William Shakespeare used this famous speech in order to speak to life, death, and what is truly real. This quote emphasizes Prospero’s preparations for his confrontation with Caliban (one that he has momentarily become distracted from) and his emotions about Ferdinand’s engagement to his daughter.
Our revels now are ended William Shakespeare Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.
Explore Our revels now are ended
The ‘Our revels now are ended’ speech delivered by Prospero in The Tempest is a beautiful depiction of the temporary nature of life.
In the first lines of this speech, Prospero ends the masque, or performance, that he’s created for his daughter and her fiancé, Ferdinand. He tells them that the performance is over, just as life itself will one day end. He compares the spirits he used in the performance to the lives of everyday people, like himself and Miranda. They too will fade, as will the men and women watching the play.
He goes on, noting that everything within the “great globe” will eventually disappear. Here, he refers to both the planet Earth and The Globe Theatre. Their lives, he concludes, are “rounded with a sleep.” They begin and end with darkness, and one only exists for a brief time in the light or on stage.
Structure and Form
The ‘Our revels now are ended’ speech is a short speech that Prospero delivers in The Tempest. Generally, the section most commonly associated with the quote is eleven lines long and begins with the line “Our revels now are ended. These our actors” and ends with “Is rounded with a sleep.”
In this section of the play, the poet utilized iambic pentameter. This means that the lines contain five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. This makes for a total of ten syllables per line. For example, here are the first two lines with the stresses highlighted:
Our re/-vels now/ are end/-ed. These/ our ac/-tors,
As I/ fore-told/ you, were/ all spi/-rits and
The first line provides readers with an exception to the rule. There is an extra unstressed syllable at the end of the line, creating a feminine ending and an example of hypercatalexis. The second line is a perfect example of iambic pentameter. There is another exception to the rule at the end of the speech with the phrase “Is rounded with a sleep.” This line is written in iambic trimeter. With the stresses noted, it would read:
Is round/-ed with/ a sleep.
Iambic trimeter means that the line contains three sets of two beats and utilizes the same arrangement of stressed beats as iambic pentameter. There are other exceptions to the pattern in the speech; for instance, “great globe” is a spondee, meaning that it is made up of two stressed syllables.
Within this excerpt from The Tempest, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: can be seen when the poet repeats the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “The” in lines five and six.
- Allusion: occurs when the poet refers to something outside the scope of the text. In this case, when Prospero speaks about the “great globe” he’s describing Earth but is also alluding to The Globe Theatre in which many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed.
- Caesura: can be seen when a poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse. For example, “Our revels now are ended. These our actors.”
- Metaphor: occurs when a poet creates a comparison between two unlike things without using the words “like” or “as.” For example, the Prospero compares the actors in his masque to himself, his daughter and Ferdinand. They are all actors in different plays who “shall dissolve” and “Leave not a rack behind.”
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
The speaker, Prospero, opens the ‘Our revels now are ended‘ speech (prior to the quote included here) by addressing Ferdinand, the man who his daughter, Miranda, is going to marry. He tells Ferdinand and Miranda that the festivities he’s been providing for them, in the form of a play performed by spirits he’s conjured, need to pause. He’s just thought of something quite important, and he needs to speak about it.
The performers are “spirits” he notes, who “melted into air, into thin air.” They disappear at his word, like a director telling actors to leave a physical stage. Here, the speaker is at once referring to his spirits, the people of the physical world, and those watching the play. This is explored in more detail as the lines progress.
Just as the spirits disappear, so too one day will the “the gorgeous palaces, / The solemn temples, the great globe itself” are going to melt away. These lines apply three-fold. To The Tempest, to the play that Prospero is staging within The Tempest and the real world that the audience and readers reside in. The line “the great globe itself” is telling. Shakespeare is referring to the planet as well as The Globe Theatre. Nothing, not a “rack,” or any physical evidence of what was once there, is going to be left behind.
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The speaker reiterates his point about life, possessions, buildings, and people disappearing into nothingness in the next lines. He concludes the speech with the famous and commonly misquoted line: “We are such stuff.
As dreams are made on.” He refers to himself and all people as dream stuff, imaginings, fantasies, and temporary lives that begin and end with “a sleep.”
This line is often misquoted as “stuff / As dreams are made of.” But, the two are, at least in definition, interchangeable. When Shakespeare says “on” he means “of.” With this line, Prospero is alluding to death as well as the time before one was born. One’s life is like a circle beginning and ending with darkness.
This quote appears in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It is spoken by Prospero and is directed at Prince Ferdinand and Prospero’s daughter, Miranda. The quote appears in Act IV, Scene 1, before the two get married.
Prospero is talking about a masque, or performance, that he’s created to entertain Ferdinand and Miranda with spirits. This entertainment comes to an end at his whim.
He means that life is a fleeting illusion one in which “you” take part for only a short time. Eventually, everything that one knows, including that which is going on within the play, the play itself, and the life of audience members and readers, is going to fade away. He specifically mentions the grand palaces that may feel, at this moment, to be incredibly permanent.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 130’ – one of Shakespeare’s best-known sonnets. It emphasizes the speaker’s lovers’ beauty and elevates it beyond all other things.
- ‘All the world’s a stage’ – a well-known monologue found in William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’. This speech of Jaques explores the seven ages of man and their implications.
- ‘Spring’ – a song, sung in one of William Shakespeare’s early comedies Love’s Labour’s Lost.