William Shakespeare and Timothy Findley lived in much different time periods from each other and were faced with different expectations of themselves, as writers. However, although William Shakespeare in The Tempest and Timothy Findley in Dreams held radically different ideals of writing, both are concerned to explore the theme of dream versus reality. While both of these pieces differ in many aspects, they register similar effects in their setting, their characters, and their structure.
Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, an Elizabethan court-comedy, in a time that was experiencing a shift from Queen Elizabeth to King James the first where the accepted norm was a less-flamboyant one. Findley wrote Dreams, a post-modern short story, when writers were beginning to challenge authority and the modernist way of writing. While on the surface, both of these pieces seem to lack similar characteristics, it is evident when you look at them more attentively that they share many similar qualities through their setting, characters and structure with the underlying theme of dream versus reality.
The setting that both of these pieces take place in are intriguingly different, introducing a great deal of reality into the story, while imagination into the play. The Tempest is set on an Island in the Mediterranean giving it a most mysterious and magically remote atmosphere. I found it easy to move into the dream versus reality theme of the play, as the setting was very much imagined and fairytale-like.
The storm was very dark and dreary, as Boatswain describes it, “Blow till thou burst thy wind, if room enough!” (Shakespeare, 3). It would continue on as long as there was nothing to stop it, it would simply rage harder and grow faster and more powerful. I found that the magical, enchanted atmosphere of the island, allowed me to accept certain things that were harder to accept in Dreams. It made sense that the Island should be home to spirits with supernatural abilities and that Prospero was able to possess magic himself. It was natural to flow into the dream world with Ariel and the spirits and then come back to reality.
Dreams however, took place in a real setting and was given many more concrete details. The setting is specifically described as, “The Menlos’ home was across the road from The Manulife Centre-corner of Bloor and Bay streets… Their own apartment building was of modest height and colour-twenty floors of smoky glass and polished brick.” (Findley, 86). The details that Findley gave are so specific, up to the size of the apartment, that there was no doubt in my mind that this was an actual place. However, because of this while reading Dreams it was more difficult to enter into the dream world because everything in this setting was so grounded and realistic.
I found this a barrier in which I had to overcome in order to enter into Everett’s dreams and then even found that I was searching for clues as to whether he was dreaming or whether he was living in reality. However, once I overcame this I found that at the end of the story, both Everett and Mimi were sharing the same dream, in which Everett finds himself covered in blood with Mimi there to comfort him. While The Tempest followed a more imaginative setting, Dreams laid out a very realistic scene in which it was more awkward to enter into the dreamlike setting.
The structure that both The Tempest and Dreams follow are quite similar, in that both are participatory fictions requiring the use of an imagination. Neither Shakespeare, nor Findley wrote for the reader to be passive, but involved the reader in their pieces to participate. Both required a certain level of imagination from myself, in order to fully grasp the theme of dream versus reality. Shakespeare makes an obvious point in The Tempest, that the reader is apart of the play when he directly addresses you in the epilogue. “And my ending is despair unless I be relieved by prayer, which pierces so that it assaults mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free.” (Shakespeare, 87). Prospero is leaving his fate up to you, to do what you want with it. I was given the power to assign Prospero’s fate, to control his destiny and therefore was required to use my imagination. The ending was not simply told to me, but was left up for me to decide and dispense of it how I wanted. However, it is clear when reading this that I was being addressed in reality and was no longer apart of the dream world.
Dreams as well, was a participatory piece of fiction, involving a structure that required my imagination. Although Dreams did not directly ask for participation, I was forced to use my imagination in order to enter into the story. The ending was left up for myself to decide, for as a true post-modernist author, Findley refused closure. In doing this, each person who reads this piece will understand it in different terms, for each ones imagination varies. For example, Dreams, more then The Tempest, required imagination in both the dreamlike world and reality, where sometimes I was not sure which I was in. For myself, my imagination lead me to the understanding that Dreams ended in the dreamlike world, allowing me to decide how Mimi and Everett would escape back to reality, if at all possible.