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“Either his notion weakens, or his discernings / Are lethargied”: Sleeplessness and Waking Dreams as Tragedy in Julius Caesar and King Lear

Abstract : Drawing on the early modern physiological understanding of sleeplessness and hallucinations, this article examines how Shakespeare’s dramatic representations of insomnia and waking dreams support his tragedies’ iconic emphasis on bodily and mental suffering. To that end, I consider Brutus’s insomnia and the nightly appearance of Caesar’s ghost in Julius Caesar, as well as King Lear’s sleeplessness and his ontological uncertainty about whether his misfortune may be a dream. Whereas Brutus’s vision of Caesar’s ghost is often interpreted as a supernatural visitation, I argue that it can equally be read as a physiological hallucination caused by Brutus’s sleeplessness. 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 King Lear, I also show how ideas of sleeping and dreaming introduce tragicomic elements which, however, ultimately give further magnitude to the sense of pain and injustice.
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https://hal-hprints.archives-ouvertes.fr/hprints-03437605
Contributor : Claude Fretz Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Saturday, November 20, 2021 - 9:03:06 AM
Last modification on : Tuesday, November 23, 2021 - 3:35:20 AM

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Claude Fretz. “Either his notion weakens, or his discernings / Are lethargied”: Sleeplessness and Waking Dreams as Tragedy in Julius Caesar and King Lear. Etudes Epistémè : revue de littérature et de civilisation (XVIe - XVIIIe siècles), Association Études Épistémè, 2016, ⟨10.4000/episteme.1383⟩. ⟨hprints-03437605⟩

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