Pedro Calderon De La Barca

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Plays by Pedro Calderon De La Barca

Life is a Dream

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Life is a Dream (La vida es sueño) is a masterpiece from the Spanish Golden Age by Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–81), exploring illusion, reality and fate against the backdrop of a mythical Polish kingdom. Helen Edmundson's version, written entirely in blank verse, was first performed at the Donmar Warehouse, London, on 13 October 2009 (previews from 8 October).

The play's action focuses on the fictional Segismundo, Prince of Poland, who has been imprisoned in a tower by his father, King Basilio, following a dire prophecy that the prince would bring disaster to the country and death to the King. Basilio briefly frees Segismundo, but when the prince goes on a rampage, the king imprisons him again, persuading him that it was all a dream. However, Segismundo is released once again during a popular uprising; this time he translates his bewilderment over his changes of fortune into loving charity and kindness. In a complex subplot, Rosaura, a spurned woman, is eventually reunited with her lover.

The Donmar Warehouse production was directed by Jonathan Munby and designed by Angela Davies. It starred Dominic West as Segismundo. The other members of the cast were Rupert Evans, Kate Fleetwood, David Horovitch, Lloyd Hutchinson, Sharon Small, David Smith, Malcolm Storry and Dylan Turner.

Pedro Calderón de la Barca was born in Madrid in 1600, the son of the Secretary to the Royal Treasury. He studied at the Jesuit Colegio Imperial in Madrid and then studied canon law at the University of Salamanca. He began writing in 1620 and between 1625 and 1628 he served in the army in Italy and Flanders and combined the career of soldier and writer. During his life he wrote some 120 secular plays including The Surgeon of Honour (1635), Life is a Dream (1635) and Three Judgements in One (1635-1640). After a series of misfortunes in his personal life Calderón took Holy Orders in 1651 and, although he didn't write again for the public theatre, he continued to produce two religious plays (autos sacramentales) a year for another thirty years. Calderón died in 1681.