Many people have reflected on passion, on discovering one’s sexuality and the consequences thereof. However, it remains curious that whether they are Sylvia Plath or William Shakespeare, they always fall back on the literary motif of dreams to talk about this subject.
The dream is the literary device that has always been used to depict the darkest (and therefore the wildest, most irrational and passionate) of human instincts; even before Freud associated it with the subconscious, the dream world already represented the unleashing of human instincts, instincts which we repress during the day like the good little civilized people we are.
One of the finest works by the poet Sylvia Plath (Boston 1932 – London 1963) is Three Women, a dramatic poem (in the theatrical sense of the word) about a woman’s need to find fulfillment as such by giving birth. In this text, Plath describes three women’s relationships with maternity: the woman who is willing to give up her life for the newborn baby, who the author shows as having a protective instinct that is taken to extremes and, therefore, as unhealthy as the woman who abandons her baby and is unable to overcome her decision (What is it I miss?), as well as the woman who has undergone an abortion and subsequent depression but is able to go on living (The city waits and aches. The little grasses / crack through stone and they are / green with life).
Despite their different experiences, the three women reflect on the same point and, for one reason or another, end up asking themselves the same question: when does wickedness, evil, enter a child? While the first voice asks herself: “What is it that flings these innocent souls at us?”, we can find the answer in lines by the other two voices: “It is I. It is I / feeling the bitterness between my teeth. / The incalculable malice of the everyday”, says the second voice and, “I had a dream of an island, red with cries. / It was a dream and did not mean a thing”, says the third.
We do not only find fantasy worlds in dreams, we also imagine how we would like our everyday life to be. And wickedness enters children (we’re talking about children who haven’t had difficult childhoods) when sexual impulses appear during adolescence; the need to satisfy these primitive desires (that are inherent in all humans) is what creates the mechanism for wickedness that affects the workings of society.
This thesis can already be found in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a dreamlike comedy, where the characters continually walk along that fine line that separates reality from fantasy.
In this play we encounter Puck, a naughty sprite able to charm any sleeper. With him there is a group of young people in love with one another, unable to fulfill their desires; it will be thanks to the dreams created by Puck that they will leave aside their cruelty and wickedness to resolve the conflict.
However, the adult couple in this comedy, Oberon and Titania, is still embroiled in the game of wickedness and demonstrating that the other is not really enamored (or in need) of the company of the other. Here is the proof that wickedness enters all creatures inexorably. Thus, what distinguishes us is our capacity to turn love into a game, so that we are able to overcome the disappointments that we are sure to suffer.
(Photographs from the staging of Ein sommernachstraum directed by Àlex Rigola in the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus.)