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 sleepst 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.
Methought I heard a voice cry Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep, the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravelld sleave of care,
The death of each days life, sore labours bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great natures second course,
Chief nourisher in lifes feast.
You lack the season of all natures, sleep.
What early tongue so sweet saluteth me?
Young son, it argues a distemperd head
So soon to bid good morrow to thy bed:
Care keeps his watch in every old mans eye,
And where care lodges, sleep will never lie;
But where unbruised youth with unstuffd brain
Doth couch his limbs, there golden sleep doth reign:
Romeo and Juliet (2.3.36-42)
O sleep! O gentle sleep!
Natures 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 hushd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumd chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lulld 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 bodys works expird:
For then my thoughtsfrom 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 souls 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.
He that sleeps feels not the tooth-ache.
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 wakd 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 wakd
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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Shakespeare's Pathos - Portrayal of Childhood and Youth
Shakespeare's Pathos - Portrayal of Old Age
Shakespeare's Pathos - Portrayal of Women
Shakespeare's Pathos - Attention to Details
Shakespeare's Pathos - Portrayals of Sleep
Shakespeare's Contemporaries: Top Five Greatest
Four Periods of Shakespeare's Life
Worst Diseases in Shakespeare's London
Daily Life in Shakespeare's London
Preface to The First Folio
Publishing in Elizabethan England
What did Shakespeare drink?
What did Shakespeare look like?
Words Shakespeare Invented
The Elder Hamlet: The Kingship of Hamlet's Father
Hamlet's Relationship with the Ghost
The Significance of the Ghost in Armor
Violence in Shakespeare's Plays
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...