Carole Levin


On her book Dreaming the English Renaissance: Politics and Desire in Court and Culture

Cover Interview of March 05, 2009

A close-up

On page 6 the reader can find out how what dreams might mean.  For example, to dream of asparagus gathered up and tied in bundles was an omen of tears, but seeing it growing wild predicted good fortune.  An artichoke in a dream meant that dreamers would soon receive a favor from someone from whom they least expected it.  Picking green apples off the top of the tree foretold advancement.  On the other hand, a cauliflower was a terrible thing to see in a dream.  It meant that all the dreamer’s friends would slight him or her, and then to make matters worse, when the dreamer descended into poverty, this person would get no pity or aid.  Dreaming of an egg suggested that the dreamer would hear angry voices the next day.  Violets were ominous to the unmarried dreamer, foretelling great evil, but these same flowers promised joy to the married dreamer.  Flowers in general, however, signified a funeral.  If one ate lettuce in one’s dream, death would follow.  Dreams of serpents meant friends would turn into the bitterest of enemies, but killing a serpent in a dream foretold victory for the dreamer in waking life.  Dreams about teeth always had distressing implications and seemed to be quite common, possibly suggesting the problems early modern people had with dental care.  Losing a tooth meant the death of a friend, but bloody teeth foretold one’s own death.  One of the worst dreams would be of drinking mustard thinned to a liquid consistency: it meant being accused of murder.

On page 41 the reader can discover how someone’s dominant humour–phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric, or melancholic–could influence the dreams that person had.  Those of a phlegmatic temperament dreamed of snows, rains, rivers, and drowning.  Those of a choleric disposition did not sleep well, and when they did sleep they dreamed of fireworks, of fury, anger, and stabbing, and of battles.  They might often dream of storms and thunder, of running swiftly or even of flying.  Those who were sanguine did sleep well and had pleasant dreams of beautiful women and lovely gardens, but they could also dream of flowing streams of blood.  Most terrifying were the melancholic’s dreams, which were of caves and dark places, of graves and cells, of furious beasts and falling from high places.

After glancing at general meanings of dreams, the reader can go to page 157 to sample a detailed description of a dream that a young Spanish mystic, Lucretia de Leon, had about Elizabeth I, who in the dream drank the blood of a lamb with great relish and herself cut off the head of her rival with a sword.