11

What does 'dreams are made on' mean here? Is 'made on' a phrasal verb?

We are such stuff as dreams are made on.

(A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle)

17

The ordinary phrase would be what "dreams are made of", but this is a quotation from Shakespeare.

In The Tempest, Prospero, a sorcerer, says:

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

It means essentially the same as "made of".

Remember that very few native speakers can read Shakespeare without help, and that most poetic usage has unusual and overlaid meanings.

  • 5
    I wonder about this. Houses are made of bricks but they are made on foundations. Dreams are not made of us - that doesn't make sense. We are the ground on which dreams are made. – chasly from UK May 2 at 18:32
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    @chaslyfromUK From the point of view of reading A Wrinkle in Time, it means "Quoting from Shakespeare with a meaning close to 'made of' ". From the point of view of reading Shakespeare, yes the poetic meaning is subtle and subject to interpretation, a question which belongs at english.stackexchange.com – jonathanjo May 2 at 18:37
  • The poetic usage of language by Shakespeare is one thing, but the writing is also using style and vocabulary that is over four hundred years old. What makes Shakespeare so difficult, even for native speakers, is as much to do with the very old flavour of English as the poetic usage of that old language. Another few hundred years back and English effectively almost becomes a separate language. – J... May 3 at 12:21
  • It is certainly both old, with many obsolete words and structures, and poetic in its time. I am no expert on Shakespeare but I understand he was also very inventive, and made up many things which weren't standard in his period. – jonathanjo May 3 at 12:42
  • I would add that dreams can be "made of" stuff where stuff is the material, and dreams could be "made on" stuff where stuff is the foundation. – wolfsshield May 3 at 13:56
3

The line is originally from the Shakespeare play "The Tempest".

Enotes.com has this interpretation of the line:

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream, and people are the "stuff" dreams are "made on" (built of)—just as characters might be called the "stuff' plays are "built on." "Our little life" is like a brief dream in some divine mind, "rounded with a sleep"—that is, either "surrounded" by sleep or "rounded off" (completed) by sleep. Prospero seems to mean that when we die, we awake from the dream of life into true reality—or at least into a truer dream.

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