Reality and Illusion: Life is a Dream


How does Buddhist Dream Yoga connect to a 17th-century Spanish play? The next couple of lessons constitute a sub-unit of sorts, and also serve as a segue to Unit III. The topic: the tricky question of the nature of reality and illusion. How do we know what's what? Can we know? The material: fiction--first a play, then a film. Pedro Calderón de la Barca's La Vida es Sueno (1626), which often reads like a Buddhist treatment of the subject, also explores the ideas of free will and fate.


Podcast Lecture: The Somniloquy



Calderon, Life is a Dream: Act I



1. Who are Rosaura & Clarin? Segismundo and Clotaldo? How do the former come to meet the latter? What is Segismundo's plight?

2. Why does Clotaldo fear he will have to kill Rosaura & Clarin and why is he loathe to do so?

3. Why is Rosaura dressed as a man?

4. Explain the family intrigue surrounding the king Basilio. What is Astolfo's motivation regarding Estrella?

5. What is the king's plan for Segismundo? What are his reasons for creating this "most amazing event?"

6. Note how Segismundo is described. What kind of man is he? How is he described by his father?

7. Compare the attitudes and actions of Basilio and Clotaldo towards their children. What picture of fatherhood does Calderón portray?



Literary Analysis: "O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive" (Walter Scott). Scott's famous line is quite apt, as in its Latin origins, the verb "to deceive" means "to ensnare." The American Heritage Dictionary specifies that deception "involves the deliberate misrepresentation of the truth." In other words, deception is all about creating an illusion. List the various ways in which the principle characters of Act I seek to deceive other characters. What is the illusion that each one wants to spin?