This play, written during the Spanish Renaissance, the Golden Age of Spanish Theatre, is yet strangely modern in its theme and speculations. There are fundamental questions of the nature of reality, dream and illusion. It also questions the nature, accuracy and cause of foretelling; the upbringing of the young and their training with the responsibility of the parents for the character and nature of their young. There are questions of honor and life and the nature of honor and its almost infinite worth; of gratitude and its obligations; of blood kinship and its obligations. These are acted out in teh context of questions of the succession in the Kingdom of Poland. The story starts with a servant man and his mistress (dressed as a man) stumbling down a hill over rocks. They come upon a man chained in a tower lamenting his lack of freedom since his birth. The two strangers are apprehended by the guards and are sent to the king to be executed (even though the girl is the child of the head of the guards). They are forgiven by the King, since the man who has been imprisoned is to be freed; he is the Prince and rightful heir to the throne. The Prince is subsequently brought to the court after being given a sleeping draught, so that his nature can be tested. He shows himself to be cruel, arrogant, insolent, violent and tyrranical, so he is sent back to his prison as soon as he sleeps again, to be told it was all a dream.
The girl has come to the court to avenge her dishonor on the King''s nephew, who is to marry his cousin, the King''s niece, and to take over the throne. The people want no part of the foreign rulers, however, and the Prince is set free and acclaimed as their true king. Civil war follows, but the Prince wins. His father has to submit to him, as the stars foretold at the boy''s birth. But he has been changed by his experiences, and he in turn submits to his father. All is forgiven. His cousin acknowledges the girl as his wife. The girl cousin is given to a good husband. The Prince, proclaiming that life is a dream, and a dream of a dream, is careful to be good, in case he wakes up imprisoned in the tower again, after he points out to his father that the way he''d been treated would have turned the gentlest heart bestial. The play as a whole is Romantic, even Gothic in flavour, yet its philosophy is very Eastern, even Oriental.