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from The Tempest, Act IV Scene I
William Shakespeare

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

My favorite of Shakespeare's plays, and one of my favorite of the speeches within it.  The only one better being Prospero's farewell, an epilogue to Act V:

Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint: now, 'tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon'd the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
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 pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

Powerful speeches both speaking to the limits of human accomplishment no matter how determined and how set the goal.  It is important to remember that We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. Without remembering that the party eventually ends, we lead a wasteland of a life--a pitiful and poor excuse, a broken and lame existence.  But such salutary reminders do not often make for high art--and so perhaps that is why this airy melancholy, this magical tracing in the air of the career and finale of a great man is so persuasive in its power to move.


  1. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

    Possibly my favorite lines from Shakespeare. Actually the entire speech is my favorite.

    "the great globe itself" double meaning there; the planet and the theatre?


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