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John of Dreams - who IS John?

16 Mar 99 - 07:28 AM (#63393)
Subject: John of Dreams
From: Tony

I've searched the internet for references to John of Dreams in the hope of finding a folklore character but I've come up relatively empty handed.

I've found:

1) The song. (It was the song that prompted me to look in the first place.)

2) A speach from Hamlet that refers to John-A-Dreams.

I'd love to learn more.


16 Mar 99 - 10:57 AM (#63438)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams
From: Steve Parkes

If it's the one that starts:

When midnight calls good people homeward tread,
Seek now your blankets and your feather bed.
Home is the rover, his journey over.
Yield up the night-time to old John o'Dreams,
Yield up the night-time to old John o'Dreams.

... them I'm not going to help very much! I used to have the words on a John Crane broadsheet, but I never quite learned the words. It's by Bill Caddick (music by Tchaikowski! - Symphonie Pathetique).

Steve


16 Mar 99 - 12:09 PM (#63457)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams
From: Tony

I have the words Steve. Thanks anyway.

What I'm looking for is information about John Of Dreams. Is he a folklore character? Part of Celtic tradition? Does he have 'relatives' in different mythologies?

I would guess that he is similar to the Sandman.


16 Mar 99 - 12:20 PM (#63462)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams
From: Steve Parkes

Sorry John - I don't bother to read posts, I just like to add my own! Seriously, I always assumed that Bill had made it up, maybe from the Hamlet reference - he's very well-educated, and his songs seem to come frome some parallel Edwardian universe (NOI, Bill!). It never occurred to me to ask him; maybe some 'Catter can when they see him?

Steve


16 Mar 99 - 12:32 PM (#63466)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams
From: MMario

http://www.feri.com/lurkingbear/fiona/dreams.html

seems to bear on it....


16 Mar 99 - 12:55 PM (#63474)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams
From:

Thanks MMario.

A step closer but I think the John Of Dreams I'm looking for is from an older story. As he is referenced in Shakespeare we can assume he predates Shakespeare where the story at www.feri.com imlies that Shakespeare predates him. "At first he sought closely into the art of the rarest masters, now in verse, now in prose: the masters of the dim past, working in the pale gold of antique Greek or the ivory of Catullus, or playing on silver flutes like the obscure singers of the Anthology; or the masters of a later time moulding molten brass like Dante and Milton, or achieving a supreme alchemy like Shakespeare,..."


16 Mar 99 - 02:31 PM (#63503)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams
From: MMario

True enough


28 May 12 - 10:46 PM (#3356647)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: CapriUni

This is precisely the question that brought me to Mudcat ... Some 13 years later?! It seems there's little out there on this fellow, or I trust some Mudcatter would have posted the answer by now.

Oh, well, I can refresh the page, and give a little more context, and maybe that will lead to something more fruitful.

Anyway, I was writing last night in my blog/journal (whatchamacallit) about how the idea of "Geek" is far broader and deeper than an interest in computers, science and comic books. And I turned to Hamlet's soliloquy at the end of Act 2 for my evidence (The speech that ends with: "The play's the thing / wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king!")

But it's toward the beginning of that speech where John-a-dreams is alluded to (first third, or so... the lines in my source were not numbered):

.. .. .. .. Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing . .. ..


And yes, the name pops out at me every time, ever since I've heard Gordon Bok's cover of the song...

Okay, from these two lines and two line fragments, here's what I can figure out:

"Dull" -- a simpleton? or maybe a Fool figure?
"Muddy-mettled" (mettle -- how something is made, or made of -?) So is he of muddy or unknown substance? A shape-shifter, perhaps?

So he might either be, A) a bringer of dreams, a precursor to the later figure of the Sandman. That's always been my first guess... But he could also be B) a human folk character who was (perhaps) driven mad by a dream... In Midsummer Night's Dream, the rustic clowns talk about the Man in the Moon story, and reveal that he was once human, and sent to the moon as punishment for theft. So it's conceivable that John-a-dreams is something similar.

More questions... Sure would be nice to see some other reference in (some earlier) story or song for more context.


28 May 12 - 11:19 PM (#3356652)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: JohnInKansas

At least two books have used the phrase as a title:

Book Clip: Google Books might be related.

Another book with same title, different author (John-A-Dreams)

Both of the above merely use John of Dreams as titles, but a little look inside might give a clue at least how the title was chosen. The Hamlet reference you already know is probably a likely source, which wouldn't add anything to what you already have.

I didn't see anything really informative in the bits of the two that I read, but I didn't go far into either.

Beyond those two, Google Scholar search results degenerate into psychobabble books about dreaming etc.

Scholar search for "myth John of Dreams" gets mostly junk about some guy named John Legend. (a common Google breakdown - the popular blocks getting to the interesting)

John


29 May 12 - 12:33 AM (#3356666)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: CapriUni

Okay, being fond of peeking into books, whatever the occasion, I did take a look at those two links -- thanks!

The first was an anthology of poems by a woman written in 1915, and the second was a novel told from the point of view of a young boy (at least, based on the first paragraph of the opening chapter), published in 1878; and although the book's title comes from that line in Hamlet, most of the chapter titles (and the book's epigraph) come from As You Like It.

So the mystery lingers...

the popular blocks getting to the interesting.

Heh! If only "John" weren't such a common English name! And if only "Dreams" weren't so inherently interesting to human beings!

;-)


29 May 12 - 03:53 AM (#3356692)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: Rain Dog

You might trying asking Bill Caddick


29 May 12 - 04:17 AM (#3356698)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: IanC

I'm never sure why people don't read earlier threads instead of speculating till they drop about those things.

In reply to a previous thread, Bill Caddick was asked about this by BlackCatter. It's here.

Bill Caddick

Looking at the song, I think it owes a lot to Gray's Elegy too.

:-)
Ian


29 May 12 - 07:57 AM (#3356739)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: GUEST,Guest Charles Macfarlane Harrison

.. .. .. .. Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing . .. ..

My reading of that Shakespearean quote is that in Shakespearean times John-A-Dreams was a common name for either a ghost or a dreamy, absent-minded, impractical sort of fellow. I would translate it into (slightly) more contemporary English as something like ...

Yet I, an insipid and unspirited rascal, waste away, like a ghost / a dreamer, neglecting my cause, and am dumb.

Perhaps the first interpretation reads more naturally, which would give us:

Yet I, an insipid and unspirited rascal, waste away, like a Will O' The Wisp, neglecting my cause, and am dumb.

If you can find, say, in a local library, a volume of Shakespeare or at least Hamlet, with annotations, that might give an explanation of the reference.


29 May 12 - 08:06 AM (#3356741)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: Rain Dog

540. John-a-dreams, i.e. John of dreams, = a sluggish, sleepy, fellow; cp. Jack-a-lent, Jack-a-lantern, Jack-an-apes, etc. Collier quotes Armins's Nest of Ninnies, 1608. "His name is John, indeede, saies the cinnick; but neither John a nods, nor John a dreams, yet either as you take it"; unpregnant of my cause, with my mind utterly barren of all designs to effect my purpose; with a mind that as yet has conceived no method of action; cp. Lear; ii. 6. 229, "Who, by the act of known and feeling sorrows, Am pregnant to good pity."

Shakespeare Online


29 May 12 - 08:48 AM (#3356759)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: Georgiansilver

My grandparents used to use the expression... "Going to see John o' dreams"... for "going to bed to sleep"....... so perhaps there is no real character... perhaps it's just an expression for 'dreamland'


29 May 12 - 08:53 AM (#3356764)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: Leadfingers

What ever the origins , its still one of Bill Caddick's excellent songs


29 May 12 - 10:01 AM (#3356785)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: GUEST,Guest Charles Macfarlane Harrison

540. John-a-dreams, i.e. John of dreams, = a sluggish, sleepy, fellow; cp. Jack-a-lent, Jack-a-lantern, Jack-an-apes, etc.

Pretty much what I expected then, though of the two possible interpretations, I think I preferred the other, the Will O' The Wisp, as it seemed to resonate better with the verb 'peak' (waste away).

At any rate, it seems clear that there is not necessarily a reference to a folklore character there.


29 May 12 - 11:45 AM (#3356833)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: GUEST,Paul Slade

I've got half a shelf of Folklore dictionaries, and give any info on John O' Dreams except the Hamlet speech.

My guess would be that Shakespeare coined the name himself. He had a habit of creating portmanteau terms like that, and it's pretty clear from the context what he meant. Shakespeare's audience would have grasped that John O'Dreams was a fellow with his head in the clouds even if they'd never heard the name before, I think.


29 May 12 - 11:57 AM (#3356838)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: Arkie

At least I don't have to have answers to these questions to enjoy the song and I have several excellent versions. Six so far, including Bill Caddick.


29 May 12 - 03:27 PM (#3356934)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: Gurney

I've thought, since I heard Bill's song, that it was the old name for The Sandman.


29 May 12 - 04:30 PM (#3356962)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: CapriUni

Guest Charles Macfarlane: John-a-dreams, i.e. John of dreams, = a sluggish, sleepy, fellow

Guest Paul Slade: My guess would be that Shakespeare coined the name himself.

Yes, this idea came to me today, upon waking (perhaps after an insight from dreaming ;-)) -- that Hamlet is describing himself as being obsessed with his dreams and nightmares, certain that their are monsters lurking under the bed, etc.... Which certainly fits within the context of the play as a whole.

Gurney, that's what I originally thought... Then, I looked up The Sandman in Wikipedia, several years ago, and discovered that it was a figure from German folklore who only really gained literary prominence after a short story by E. T. A. Hoffmann: The Sandman.

In this story, he's a devil who steals the eyes of human children who do not go to bed on time... (I know I always hated him, as a little kid -- only bullies throw sand in people's eyes)

Sweet Dreams!

So Even if John-a-Dreams were an established folk character, he'd be rather different, based on Shakespeare's description...


29 May 12 - 04:31 PM (#3356963)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: GUEST,Guest Charles Macfarlane Harrison

You need to read the other thread linked above where Bill says how he came to write the song. He just heard the phrase in that speech by Hamlet that we have been discussing here, and his imagination did the rest. Trying to say it is definitely this or that interpretation other than what he acknowledges himself, is surely bordering on perverse?

The OP of this thread was asking about what Shakespeare meant/was referring to, and I think we have answered that for him now.


29 May 12 - 05:01 PM (#3356974)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: Mo the caller

Sounds like the character my mother was always mentioning. Dolly-Daydream


29 May 12 - 05:40 PM (#3356982)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: GUEST,Guest Charles Macfarlane Harrison

Sorry, I see someone pipped me at the post in reply, leading to some ambiguity as to whom I was replying in my last post. Just to clarify ...

This:
Guest Charles Macfarlane: You need to read the other thread linked above [etc]

Was in answer to this:
Gurney: I've thought, since I heard Bill's song, that it was the old name for The Sandman.


29 May 12 - 05:49 PM (#3356985)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: Elmore

Interesting thread. Never gave it too much thought, as much as I like The song. Guess I thought John was the sandman too.


30 May 12 - 03:28 PM (#3357351)
Subject: RE: John of Dreams - who IS John?
From: The Sandman

John is all of us,Me,You, Barrack Obama,Richard Nixon, Charle Manson, JoeOffer, Seamus Kennedy, The Mouse in the Cupboard, and The Cat that ate the candle