Life is a Dream constantly challenges the gray matter that lies between the black and white of reality and illusion. Pedro Calderon De La Barca—in this play—demonstrates several elements about the nature of Spanish society, Spanish values, …
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II. Spanish Society Spanish society, in the Golden Age, was concerned about what was real and what was false. At a time when politics were unstable in Spain, De La Barca sought to capitalize on this national anomaly of sorts. As Clotaldo, the jailer of Segismund said in the play, “Dreams are rough copies of the waking soul.”1 Therefore, what people dreamed about was not necessarily in vain. They were having dreams for a reason. With the idea that life was a dream, De La Barca was playing with notions of whether the consciousness present in life actually existed in Golden Age Spain. De La Barca, in his play, predicted that Segismund would one day grow up to revolt against his father the King. In chaining Segismund to the floor in a prison, he thought that he could keep his son sequestered, far enough away so that he could not hurt the King. However, this sense of fatalism that the King had felt in terms of his son growing up in the future to one day kill him, scared the King so much that he decided to do something about it (by chaining up his son). However, as one shall see, the idea of fatalism is a key Spanish value that we shall examine in the next portion which we will be reading. III. Spanish Values Spanish values included an unshakeable sense of fatalism, as Segismund speaks about the illusion and reality present in life—a dualism, if one will. He also speaks of the inevitable end of the world with precocious wit, intimating with a fatalistic sense that his suffering is only temporary. “Whether wake or dreaming, this I know, How dream-wise human glories come and go; Whose momentary tenure not to break, Walking as one who knows he soon may wake, fairly carry the full cup, so well Disorder'd insolence and passion quell, That there be nothing after to upbraid Dreamer or doer in the part he play'd, Whether To-morrow's dawn shall break the spell, Or the Last Trumpet of the eternal Day, When Dreaming with the Night shall pass away.”2 The Spanish people also believed very much in destiny (“el destino”) and how it related to their outlooks on life. Believing in destiny, many people in Spanish culture had the specific idea that one was supposed to be somewhere at a specific time in order to fulfill their destinies. As Segismund describes in this soliloquy, “Once more, you savage heavens, I ask of you— I, looking up to those relentless eyes That, now the greater lamp is gone below, Begin to muster in the listening skies; In all the shining circuits you have gone About this theatre of human woe, What greater sorrow have you gazed upon Than down this narrow chink you witness still; And which, did you yourselves not fore-devise, You registered for others to fulfil!”3 With the idea that values were important in Golden Age Spain—as well can one imagine—also important was the idea of having social mores. These were prescriptive ideals which were vanguards of the values of the people, which will now be discussed at length. IV. Spanish Social Mores Spanish social mores in the Golden Age were very strict. That is why the King warned Segismund once he approached the kingdom with rage and anger after having been chained up for so many years: “Beware! Beware! Subdue the kindled Tiger in your eye!”4 The Golden Age was an era of restriction and prudence. If ladies wanted to visit with their beaus, they had to be accompanied by chaperones—
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