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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

While sleeping and dreaming are universal experiences, each culture and historical period understands them in distinctive ways. This exhibition explores the ethereal realm of sleeping and dreaming in Renaissance England, from the beliefs, rituals, and habits of sleepers to the role of dream interpreters and interpretations in public and private life. 

Richard Brathwaite. Ar’t asleepe husband? London, 1640


The habits and attitudes of both royalty and commoners toward sleep and dreams provide us with a glimpse into a world that has strong connections with, and striking differences from, our own.Sufferers of insomnia and nightmares attempted to cure themselves with a variety of remedies—from herbal concoctions to magic. They adhered to specific rituals for going to bed and held beliefs about when it was or was not appropriate to sleep.


Through a variety of printed, handwritten, and visual materials, including literary texts by Shakespeare, Milton, and others, To Sleep, Perchance to Dream explores the vibrancy of early modern views of sleeping and dreaming. Nightclothes, gemstones, recipes and ingredients for curing nightmares and inducing sleep, and records of dreams about or by historical figures, provide a vivid glimpse of the various ways in which the Renaissance English prepared for sleep and sought to control and understand their dreams.


  Additional Information

Dates and Times:

February 19-May 30, 2009

Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm


Curated by:

Carole Levin, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Garrett Sullivan, Pennsylvania State University


Exhibition Consultants:

Steven K. Galbraith

Heather Wolfe

Interpret Your Dreams

Renaissance Dream Machine

Just for Kids

Downloadable Family Guide

Explore Our Kids' Pages on the Exhibition

Learn More

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Folger Theatre

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