Situating the dreams of Cleopatra, Bottom and Caliban in the context of Elizabethan oneirology, medicine, politics, and the English Reformation, this paper argues that Shakespearean oneirotopias (dream topoi) reveal how deeply the Bard felt about contemporary emotional wellbeing, whether concerning an Alexandrine empress, a subaltern weaver or an inebriated “monster.” Elizabethans saw dreaming largely within martyrological, heretical, theological or utilitarianist discourses. Proto-medical texts of Galenic oneirology, drawn from Greek influences, gave a secondary position to dreams as dispensable and falsifiable residues of waking realities. Shakespeare’s dreamscape challenged the notion of dreams as a “naturall sicknes,” finding dramaturgical, aesthetic and psychotherapeutic roles for them. Seen in the light of the method of dream work devised by the psychotherapist Montague Ullman, the Shakespearean dreamscape elicits the anxieties of Elizabethan oneirology to trace and articulate the etiology of dreams, which it failed to wholly appropriate into either a divine (metaphysical) or anthropogenic (secular or materialistic) discourse. The Shakespearean stage operates as a meeting ground between private traumas and collectivized spectacle, legitimizing dream phenomena as perfectly natural and organic constituents of the processual sickness and health of the Renaissance mind, beyond Elizabethan cynicism and the Freudian model of dream censorship.
KEYWORDS: Shakespeare, Reformation, dreams, Renaissance, oneirology, Ullman