Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of. On.

Surely you’ve heard the misquote, “We are such stuff as dreams are made of.”  It’s actually “on”.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” says Prospero near the end of The Tempest, “And our little lives are rounded with a sleep.”

If Google is to be believed, the ratio is about 5 to 1 (200k or so misquotes to about a million instances of the actual quote).

I got to thinking, is this just a typo? What makes people think it’s one over the other?  Who reads it as “on” and thinks, “No, that’s not right, it should be of?” Does it mean the same thing and this is just a minor nit?

We are such stuff as dreams are made of.

Dreams, like the magical spirits Prospero conjures forth, are just little bits of nothingness. They don’t exist. They are an illusion. If we are the stuff that dreams are made of, then our lives too are little more than illusion that will one day end.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on.

Dreams follow reality. You dream because you are conscious of what you experience. If we are the stuff that dreams are made on, then we are the source of limitless creative possibility.

Am I reading too much into this?

9 thoughts on “Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of. On.

  1. "Am I reading too much into this?"

    I don't think so. Although metaphorically, this passage reeks of the Theatre, this is very deep stuff.
    Dreams may *be* reality, for all we know–for all Prospero knows, for all Shakespeare knew.

    …and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep.

    Shakespeare the Philosopher, making grand and beautiful observational statements that only lead to asking ultimate Questions. Love it.

  2. Mary DeSive says:

    I have a feeling it's a chronic "misremembering" of the line followed by failure to verify it with the text. "Made of" is a far more common phrase than "made on" and so it's easy to let it slip in that way.

  3. BTW, "made on" could be defined in various ways:

    'on' can mean 'against' or 'upon' or 'on top of' or 'because of' or 'from'. So, technically speaking, it could actually mean "of".

    –Thought I'd just clear things up 🙂

  4. Anonymous says:

    @JM
    I agree. BTW, the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer invariably 'misquoted' it, using 'of'. Now Schopenhauer's command of English was excellent — he had lived in England for some time, and was a subscriber to The Times of London to his dying day. (He also used to quote English and Scottish authors in the original.) Schopenhauer's purpose, in quoting these lines, was to illustrate his point that there is no logical way of refuting strict idealists who believe that the 'outside world' is nothing but an illusion (i.e. "… as dreams are made of" …). The source he used must have been an English-language original.

  5. Ndubuisi okezie-okeh says:

    I find this line amazing. As a poet I rather apply "on" than the former

  6. I just found your site when scanning for my current book, “Stuff As Dreams.” I don’t think you are making too much of it. The Bard had a wonderful mind. It has always been my favorite speech in his works, followed closely by St. Cripin’s Day.
    I do think people often ‘make too much’ of things in his works, however. The Villainy of Iago and Richard III is easily explained, not in psychological terms but the practicality of day to day theater. He had an actor who could chew the scenery to that degree, so he wrote those chomping characters: for that actor and nobody else. I once wrote a scene in which a character must walk a tightrope playing the violin while a hungry lion waits below. Why? Because I had an actress who could walk a tightrope while playing the violin.
    The most important thing about Shakespear(e) is that we have not lost his plays and we can still perform them. I still hope for a copy to be found of the Aeschylus “Myrmidons.”
    Maybe that is why, when I am donig a show and it closes, I go to center stage, when everyone is gone, and do that speech. “Our Revels now are ended…”

  7. Warren W. Spencer says:

    row row row
    your boat gently down the stream
    merrily merrily merrily
    life is but a dream

  8. I have an 1838 edition published in London by John Williamson with Dr Johnson’s preface, and it gives ‘made of’ rather than ‘made on’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *