Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Title: Life is a Dream (La vida es sueño)
Author: Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Genre: Classics, Play, Drama
Release date: Edition from 2015, originally published in 1636

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Acclaimed for his superb dramatic instincts and philosophical seriousness as well as his extraordinary imagination, Calderón exercised his best qualities in this allegorical play, an exploration of the mysteries of human destiny, the illusory nature of earthly existence, and the struggle between predestination and free will. The story revolves around the moral dilemmas of a Polish prince, unjustly imprisoned by his suspicious father. Against a background of revolution, Calderón builds a dramatic edifice of outstanding theatricality, rich in symbolism and metaphor, expressed in magnificent poetry.

This excellent new English translation is absolutely complete, and as close and direct as possible. Ample footnotes and an informative introductory Publisher’s Note enhance the value of its modest price.

The writing of Calderón de la Barca flows gracefully along the pages of this play and makes it easy to navigate its complex themes. However, I am sure I did not grasp all the ideas and musings that he intended to portray, as it would take a more careful eye (or ear) and probably a better understanding of early modern Spanish, but it was more managable to read than I would have imagined.

‘The king dreams he is a king, and lives
in this deception commanding,
disposing of, reigning, ruling’

“Sueña el rey que es rey, y vive
con este engaño mandando,
disponiendo y gobernando”

It is remarkable how each character comes to life and how beautifully each verse evokes or deepens a philosophical notion, approaching topics such as freedom or the feebleness of our reality when confronted by oppression or even simply in our daily lives.

Some passages I read over and over again and discovered new things each time, so I can’t wait to see it represented in the theatre and gain a new perspective on it.




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