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Shakespeare on Sleep

Please click on the links to each play for explanatory notes.
Helpful resources are also at the bottom of this page.

Thou hast no figures nor no fantasies
Which busy care draws in the brains of men;
Therefore thou sleep’st so sound.
Julius Caesar (2.1.248-251)

To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
Hamlet (3.1.64-98)

Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep,’ the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
Macbeth (2.2.46-51)

You lack the season of all natures, sleep.
Macbeth (3.4.167)

What early tongue so sweet saluteth me?
Young son, it argues a distemper’d head
So soon to bid good morrow to thy bed:
Care keeps his watch in every old man’s eye,
And where care lodges, sleep will never lie;
But where unbruised youth with unstuff’d brain
Doth couch his limbs, there golden sleep doth reign:
Romeo and Juliet (2.3.36-42)

O sleep! O gentle sleep!
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfum’d chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull’d with sound of sweetest melody?
2 Henry IV (3.1.7-16)

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expir’d:
For then my thoughts—from far where I abide—
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself no quiet find.
Sonnet 27

He that sleeps feels not the tooth-ache.
Cymbeline (5.4.176)

Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had wak’d after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak’d
I cried to dream again.
The Tempest (3.2.96-104)

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The Tempest (4.1.168-170)

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In the Spotlight

Points to Ponder

"There is something magical in the mere sight of a sleeper; the sheer passivity, the immobility, the innocence, the helplessness, even of the strong, even of the wicked, come home to us, with out comment, directly; the sleeper is made one with nature. And sleep has another direct effect on the imagination to which Shakespeare, like other poets, was keenly alive: it is the portrait and prognostic of the sleep that ends all. Death itself, except in association with childhood, he almost never rendered pathetically; but, in sleep, "death's counterfeit", and in the preparations for it, he seemed to find exactly that fanciful and tender symbol of the dread finality which harmonized with his pathos." [J. F. Pyre]. Read on...