One of the philosophical plays of Calder=n de la Barca is Life Is a Dream, a play that mixes several different themes in a complex fashion shaped around the basic plot and interaction of the characters. Calder=n expresses these themes in terms of imagery evoked either by the words of the characters or by the staging of the play itself. The essential conflict in the play is political--how can a ruler know that his successor is worthy and what can he do to assure a continuity of rule that will be of benefit to the kingdom? Patterns of imagery in the play contribute to this theme and to the other themes of import in the play--free will versus determinism, issues of deception, and the underlying concept that life is a dream. The basic contrast in the play that serves these different themes is that between reality and illusion, considering the difficulty in telling one from the other with any certainty. The often fantastic imagery is used to expand this idea into different areas and to emphasize traits and characteristics that might otherwise be missed in the characters and their plight. The fantastic serves always as the source of ideas and actions in this play, and the fantastic itself is evocative of a dream.
Everett W. Hesse refers to the structure of Life Is a Dream as a structure enmeshed with a thematic complex, a cluster of themes common to the masterpieces of the Spanish baroque, themes which the audience must sort out and examine carefully in order to come to a better understanding of the work:
The themes are sometimes found in contrasting pairs and are interrelated: pride and humility, free-will and predestination, man and beast, freedom and imprisonment, love and hate, illusion and truth, life and death, honor and dishonor, light and darkness, and honesty and deception (Hesse, Calder=n 140).
Many of these pairings can be rearranged to complement other pairings. For instance, the contrast of illusion and truth...