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Instantly after reading the letter, however, Brutus makes clear that his political awakening has led to physical sleeplessness: “Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar / I have not slept” (2.1.61-62).
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 En s’appuyant sur la compréhension physiologique de l’insomnie et des hallucinations au temps de Shakespeare, cet article étudie comment les représentations dramatiques d’insomnie et de rêves hallucinatoires renforcent l’accent distinctif placé dans les tragédies de Shakespeare sur la souffrance physique et mentale.
The Elizabethans believed that the appearance of spirits was accompanied by a wind. In modern theatre, ghosts and supernatural occurrences are difficult to stage.
The audiences of today are used to “realistic” theatre, such as Shakespeare’s ghost are produced on our stages with strange lightning effects, off-stage sounds. They just accepted ghosts and witches as the case may be.
In a letter to him, Cassius writes: “Brutus, thou sleep’st; awake and see thyself” (2.1.46).
Cassius here speaks metaphorically and refers to Brutus’s political awakening, through which the latter becomes conscious of his duty to remove Caesar.
Critics have linked the states of dreaming and sleeping to Shakespeare’s mode of romance, or more generally to the indeterminate conception of genre towards the end of his career; and work has also been undertaken on the links between nightmares, sleeplessness, fear, and conscience mainly in Shakespeare’s depiction of sleep, sleeplessness, and waking dreams as part of a wider emphasis on his characters’ sufferings – and thus as part of his deliberate design of tragedy – has, however, lacked critical attention, particularly with regard to plays other than Recent criticism, moreover, has shown an interest in the ways in which Shakespeare draws on the medical discourses of his time to convey his characters’ states of body and mind. Hobgood, for example, has argued that is “obsessed with ailment, disease, and biological breakdown,” and that the ailments represented in the play can be traced back to the condition of fear, both in the medical literature of the time and in Shakespeare’s text itself., Shakespeare similarly exploits the dramatic potential offered by early modern physiological understandings when he uses sleep, sleeplessness, and hallucinations to help foreground his characters’ tragic suffering which, in both of these plays, arises from the gap between their aspirations and their abilities or possibilities.
Ultimately, representations of sleeplessness and waking dreams in these plays therefore also support Shakespeare’s post-classical model of tragedy, which complicates ideas of cosmic adversity or metaphysical punishment and instead emphasises the suffering caused by the characters’ failure to realise their aspirations.
According to the English physician and translator Thomas Phaer, it was even the reason behind the plague.
Early modern writings thus suggest that sleeplessness was part of a vicious cycle, being produced by illness and causing (further) illness and detriment of the same kind.