“The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen”: Multisensory Dreams in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

In: Träumen mit allen Sinnen
Claude Fretz
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This chapter argues that the multisensory and synesthetic dream experiences depicted in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595) and Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499) transcend the commonplace concern with the typology of dreams by instead exploring the raw and sensorially embodied experience of dreaming. The chapter further shows how and why the depiction of dreams in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili points to a (hitherto neglected) direct or indirect influence of Colonna on Shakespeare. The chapter begins by showing how dreams were in early modern England viewed primarily as sensory phenomena. This is also seen in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the characters’ romantically (or erotically) fulfilling dream worlds are made up, above all, of multisensory and synesthetic perceptions. But the chapter suggests that Shakespeare’s representation of dreams as multisensory realisations of love, rather than simply reflecting the early modern cultural understanding of dreams, may owe much to the influence of Colonna’s dream romance Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. In addition to topographical similarities, borrowings of imagery, and comparable uses of dream frames, Shakespeare’s and Colonna’s shared interest in the raw and sensorially embodied experience of dreaming bespeaks a connection between their dream worlds.

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