. As he promises to abandon this lady, he sees Rosaura in the hiding-place she chose a moment earlier; apologizes to the lady in an aside, and leaves. When Rosaura steps forward, Estrella tells her that she is going to marry Astolfo, but regrets his wearing someone else's picture. She asks "Astrea" to stay there and take the picture when he returns with it, and leaves her to reflect how one sorrow follows another. Astolfo returns with the picture, and is surprised to see Rosaura, whom he calls by name. She pretends to be Astrea, but he is not convinced, and says that he loves her. Both persist, and he says that it is more of a courtesy to send Estrella the original than the picture. Rosaura insists on the latter, and tries to take it from him, as Estrella returns. Rosaura claims to have been alone, looking at the picture, which she dropped; and when Astolfo retrieved it, she impatiently began to take it from him. This makes Astolfo surrender the picture, and Estrella sends Rosaura away.
Basilio visits Segismundo's prison, and hears him say in his sleep that he wants to kill Clotaldo and humble the King. When he wakes and asks where he is, Basilio leaves Clotaldo in charge, and listens. Segismundo tells Clotaldo of dreaming that he was King of Poland, but now all is over, save his love for a woman. Clotaldo leaves after reminding him that good deeds are never lost, and Segismundo decides to try to better himself by force of will.
Act III:
Clarín is imprisoned for a hint that he might reveal Segismundo's identity. Some soldiers, looking for Segismundo, whom they prefer to Astolfo as their King, mistake Clarín for the Prince. When Segismundo appears, and they hail him, he hesitates, fearing another illusion; but they tell him that his other experience was but a presentiment. Clotaldo refuses to help him against Basilio, but Segismundo treats him well, and prepares to continue his own campaign.
Basilio discusses the uprising with Astolfo, and Estrella urges prompt action. Rosaura reminds Clotaldo that he has made her disguise herself, but Astolfo has recognized her. She offers Clotaldo the key to the garden where Astolfo talks with Estrella, but Clotaldo has a dilemma: he wants to kill Astolfo to avenge Rosaura's honor, but owes the Duke his life for saving him from Segismundo. Rosaura argues that giving is better than receiving, and convinces him that his obligation to her is the greater one. Clotaldo proposes a compromise by offering to enable her to enter a convent; but she says that she would tolerate such a wrong only from her father, and plans to kill Astolfo herself, despite Clotaldo's protests.
Rosaura tells Segismundo of her birth in Moscow to a noblewoman deceived by a man whose name she does not know. She has inherited this misfortune, for Astolfo has dishonored her. Her mother advised her to follow Astolfo to regain her honor, and gave her an old sword, with the suggestion of displaying it to win help. Mentioning Clotaldo's proposed solution, she says that she has come to help Segismundo instead, and that it is important to both of them to keep Astolfo from marrying Estrella. Segismundo goes to prepare for battle, though it seems to Rosaura that he is forsaking her. Clarín joins her to watch the fighting; it goes against Basilio and Astolfo, and they prepare to flee. Clarín, mortally wounded though in hiding, persuades them to rejoin the battle, since their survival depends on God's will in any case.
Basilio surrenders, and kneels before Segismundo, who puts his foot on the King's neck to fulfill the omen. Segismundo points out the folly of heeding the prophecy that a son would be fierce, and then so rearing him that he is bound to be. He then has the King rise, and prostrates himself, showing the extent of his self-domination; but Basilio assures him that he has won the crown. Segismundo therefore tells Astolfo to marry Rosaura; when the Duke hesitates because of her unknown origin, Clotaldo identifies himself as her father. Segismundo and Estrella also agree to marry; and Segismundo sends the leader of the mutinous soldiers to the Prince's old tower for life, because of his disloyalty.











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Last Updated: 01/15/09