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Shakespeare on the Ephemeral Nature of Pretty Much Everything

Shakespeare on the Ephemeral Nature of Pretty Much Everything

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep." - William Shakespeare

From Act IV of The Tempest, this line is spoken by Prospero, as he compares his magical illusions "melted into air, into thin air," to the transient nature of our lives. 

In a play that explores themes of magic, illusion and theatricality itself, this line seems to break through the fourth wall of the play, and suggests that like the play, our lives are all an illusion of sorts as well. Harold Bloom reinterpreted it as “We are such dreams as dreams dream of, no more.”

Prospero follows this contemplative line with an apology for the “infirmity” of his “old brain.” Perhaps he senses that the end of the dream is approaching. But there is also a sense of vitality in it, the notion that our dreams, the playground for our creativity and imagination, are the antidote to mortality.

Many scholars contend that this was the last play Shakespeare wrote alone, perhaps a personal farewell to the magical enchantment of the theatre itself.

About the Art

“The illustration, inspired by Prospero’s enchanted art, features the island as an inverted book whose tendril-like pages entangle a sinking ship. When Prospero later abjures from magic, he promises that ‘deeper than did ever plummet sound / I’ll drown my book.’”

Art by Evan Robertson. All rights reserved.

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