Snapshots of Repose

Shakespeare and the “foster-nurse of nature”

Titania_lying_asleep Arthur Rackham Public Domain
Arthur Rackham, Illustration for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Not all sleepers are sweet dreamers, and night does not always usher in tranquillity. With stunning precision, Shakespeare depicted images of the shattered states that are the consequence of fitful slumber. But, just as he filled his canvas with insomniacs, somnambulists and the ravished souls of those who suffer nightmares, Shakespeare also painted the most glorious images of humans in repose; most are associated with nature. Indeed, the space beyond the city walls was one of mystery, magic and restoration. While the countryside of Shakespeare’s works sometimes inspired wickedness and horror, it just as frequently offered respite from the vicious court and distance from one’s own cares. It was a place for reflection and metamorphosis.

In this session, guided by Julie Sutherland, participants will investigate a number of passages in which Shakespeare reveals his investment in the abiding power of rest. We will also consider contemporary images of the pastoral aesthetic before using cameras (bring your phones!) to rewrite some of Shakespeare’s passages into our own pictures and poignant snippets of text.