Dreams, Identity and the Play within the Play in "Taming of the Shrew" Essay

Dreams, Identity and the Play within the Play in "Taming of the Shrew" Essay

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Am I a lord, and have such a lady?

Or do I dream? Or have I dreamed till now?

I do not sleep. I see, I hear, I speak.

I smell sweet savours, and I feel soft things.

Upon my life, I am lord indeed,

And not a tinker, nor Christopher Sly.

From The Taming of the Shrew (Induction 2.66-71)

Themes of memory and dreams echo throughout the works of Shakespeare, just as these concepts still resonate in postmodern literature. In The Taming of the Shrew the lower class drunken character Christopher Sly is picked up off the streets by a nobleman and, for sheer amusement, dressed up to be a lord. Though at first skeptical of his identity, as Sly remembers who his father is, what his profession is, and what his hobbies are, the poor drunk man soon believes the nobleman that his memories are false and that he is in fact of noble blood. Though the audience knows of the game, and what Sly's background actually is, Sly himself contemplates the difference between his dreams and his memories, blurring the boundaries of the dream world and waking life. Sly ponders, "do I dream? Or have I dreamed till now?" considering the possibility that his memories are nothing more than dreams and that he has now awakened to his true identity. In this sense, Sly is battling with the contradictions of the condition of the liberal human subject. Sly has been taught by society to believe that his memories form his identity, but at the same time his surroundings suggest something other than those memories and thus he no longer is sure of who he really is. Sly is still guided by the notion that memory forms identity and so he assumes that his memories are false and that his new identity has been his all along.

The play continues wit...


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...he fails to allow his dreams to add to his identity (in his case, however, his "dream" appears to actually be his reality). Petruccio, like Neo and Quaid, appears in the play within the play to affirm that "reality" is more than just physical environment (i.e., as he denies the place of the wedding ceremony and his attire to equate his identity). Quaid and Leonard's environments are just as fabricated as Sly's noble environment is, yet even their dreams and implanted memories/mementos shape their identity. All of these texts utilize the notion of autopoiesis and emergence from systems within systems. They acknowledge the validity of implanted memories and dreams to demonstrate that though systems force their inhabitants to view them with limiting lenses, when one is able to acknowledge that they do exist in a system within a larger system, emergence can take place.

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