Essay: Dreams in literature

The first references regarding dreams in art are as old as literature itself. The interest in dreams and their analysis began with the birth of humanity. Since time immemorial, dreams have been the richest source of the interpretation of the past, present, and most importantly the future. The stories of Gilgamesh, Iliad and the Bible all describe dreams of some of the main characters along with their meanings. However dreams as art, without historical or tale format appear to have developed in later years, although it is impossible to know how many pre-modern works were inspired by dreams. (Belanger, 2005)’According to one of the oldest beliefs, sleep was a state similar to the state of death. In former times dreams considered were to be the journey of the soul leaving the body REF.
This idea of the soul leaving the body can be to the pre-Christian era.
In the Bible there are many examples of dreams. In ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, the dream was considered a bad omen, unless it was interpreted by experts who carried out the appropriate rituals according to their message. Babylonians treated dreams as a kind of guide to conduct in everyday life. Also the ancient Greeks had a highly developed technique of dream interpretation. Initially, they considered dreams as signs from the gods, consisting of a kind of guide to the complicated way of life. Health was analysed in terms of dreams. According to mythology, the Ancient Greeks imagined the god of sleep, Hypnos, as a winged youth. He was the brother of Thanatos, the god of death. Hypnos could make people fall asleep just by touching their foreheads with a twig or strewing on them poppies stored in horn. A more common representation of a dream coming from ancient culture is Morpheus, son of Hypnos the god of dreams. Morpheus had the ability to mimic any human form and appear in dreams. REF
In the Bible the dream has a symbolic meaning. It could be an omen, prophecy or vision. God appeared to Pharaoh in a dream, cautioning him of imminent danger. Pharaoh’s vision allowed him to avoid the oncoming adversity. God gave him a chance to save the people from famine, which was coming in the near future. Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, when up seven cows, sleek and fat appeared out of the river and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. The cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up, but when he fell asleep again, he dreamed a second dream. Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Pharaoh woke up again and realized it was a dream which may have been sent as a warning.
– Image 1 Pharaoh’s Dreams by James Tissot
The next day, Pharaoh decided to convene all the magicians and wise men of Egypt but none of them knew what the dream meant. Joseph, who was held captive had the gift of interpretation of dreams . ‘The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.’ REF
However, after seven years of prosperity there was to be time of misery and poverty. Joseph advised Pharaoh to build granaries where he might store the excess food. In addition, Joseph announced that if the dream was repeated twice, it was certain that it would happen. REF
The author of the Exodus proved that dreams could predict the future or foreshadow any specific event. The Bible is a source of various motives and symbols that are for people a reference to real life. Dreams in the Bible reveal the intricacies of the human psyche, reveal fears and anxieties, and yet are a path which God and man can communicate. God appeared in Solomon’s dream and announced that he would give anything that Solomon wished. Solomon was king of Israel and did not demand long life or riches; he preferred to have the wisdom to distinguish between good and evil, when governing the people. God fulfilled his wish, but also gave him fame and wealth. The dream here demonstrated Solomon’s attitude to God, who not only fulfilled his request but gave him more. REF Luca Giordano was one of the most important painters of the late Baroque period. Invited to Spain by King Charles II in 1692, he was soon established as the leading painter at the Spanish Court. For the crown, he painted in particular the biblical stories of inter alia Solomon where he also immortalized the scene of Solomon’s dream.
Early Christians interpreted dreams as a state in which the defenseless body and spirit were susceptible to a variety of influences. Nightmares were thought to be a clear manifestation of demons and monsters or warnings from God or a message from heaven. In the New Testament, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and declared that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Mary and Joseph were not married yet and Joseph thought about annulling the betrothal because of the pregnancy of Mary. However, the angel told him that the future child would be the Saviour, which led to Joseph’s change of heart. REF
Dream themes appeared as early as in ancient Greek and Roman comedies, and continued to provide material for drama throughout the centuries. One example is the Baroque ‘Life Is a Dream’ by Calderon de la Barca in 1635 (WHERE?!)

Long before the discovery of psychoanalysis and its development, there were attempts to unravel the mystery of the origin and message of dreams. Also artists started to be more involve in this phenomen. The Renaissance era was no exception. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, dreams became a theme often adoptedby artists who tried to push the boundaries of art seeking ways to show the unpreventable. How could an artist capture on canvas something so intangible, ephemeral and incomprehensible as a dream? Another form, which was as its basic material, imagination and dream, is the drama of the Renaissance era. Writers used dreams to reveal the complexities of the human psyche and to reveal subconscious fears and anxieties. This method was used by William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) who already in the sixteenth century broke with the existing conventions of drama and placed the supernatural alongside the real world. In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” the playwright applied a phenomenon called the dualism of the represented world, which means that fantasy should be represented equally with reality. REF
One night in the middle of summer the boundary between these two worlds was obliterated. The forest, which was the place of the action, became a place for the simultaneous operation of two states of consciousness: reality and dream. In this way, Shakespeare created an image resembling the original beliefs of the people or the fantasies of a child whose mind was not yet sufficiently affected by the suffering of the world and the things overlooked by adults. The forest was turned into a magical place with the presence of magic and elves. Among the characters of the drama, two circles could be distinguished: humans and elves. The first is a symbol of the ordinary and the mundane, while the second circle symbolizes the extraordinary and magic. Elves show that anything can happen. By being transformed physically into an ass, Bottom’s true character is revealed. This was depicted by Edwin Landseer in his painting ‘Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.Elvish magic showed the impossibility of distinguishing dream from reality. In the words of Shakespeare: ‘The lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of imagination all compact.’ REF
In Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ the world resembles ghostly phantom apnea, which is rife with crime, and the scenery is immersed in the darkness of night. The theme is the desire to gain power, which Macbeth and his wife achieve by the murder of King Duncan. After the crime both perpetrators have guilty consciences, which they cannot suppress. Dark thoughts and memories haunt both characters in dreams. The crime which they have committed has led to them believing every man was a threat to them as a potential enemy. In a dream Macbeth sees the spirit of a dead friend, Banquo. This means he is faced with a difficult choice. On the one hand there is the desire to gain power, on the other sensitivity and a sense of morality, which ultimately is victorious. Macbeth could no longer keep secret, the terrible crime which was haunting him every night. Nightmares also tormented his wife. Remorse disturbed his peace of mind. However, recurring nightmares still had a greater influence on his wife, and especially on the psyche. This is confirmed by the words of Macbeth (ACT 2 SCENE 5) REF
‘Methought I heard a voice cry, ‘Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep”the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.’ REF
The killing a man by Macbeth is the killing of dream, his own conscience. The painting “Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli (1781) reflects the struggle of the protagonist of Macbeth and his wife to come to terms with the murder. The woman lying on the bed perfectly reflects their mental state. Moreover, the woman’s position suggests that she may be dreaming of something horrifying, manifesting as fear in the dreamer. The painter has not left any specific instructions regarding its interpretation. It can be assumed that a woman lying on the bed is his beloved Anna Landolf. This would allow the discovery of an additional intimate sense. REF
‘The Nightmare simultaneously offers both the image of a dream’by indicating the effect of the nightmare on the woman’and a dream image’in symbolically portraying the sleeping vision.’ REF It is also unclear whether the woman is immersed in a dream or whether she is trying to catch her last breath. The symbolism and imagery of the painting is very much exposed. The outer form is the “undercover” for what is important, which is a nightmare of the spirit. Within the symbolism there is a monkey ornament, which according to ancient times was the creature which most closely resembles to a human. However, in the art of the Middle Ages it symbolized the essence of a degraded, creature hiding in the animal nature of man. REF Similar symbols associated with the character of the horse. Additional evidence may be darkness, from which it emerges.
‘Sleep, the Cousin of Death’ – Charles Sackville REF
Indeed the woman lying on the bed could be dead or just sleeping.
During the Renaissance poets developed an awareness, not only of the importance od dreams but of unlimited imagination. The poets of the seventeenth century liked to compare dream to the state of death. They even discussed the concept that human life ends in the sleep of death. – Miko??aj S??p Szarzy??ski (1550 ‘ 1581) REF
In European literature Romanticism emphasized the value of emotions and inspirations coming from the irrational. Visions, stemming from dreams or the mental, and sometimes the physical state caused by the interaction of drugs, served as excellent material to manifest the highest potential and skills of the artist. Onirism which is an art form directly based on material from dreams, or which employs dream-like imagery, often embraces the entire composition of the artist’s work, especially the construction of the person and his relationship with the real, fantastic and spiritual world. (Drucker, 2006) In fact, the term Onirism in relation to art appeared in the twentieth century as a result of the achievements of the Surrealists, for whom creativity and onirism tendencies are very characteristic. The Surrealists were fascinated by hypnosis, myths and tales, tearing down the logical order of reality and investigating absurdity, dreams and mediumship which was thriving at the time of psychoanalysis. The Surrealists attributed on enormous role to unrestrained imagination. Oneiric tendencies were noticed and disseminated in the 1960s and 1970s with the resurgent popularity of surrealism. (Jurewicz, 2014)
The epithet “oneiric” is most commonly used to characterize the artistic techniques, rather than the overall concept of the dream. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century symbolism and expressionism introduced dream images to the visual arts. Expressionism was also a literary movement and embraced later work. (Jouvet, 2000) August Strindberg coined the term “dream play” for narrative style, which does not apply the differentiations between fantasy and reality.
Whereas others believed that sleep is a kind of escape from the world. ‘The Wedding’ (1901) defining work of Polish drama written at the turn of the 20th century by Stanis??aw Wyspia??ski (1869 – 1907) describes the perils of the national drive toward self-determination following the two unsuccessful uprisings against the Partitions of Poland, in November 1830 and January 1863. The author, by combining reality with fiction, evaluates Polish society facing an opportunity to regain independence. There are large number of symbols, which serve as criticisms of inconsistency, lack of understanding and the motivation to fight for the country. Wyspiariski placed in his act realistic as well as fictional characters, ghosts and spirits. There is no doubt that the whole of the second act of the drama is constructed from oneiric conventions. Ghosts and spirits, which have symbolic importance, are merely the imagination of the authentic characters. Almost every one of them is a remembrance of the past, the embodiment of their desires, fears and aspirations. Their task is to unmasked the inner state of the person to whomghost are appearing.
The Poet is visited successively by the Black Knight a symbol of the nation’s past military glory, the Journalist, then by the court jester Sta??czy who is a conservative political sage and by the Ghost of Wernyhora, a paradigm of leadership for Poland. Wernyhora presents the Host with a golden horn symbolizing the national mission, and calls the Polish people to revolt. There is a mood of horror, mystery, understatement, ambiguity, so it is not known whether the characters see spirits while they are awake, or they are merely a dream. Painting “B’?dne ko??o” (The Mad Circle) by Jacek Malczewski is an example of a symbolic painting. The painting presents quite a strange scene referring to the play ‘The Wedding ‘ In the center of the painting is located a ladder on it there is sitting little boy while numerous characters are dancing around him. Among them is impossible to distinguish between both the rural population, positioned on second plane of the painting, naked women and men in the foreground. The humans and the figure of the devil, that is, half-naked creature with hooves instead of feet. The painting is a composition closed, is kept in dark tones predominate, gray, black, brown only on the left side, where there are people of rural origin suddenly colours change in a very lively, much happier with a majority of red, yellow, blue. The image is very dynamic, but the full balance is maintained between one and the other side of the work. Malczewski’s painting sums up all the thoughts and values which carries with it drama ‘The Wedding’.
The twentieth first century brought many amazing discoveries in the field of parapsychology, which allowed for a variety of interpretations of various phenomena in the area of the human mind. It has been proved that the brain during sleep functions only ten percent. REF
What is happening with the rest? It is still a mystery to be solve. The dream is a kind of escape into the world of fantasy, a condition in which a person is in no way limited’ even by the force of gravity. Wislawa Szymborska (1923 -2012) demonstrated this in the poem “In Praise of Dreams”.
In praise of dreams
In my dreams
I paint like Vermeer van Delft.
I speak fluent Greek
and not just with the living.
I drive a car
that does what I want it to.
I am gifted
and write mighty epics.
I hear voices
as clearly as any venerable saint.
My brilliance as a pianist
would stun you.
I fly the way we ought to,
i.e., on my own.
Falling from the roof,
I tumble gently to the grass.
I’ve got no problem
breathing under water.
I can’t complain:
I’ve been able to locate Atlantis.
It’s gratifying that I can always
wake up before dying.
As soon as war breaks out,
I roll over on my other side.
I’m a child of my age,
but I don’t have to be.
A few years ago
I saw two suns.
And the night before last a penguin,
clear as day.

The poem’s title makes the subject matter obvious. The subject shows the reader that during sleep, nothing is impossible. . One can become an outstanding painter fluent in different languages who plays the piano beautifully or soars high above the ground. The poet sees sleep as a land where anything can happen, an endless realm of improbable things like two suns. In the dream, death does not need to be feared. Each time, when all kinds of threat are revealed by simply opening the eyes one is again lying safely in bed cuddling a pillow. Unknown corners of the earth can be explored; it is possible or to breathe underwater, we become better, we blur the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead. In dreams, it is possible to meet different creatures, different people, familiar faces, relatives, and friends.. people who died a long time ago who appear to be alive. Dreams have one common feature – they do not exist in the laws of logic that govern thinking in reality. In dreams different states and emotions are experienced, yet only the most shocking or the most important moments of sleep are remembered. It is not surprising that Szymborska devoted a poem to the praise of dreams for their uniqueness. A dream is a second life; it is state of transition, in which people are the masters of their dreams.
Apnea material began to be used as an inspiration for comics in the 1980s. For instance the popular comic strips of Winsor McCay. Artists began to illustrate their own dreams. In’ The Committee of Sleep’ the Harvard psychologist Deirdre explored material for media provided by dreams among many modernist works inspired by dreams she included paintings such as ‘Flag’ (1954’55) by Jasper Johns, most of the work of Jim Dine and Salvador Dali, novels ranging from ‘Sophie Choice’ directed by Alan J. Pakula, who adapted William Styron’s novel of the same name. Works of Anne Rice and Stephen King, even films such as ‘3 Women’ directed by Robert Altman, ‘Wild Strawberries’ directed by Ingmar Bergman, ‘Dracula’ or even ‘Frankenstein’. Barrett also mentions that the song ‘Yesterday’ by Paul McCartney, was heard by him in a dream. (Belanger, 2005)
Content coming from the dreams is still used for different purposes by many contemporary artists. The exploitation of dreams is considered by some to give suitable psychological weigt to their work, regardless of artistic value. (Pells, 1973)
CHAPTER THREE ‘ SURREALISM: THE DREAM MOVEMENT
Dreams have been an inseparable part of everyone’s life since time immemorial, and this is reflected in the fields of literature and art where the use of dreams as theme.
Simultaneously, the discussion regarding dreams reached a new level of awareness in the western world due to the work of Sigmund Freud who introduced the concept of the unconscious as a field of research. Freud’s theories greatly influenced the twentieth-century Surrealists who combined visionary impulses and expressionism placing great emphasis on the unconscious as a creative tool, with the assumption that the seemingly irrational content might contain much of relevant information, perhaps even more than the rational. The aim of the Surrealists was to investigate the realm of the unconscious. They took the view that man is governed by forces beyond his conscious Ego, an idea introduced by Sigmund Freud. Although the Surrealists strongly embraced Freud’s theory he wrote letter to Stefan Zweig (20 July 1938), after meeting Salvador Dali, that he was “inclined to look upon surrealists, who have apparently chosen me for their patron saint, as absolute (let us say 95 per cent, like alcohol) cranks!” (Pontalis, Frontiers in Psychoanalysis, p.49) Films, particularly those of Bunuel have, to a large extent been responsible for spreading the concept of the dream. Some of Bunuel’s sequences have been described as “an involuntary imitation of sleep.” (Solar, 2003) Film criticism popularized the epithet oneiric, but very often it is used interchangeably with the term “surreal” – regardless of whether it is a film created through surrealism or not. Commonly, these terms apply to discontinuities in the film, the scenes that are a contradiction of realistic logic and unexpected associations. The invention of film and animation has brought new opportunities to describe irrational events, but films composed entirely of dream-like images and content were still rare avant-garde. (Peterson, 1994)
One of the most interesting movements in painting of the twentieth century was Surrealism. Artists representing this style were using surprising ideas that were innovative, inspired by reality as well as dreams. Antonin Artaud states that, ‘Surrealism is not a style. It is the cry of a mind turning back on itself.’ (1997, p.3) Surrealism was founded in France and quickly gained followers. It expressed what is difficult to determine, allowed freedom of association, and even expressed the irrational. The style was a revolt against classicism, realism, empiricism, rationalism, utilitarianism and previous conventions in art. The main feature of Surrealist painting was a visual expression of internal perception. Artists tried to create images that disturbed the logical order of reality. Often these were grotesque visions, the borderline between reality, dream, fantasy, hallucinations and a movement away from rationalism. (Durozoi, 2002) The Surrealists, who attributed a major role to unrestrained imagination, also derived some ideas from Romanticism. They wanted to dramatize even seemingly ordinary events. Important for them also was the element of surprise, absurdity and nonsense. The Surreal images are shreds of disordered and illogical thoughts. Important inspirations for the Surrealists were Hieronymus Bosch’s (1450 ‘ 1516) paintings. Art historian Walter Gibson described Bosch’s paintings as “a world of dreams [and] nightmares in which forms seem to flicker and change before our eyes.” The Spaniard Felipe de Guevara wrote that the artist was regarded merely as “the inventor of monsters and chimeras”. Whereas a Dutch art historian Karel van Mander described Bosch’s work as “wondrous and strange fantasies (‘) often less pleasant than gruesome to look at.”
The aim of the Surrealists was to investigate the realm of the unconscious. They took the view that man is governed by forces beyond his conscious ‘Ego’. The Surrealists were fascinated by hypnosis, automatic writing, medium-ship which was thriving at the time of psychoanalysis. The most prominent psychoanalysis’s were Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Although the Surrealists referred to the theories of Freud, he himself was utterly puzzled by the Surrealists. They Surrealists wanted to dramatize even seemingly ordinary events. Their images are shreds of disordered and illogical thoughts. Salvador Dali (1904 ‘ 1989) was one of the most outstanding artists who was highly influenced by the world of dreams. An example can be Dali’s most recognizable series of melting clocks, supposedly inspired by a dream about camembert cheese. ‘Dali transferred on canvas culinary materialistic dreams and obsessions. Symbolism is part of the inherited culture of human nature. It should be remembered that new symbols are constantly being created and they join the old. Each symbol has its counterpart which is its translation or example. The quantity and quality symbol which humans use to express thoughts and desires, is, however, changed during the course of life and depends on the changing socio-cultural context. Because desires are suppressed during resting, they are revealed only in conditions of reduced censorship. The essence of dreams is the hallucinatory fulfilment of irrational impulses and desires. The formation of dreams involving two types of mental processes: one that creates thoughts of sleep and the other encodes these thoughts in such a way that they are irrational. Encoding is designed to conceal infantile desires, as well as those that are contrary to the principles of pleasure, but which are thought about in everyday life.’ (Jurewicz, 2014 p.7)

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