Professor curates exhibition at Folger Shakespeare Library

Garrett Sullivan, professor of English in the College of the Liberal Arts, has co-curated an exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. "To Sleep, Perchance to Dream," on exhibit from Feb. 19 through May 30, 2009, explores the conscious -- and unconscious -- nighttime activities of Shakespeare’s day and their role in popular culture. 

Sullivan is the author of "Memory and Forgetting in English Renaissance Drama: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster" and "The Drama of Landscape: Land, Property and Social Relations on the Early Modern Stage." He recently co-curated the Folger exhibition "History in the Making: How Early Modern Britain Reimagined its Past." Sullivan's co-curator is Carole Levin, Willa Cather professor of history and director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at the University of Nebraska

Dreams and their meanings carried a special fascination in Elizabethan England, a time when many believed that dreams had the power to foretell the future, expose guilty deeds or thoughts, or even reveal messages from the divine. Ideas about sleep and dreams saturated the culture, and they appeared frequently in literary and dramatic works, including John Milton’s" Paradise Lost," Sir Walter Raleigh’s "History of the World" and such Shakespearean plays as "Romeo and Juliet," "Richard III" and "A Midsummer Night’s Dream."

Books on dream interpretation, or professionals like John Dee, could help dreamers unlock the significance of their nocturnal reveries. Finding out a dream’s meaning was especially important, as many people believed that dreams could act as harbingers of future events. King James I, generally skeptical of dream and the supernatural, was nonetheless deeply disturbed after dreaming of his own death in 1622.

"To Sleep, Perchance to Dream" features nearly 100 books and illustrations from the Folger collection, as well as objects connected with sleeping and dreaming in Elizabethan England. Highlights include:

•    An interactive “Dream Machine” that allows visitors to deconstruct their own dreams using a special touchscreen display and interpretations drawn from period dream manuals.
•    Recipes for sleep remedies. Women of this period often compiled recipes to ease sleeplessness; a collection by Mary Granville and her daughter Anne advises applying a mixture of strained ivy leaves and white wine vinegar to the temples.
•    Elizabethan nightwear. Full-size replicas of bedroom attire for men and women, created especially for this exhibition, will be on display.  
•    Dreams on stage. Dreams play prominent roles in Shakespearean drama, from "Romeo and Juliet" to "Macbeth" to "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." Photographs from contemporary productions of these plays accompany the exhibition.

Folger Shakespeare Library, home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period (1500-1750), is an internationally recognized research library offering advanced scholarly programs in the humanities; an innovator in the preservation of rare materials; a national leader in how Shakespeare is taught in grades K-12; and an award-winning producer of cultural and arts programs. A gift to the American people from industrialist Henry Clay Folger, the Folger Shakespeare Library, located one block east of the U.S. Capitol, opened in 1932. Learn more at



Last Updated November 18, 2010