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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Dream Interpretation

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Dream Interpretation

A range of early modern books offered dream interpretation, and physicians or astrologers would frequently interpret dreams for payment. Scholars such as Thomas Hill, Marc de Vulson, and Richard Saunders studied ancient dream treatises, especially Oneirocritica, composed by Artemidorus about 200CE, in order to understand the symbolism of dreams. Their interpretations varied widely, and meanings were based not only on the subject matter of the dream, but also on the dreamer’s gender, social status, dominant humor, or profession, as well as the time of year or night the dream was had.

Thomas Hill. The moste pleasaunte arte of the interpretacion of dreames. London, 1576

Thomas Hill’s text was very popular in Renaissance England, succinctly explaining the meanings of hundreds of dreams. For example, to dream of picking green apples from a tree meant good fortune, while dreaming of drinking thinned mustard meant one would be accused of murder.


Philip Goodwin’s book provides a guide for interpreting the mysterious divine and demonic visitations that a person might experience while sleeping and dreaming. He also advocates prayer before sleeping and after waking, and suggests that shorter stretches of sleep may bring better dreams.


Marc de Vulson believed that dreams could be both instructional and amusing. He argues that since true events are foretold in dreams, it would be foolish to ignore them. He explains what dreams about plays and pastimes mean. For example, dreaming you see a comedy on stage foretells success; dreaming of a tragedy means “grief and affliction.”


Richard Saunders believed that the same dream had different meanings depending on a person’s dominant humor and the time of year. Thus, during the third phase of Leo (mid-August), dreaming one was “stark naked in a Church” would be a bad dream for a person of sanguine humor but a good dream for a melancholic person.


View The Dream Machine (to right) to explore some early modern interpretations of your dreams.


  Exhibition Highlights

The Dream Machine

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