Sleep at the Folger Shakespeare Library

Richard Brathwaite. Ar't asleepe husband? London, 1640. ©Folger Shakespeare Library

Whatever your relationship to sleep is the latest exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library, To Sleep, Perchance to Dream, is worth staying awake for.

The "exhibition explores the ethereal realm of sleeping and dreaming in Renaissance England, from the beliefs, rituals, and habits of sleepers to the role of dream interpreters and interpretations in public and private life."

In addition to a sampling of Shakespeare and Milton and books like
Thomas Tryon's A treatise of cleanness in meats and drinks, of the preparation of food, the excellency of good airs, and the benefits of clean sweet beds the exhibit also includes other tangibles like nightclothes, gemstones, recipes and ingredients for curing nightmares and inducing sleep.

Sleep disorders are nothing new but who knew what lengths people went to keep nightmares at bay. Carole Levine, co-curator of the exhibit, shares a few strategies of the day, like "rubbing the blood of a lapwing on your temples, putting an ape's heart under your pillow, or even worse to find -- a dragon's tongue soaked in wine." Yikes.

One can only imagine what Sigmund Freud, who read some of the books displayed, would have thought of this homage to the Renaissance

The exhibition is both comprehensive and enlightening and has a strong online component as well which includes The Dream Machine which provides
Renaissance-era dream interpretation.

There is an audio tour available online but without the corresponding visuals it seems the weakest link of the online offering.

Exhibit Details:
February 19-May 30, 2009
Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm

Co-Curated by Carole Levin of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Garrett Sullivan of Pennsylvania State University.

Marsha Dubrow has a good review of the exhibit at