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Play Analysis - Life is a Dream, The Nature of Spanish Society (Values, Social Morals, Expectations and Political Culture) (Book Review Sample)


The Nature of Spanish Society ( Values, Social Morals, Expectations and Political Culture)

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Play Analysis: “Life is a Dream”
The Nature of Spanish Society ( Values, Social Morals, Expectations and Political Culture)
The play is a Spanish Golden Age drama written by Pedro Calderon. The story commences at the Warsaw frontier in the countryside between Poland and Russia. Rosaura, a noble woman, dressed as a man is traveling by foot with her servant after they lose their horse. The story depicts the illusionary and dreamy nature of the world and the inconsistencies in life. The story is about a prince who is imprisoned since birth to evade an astrologer's prediction of his rebellion. He first loses control of himself then gains it when he discovers the illusory nature of human desires and eventually masters self-mastery. The essay addresses the nature of the Spanish culture as depicted in the play, values, mores and social expectations of the society. It also explores the political character of the era.
Pedro Calderon optimizes the Baroque style of art and literature that was widespread in the Spanish culture of the Golden Age. Like other Baroque literature he explores the themes of nature, Free will and fate and human character and conflicts in theology. In Siegmund's soliloquy, he portrays the dreamy nature of life. What is life? A frenzy.He says,
What is life? An illusion,
A shadow, fiction,
And the greatest good is paltry:
Since all life is a dream,
And dreams are also dreams (Calderon, Act 2 1195-1200).
Calderon also uses another soliloquy of Siegmund to describe the human character.Siegmund says" This guilty piece of human handiwork,
And all that is within it. Oh, how oft,
How oft, within or here abroad, have I
Waited, and in the whisper of my heart
Pray'd for the slanting hand of heaven to strike
The blow myself I dared not, out of fear…"(Calderon 2003, Act 1). Most of the golden age drama had their plots built of dishonor through sexual misconduct. Life is a dream portrays this kind of scheme through Estrella and Rosaura. This scenario explains the value of honor in the Spanish society during the period.
The society valued social classes and status in the play. The nobles deemed themselves higher than the rest of the community. Astolfo secretly loves Rosaura and wears a portrait of her around his neck. However, he cannot declare his love for her because she belongs to a lower social class than him. When Clotaldo admits to them that Rosaura is his daughter and was born of a noblewoman he readily accepts to marry her.
The society in the play is experiencing religious conflicts between Catholics and astrologers. The author wrote the story when there were reforms in the dominant Catholic church that led to Protestantism. The king realizes that he has imprisoned his son Siegmund for a prediction that could not be true. The rest of the state thinks that the son died, but now the King releases him from his cell at the tower. Astrologers believed in predestination where a person's behavior was determined by constellation while the church believed that every human being had the power of free will. The stars could shape a person's character but not determined how it would be. When Siegmund masters his self-control he overthrows his father but also forgives him (Act 3). He learns that he is expected to do good. The stars predicted his rebellion but not his change in conduct and forgiving his father. Though the author writes the story in Poland, it mirrors the state of the Spanish community at the time.
Honour is an important value in this society. Rosaura is seeking revenge for her affront perpetrated by Astolfo; She wants to kill him so that she could regain her honor. Clotaldo, her father as she later discovers, promises to help her execute Astolfo. He does this because dishonoring another person's child in the Spanish society meant affronting the father too. Siegmund loses his honor too when he causes chaos in the king's presence. He fights with the servants at the palace and makes inappropriate advances towards Rosaura and Estrella. He is returned to his cells at the tower and believes the whole event was a dream. However, he regains it when he adopts proper conduct and helps the polish soldiers overthrow his father in battle after Astolfo is declared Duke of Moskovyt. He restrains himself from the desires he has for Rosaura and keeps his honor and hers too.
Calderon shows the society's expectations of people to do good and behave well. The king expected Siegmund to act well as a prince should. The prophecy that he would be a vicious prince made him unsure so that he had to lock him up since his birth. The king is worried about putting so much trust in astronomy so he decides to release his son and watch how Siegmund would behave but his actions affirm the astrologer's prediction, and he throws him back to prison. Coltado informs Siegmund that all that he had done in the palace had been a dream.He also advises him that they expected him to do good even in his dream. This revelation helps Siegmund to develop a change in heart and change the destiny the astrologer had predicted. He defeats King Basilio in the battle and then forgives him for locking him up for 20 years in the prison tower. To fulfill his expectations as a responsible King, Siegmund sends the soldier who led the rebellion to prison in the tower. The scene is ironical, but he was performing his duty as a king, to punish the leader of the coup. It was also an act of exemplary leadership that the people expected of him.
Astolfo is a dishonorable man. Against the societal values, he slurs Rosaura. He also dishonors Estrella when he tries to woo yet he is wearing the portrait of Rosaura around his neck. Estrella is offended by this because it injures her reputation. Siegmund later forces him to marry Rosaura to pay back for shaming her. One has to kill their offender to regain honor. The purpose of Rosaura visit to Poland was to kill Astolfo to restore her self-respect. She fought alongside Siegmund in battle so that she could have the chance to kill him.
Loyalty is another significant value the author brings up. Fife, Rosaura's servant, proves his loyalty when he accompanies her from Muscovy to Poland across the rough terrain. He admits how much he loved his master and she too loves him. This kind of commitment expresses the kind of loyalty there was between servants and their masters. After Siegmund breaks out of jail, he asks Clotaldo to join him to fight against his father and Duke Astolfo. He opts to remain loyal to the king instead, despite that he owed Siegmund for sparing his life. Siegmund expressed his loyalty to his father when he saved his life when he won the battle. His father then declares him the heir to his throne. Siegmund also shows loyalty to his kingdom by punishing the soldier who spearheaded the rebellion. He demonstrated that he would ensure service of justice to lawbreakers. The Spanish society highly valued loyalty.
The government system was aristocratic. The leadership remained in the hands ...
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