‘“Either his notion weakens, or his discernings | Are lethargied”: Sleeplessness and Waking Dreams as Tragedy in Julius Caesar and King Lear’

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Drawing on the early modern physiological understanding of sleeplessness and hallucinations, this article examines how Shakespeare’s dramatic representations of insomnia and waking dreams support his tragedies’ iconic emphasis on bodily and mental suffering. To that end, I consider Brutus’s insomnia and the nightly appearance of Caesar’s ghost in Julius Caesar, as well as King Lear’s sleeplessness and his ontological uncertainty about whether his misfortune may be a dream. Whereas Brutus’s vision of Caesar’s ghost is often interpreted as a supernatural visitation, I argue that it can equally be read as a physiological hallucination caused by Brutus’s sleeplessness. Meanwhile I propose that King Lear’s sleeplessness and the metaphorical description of his waking reality as a dream form part of Shakespeare’s design of Lear’s tragedy as one that is primarily concerned with the character’s experience of suffering. In King Lear, I also show how ideas of sleeping and dreaming introduce tragicomic elements which, however, ultimately give further magnitude to the sense of pain and injustice
Original languageEnglish
JournalEtudes Epistémè
Volume30
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2017

Keywords

  • Shakespeare
  • dreams
  • tragedy
  • sleep
  • King Lear
  • Julius Caesar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory

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