Dreams in themselves are often understood to be nonsensical in their nature; their lack of clarity, structure and rationality means that they are clearly distinct from our reality. Although in the real world dreams represent a space that simply stems from our minds, within the context of nonsense it is this dream space that becomes a new reality, a distinguished place in which significant events and characters develop, a place in which nonsense can actively flourish. In all Carroll’s canonical text, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, William Shakespeare’s chaotic romantic comedy play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Joel and Ethan Coen’s neo-noir comedy film, ‘The Big Lebowski’, we see this closeness between the space of ‘reality’ and ‘dream’, almost an ‘interchangeability’ between the two. Within nonsense this disruption between the confines that differentiate these two states is prevalent, the lines are continuously blurred, with the implication that dream becomes an alternative reality.
Lewis Carroll is often considered a pivotal figure within the nonsense literary movement, his stories of Alice and her adventures, as well as his general body of work including children’s poetry, were key in delineating his position as a leading member of the movement. Dreams and the process of dreaming forms one of the novel’s principal motifs; Alice’s adventure in Wonderland is revealed to be merely a dream when she wakes up at the end of the story, however there is a clear sense that the character of Alice is in this perpetual liminal state between dreaming and consciousness from the story’s very beginning. If we consider the chosen extract, the novel begins with ‘Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do’, and by Carroll’s next paragraph ‘suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.’ There is this lack of clear distinction between Alice’s reality and her dream with no definitive transition between each state, this lack of clarity emphasises a constant feeling of liminality that Alice’s character undergoes, echoed by her frequently fluctuating height. This lack of clarity is underpinned by the extract’s hazy tone and language even before Carroll invites us to explore with Alice the confusing space that is Wonderland, Carroll’s ‘tired of sitting’ creates a somewhat comical, nonsensical image. The active gerund, ‘sitting’, is contrasted by the immobility within the action itself, this paired with Alice’s exhaustion from her physical inactivity amplifies the feeling of confusion and conflicting states that is prominent throughout the extract. This mode of Carroll’s nonsense allows the dreaming platform we often separate from our real life to merge, becoming an alternative reality for Alice to explore.
Similarly, this idea of dream emerging as reality is found within William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream however perhaps it could be said that Shakespeare instead demonstrates an inversion of this idea with reality emerging as dream and fantasy. Although as a writer in the Renaissance period, Shakespeare’s body of work predates both the birth of the nonsense movement and its peak in the Victorian era, many of his romantic comedies are considered a precursor to nonsense as a genre. A Midsummer Night’s Dream in particular provides an environment characteristic of nonsense in which confusion and chaos dominates. Wittgenstein, when describing the work of Shakespeare and dreams noted that ‘a dream is all wrong, absurd, composite, and yet at the same time it is completely right: put together in this strange way it makes an impression.’ This idea of nonsense causes an excess of meaning that applies significance to the representation of dreams. Whilst Wells identifies that the play only features one explicitly explained dream that figuratively mirrors reality; ‘everything else that is recounted by mortals or fairies having been part of a dream is not a dream at all. The experiences have turned into dream, experienced as if they were dream’. Indeed, the distinguishing boundaries between what both the characters and us, as the audience, know to be real and dream become blurred to the point that the character of Robin Goodfellow leaves us with the suggestion, ‘think but this, and all is mended: That you have but slumbered here, While these visions did appear’, involving us in this nonsensical, perpetual haze of magical intertwining of dream and reality that characterises the play. This ending reminder of Shakespeare’s work as a meta-play adds to the feeling of confusion and liminality; we are left to consider whether the events of the play really took place or were simply a dream. Particularly in the chosen extract, that marks the middle of the play, the audience can observe that the nonsensical nature and silliness of the play is at its high point, the sense of confusion grows. Demetrius’ initial words of ‘you, the murderer, look as bright, as clear As yonder Venus in her glimmering sphere’ to Hermia are greatly contrasted by his expression of admiration for Helena ‘O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine! To what, my love, shall I compare thine eye?’ Shakespeare combines the structural devices of exclamation and question mark to illustrate the chaos that stems from the ironic dream-like daze that defines their reality. This sudden transferal of affection from Hermia to Helena epitomises the frivolity and nonsense of the play, and demonstrates the dream-like daze induced by the fairies’ magic in which the characters find themselves. The lovers understand this disorderly reality depicted in the extract to be a dream, as it seems to be the only explanation for such nonsensical events to occur. This close proximity between the states echo this idea that reality and dream are interchangeable; the reality is so absurd to the point it can only be recognised as the dream workings of the unconscious mind.
Genre in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski is not definitive as it is characterised by a pastiche of generic tropes rather than an individual, specific generic identification, within its pastiche the film demonstrates key stylistic tropes that are often associated with nonsense as a mode. The story is characterised by confusion and a constant comical state of perplexity both experienced by the principal character of Jeff Lebowski–otherwise known as the Dude–and the audience. His general incompetence, mistaken identity and the addition of peculiar contradictory characters distinguish its relation to nonsense. This nonsensical style at play is encapsulated particularly with the dream sequence that features in the film. Much like the dream-like daze experienced by the male lovers in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jeff appears to have his dream induced by a chemical concoction. Whilst the Dude’s dream is surrealist with its depiction of abstract images and general visual inconsistencies, there is a clear parallel with his reality, acting as a microcosm of his quotidian life. Within the dream, an alternative, distorted reality emerges that both incorporates images associated with Jeff’s bowling hobby and his sexual attraction towards Maude, but also explores his underlying anxiety in relation to his masculinity. The dream depicts a distorted self-perception of Jeff as a hyper-masculine mechanic accompanied with phallic symbols such as the bowling pin paired with the bowling balls, whilst this is part of the dream’s distortion, this portrayal of masculinity very much echoes the film’s subversive portrayal of traditional notions of masculinity, as Walters and Tyree note. The character of Jeffery Lebowski, the antithesis of Jeff, is constantly emasculated, financially dependent on his daughter, Maude, and symbolically castrated when he is violently pulled from his wheel chair. This aspect of the film’s plot is a clear exploration in the dream, with the notion of castration anxiety conveyed through the giant scissors that appear in Jeff’s dream. The dream’s distorted image of reality again somewhat blurs the lines between each space, as ideas and images that permeate the everyday life appear–albeit distortedly–in Jeff’s state of dreaming. Arguably, Jeff rejects the reality of the world throughout the film; he doesn’t participate in society; he is unemployed and generally leads a sedentary, repetitive life that involves a cycle of bowling, smoking and sleeping, his dream becomes an alternative reality that incorporates these aspects without the societal norms he rejects. The subversive exploration of gender that appears in both spaces highlights the nonsensical aspect; this ‘carnivalesque humor’ that characterises the film shows the inversion of established hierarchies and orders of gender with the conflicting portrayal of the hyper-masculine Jeff acting as emphasis on his complete lack of abiding with masculine gender archetypes.
With the manifestation of dreams as reality or its inversion, setting that accommodates nonsense is required to facilitate the portrayal in which dreams and reality become interchangeable and ideologically close. In the case of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, setting is depicted as that typically associated with nonsense stylistics. Laurel Moffat argues in her essay that the ‘dream of the woods’ in which the play is set acts as ‘an antithesis of sorts to Athens, the place of philosophy, law, constancy, and absolutes’,  essentially a location representative of order and uniformity. It acts as a heterotopia, fundamentally a place of otherness, Foucault defines heterotopia, looking at its role; they function like ‘counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted’. The dreamy forest setting is clearly a space that provides release from established notions of order and rationality and subverts them, as we can see in the extract the forest allows both the mortals and fairies to appear on stage simultaneously, demonstrating how the forest is a space in which two opposing ideas merge, the natural and the supernatural, demonstrating its heterotopic nature. Indeed, given the magical quality of the woods, it acts as a kind of dreamland, a wonderland almost in that the constraints of reality no longer stand. This is emphasised by the fragility and fluctuating nature of romance between the Athenian lovers, as evident in the extract, the character of Lysander who initially loves Hermia professes to Helena ‘And yours of Helena to me bequeath, Whom I do love, and will do till my death’. Nothing is fixed or certain within the confines of the forest, reinforcing the nonsensical manner of the setting; everything is changeable and spontaneous. This sense of chaos and ambiguity denoted by the fluctuating, fickle nature of the love between the Athenians is paralleled with the uncertainty of the boundaries between dream and reality that the play explores. The magic and mischievousness performed by the fairies, as well as their frequent cavorting, dancing and singing, in contrast to the strict rules imposed by the Athenian authority figures, Egeus, Theseus and Hippolyta, further delineates the setting as magical and dream-like. The setting as a place in which established order and convention are continuously subverted is further emphasised with the romantic union that takes place between the disparate characters of the fairy queen, Titania, and the low character, Bottom, a mortal weaver whose head transforms into that of an ass as a result of fairy magic. The integration of the human and the animal within the character of Bottom further demonstrates the ‘other’, nonsensical nature of the setting. Although this is Bottom’s reality it seems like a dream. Shakespeare’s fusion of the domestic and the supernatural intensify the ambiguity and vagueness of the forest. The nonsensical subversion is further emphasised by the hierarchal difference between the two characters; demonstrated through Shakespeare’s contrasting use of Bottom’s working class prose, ‘I could munch your good dry oats’, and Titania’s monarchal verse; ‘Or say, sweet love, what thou desir’st to eat’. This romance between Bottom and Titania perpetuates the unpredictability associated with the forest, disrupting both established hierarchies of authority and intellect. It is clear that the forest acts as a dreamy, nonsensical wonderland in which nonsense can flourish and is constantly perpetuated. As a wonderland, the natural setting of the forest becomes dream-like but is very much the place in which events occur, further reinforcing the blurred lines between the states of dream and reality in the play.
In a similar manner, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland creates a wonderland setting that is Alice’s dream. Wonderland as a setting is much like the forest in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in that whilst it incorporates many aspects of Alice’s reality, the dream continuously subverts them to the point that the story is considered the quintessential nonsense text. A key aspect that defines Wonderland is the complete inversion of conventional roles; one example of this is that the animals that populate Wonderland become anthropomorphic whilst humans are portrayed in animalistic terms. In the chosen extract, ‘a White Rabbit… took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket’, from the very beginning the reader is presented with this idea of a humanised animal; Carroll uses capitalisation of ‘white’ and ‘rabbit’ to personify the rabbit further; he has a distinctive, definitive identity, much like that of a human. This carnivalesque image in which the White Rabbit dons a waistcoat and carries around a pocket watch connotes an image of a Victorian gentleman, an image that perhaps stems from Alice’s reality as a Victorian girl. Added to this is the Rabbit’s exclamation ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!’ The aural abruptness created through Carroll’s use of exclamation and monosyllabic sentence structure creates a degree of urgency in his manner of speech and suggests that the animal has a certain degree of responsibility and duty. This is contrasted by the impulsive Alice who instinctively satiates her curiosity without consideration of the repercussions of her actions, emphasising the inversion of roles between humans and animals, as well as the established hierarchy of intellect. The Rabbit together with the hole it leaps into is perhaps representative of the unknown, the taboo and the uncertain, with which Alice seeks to discover and become acquainted. Perhaps, it could be said that Alice’s natural child-like curiosity that features in her reality translates through to her dream, ‘down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.’ Alice’s real-life rationale translates through to her dreaming state, yet again blurring the boundaries between the two spaces. Added to this are the aspects of reality that formulate her dream, whilst they are nonsensical in that they are inverted they capture an essence of realism. Although John Lehmann argues that Wonderland is a ‘dream world, where the assumptions of the waking world are destroyed one by one’, it is a dream world but a setting that captures Alice’s reality while it simultaneously subverts and twists it, thus creating nonsense; this nonsensical setting ironically parallels reality and dream, demonstrating their spatial closeness
Much like the setting of Wonderland in Alice’s dream, Jeff encounters his own Wonderland, which prominently features the confusion and subversion of established structures of power, along with distorted images that merge the film’s aspects of realism with arbitrary nonsense and images. This surreal dream world depicted in The Big Lebowski, although very much a dream space, greatly parallels with the real world that operates outside of the dream. Jeff’s life resembles a dream-like haze; his life is defined by chaos, a lack of both logic and competence, with no clear, definitive direction or purpose. The dream echoes how Jeff’s unique, subversive life philosophy does not accommodate the established order and structures that may be associated with reality; his sedentary lifestyle and general lack of purpose distinguishes him as a character; he has to enter a fictitious dream world for him to be active and instinctive. The use of intertextuality demonstrated through allusions to Carroll’s Alice stories within the extract further distinguish the setting, as Jeff’s own equivalent to Wonderland. The white and black tile floor is reminiscent of the stories’ obsession with chess; this motif of games associated with Carroll is further paralleled with the dream’s prominent images of bowling. Whilst it would be a tenuous statement to imply these images that appear in a surreal dreamy context are directly interchangeable with the ideas ‘real’ platform in The Big Lebowski, the dream’s images and distortedly mirror the film’s concepts and ideas. Comentale and Jaffe comment on the film’s liberating rationalism that ironically gives way to an appreciation of the surrealism of everyday life.  The theme of feminine triumph over masculine influence is demonstrated when Maude appears as a Norse Viking goddess, connoting a sense of virility and masculine strength that transcends the patriarchal structure, the authority figure Sadame Hussein appears as a bowling alley attendant, reflective of the film’s fluctuating orders of power and authority and the phallic symbols that pervade the dream embody the societal obsession with proving one’s masculinity.
To conclude, the anthology demonstrates how the nature of nonsense as a literary style allows dreams to both become and merge with reality. This spatial closeness caused by the blurred boundaries defines nonsense as a literary mode that seeks to disrupt established orders and structures, as well as our own expectations, continuing to entertain and excite its readers and audiences. The breaking of boundaries and abandonment of constraint exposes us to such a vastly different range of ideas and concepts that we are encouraged to consider the possibility of a deeper significance, as well as simply dismiss them as complete nonsense, embodying the idea that nonsense as a genre entails the balancing of a ‘multiplicity of meaning with a simultaneous absence of meaning.’ This interchangeability between the unconscious state of dreaming and a considered, calculated notion of reality that nonsense depicts ignites our imagination and curiosity just as nonsense as a genre intends to do.
 Lewis Carroll and Peter Hunt, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland And Through The Looking-Glass And What Alice Found There (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) pg. 9
 Ludwig Wittgenstein and G.H. von Wright, Culture And Value (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1998) pg. 83
 Stanley Wells and William Shakespeare, ‘Dreams’, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ed. by Stanley Wells (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pg. 4
 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 255-256
 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, pg. 192
 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, pg. 196
 J. M Tyree and Ben Walters, The Big Lebowski (London: British Film Institute, 2007) pg. 30
 Paul “Pablo” Martin and Valerie R. Renegar, ““The Man For His Time” The Big Lebowski As Carnivalesque Social Critique”, Communication Studies, 58 (2007), pp. 299-313 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10510970701518397>.
 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, pg. 197
 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, pg. 215
 Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, pp. 9-10
 Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland pg. 9
 Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland pg. 10
 John Lehmann, Lewis Carroll And The Spirit Of Nonsense (Nottingham: University of Nottingham, 1974) pg. 10
 Edward P Comentale and Aaron Jaffe, The Year’s Work In Lebowski Studies (Indiana University Press, 2009)
 Wim Tigges, An Anatomy Of Literary Nonsense (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988) pg. 47
Carroll, Lewis; Hunt, Peter, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland And Through The Looking-Glass And What Alice Found There (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) pg. 9-10
Comentale, Edward P; Jaffe, Aaron, The Year’s Work In Lebowski Studies (Indiana University Press, 2009)
Foucault, Michel; Miskowiec, Jay, “Of Other Spaces”, Diacritics, 16 (1986), 22 http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/464648
Lehmann, John, Lewis Carroll And The Spirit Of Nonsense (Nottingham: University of Nottingham, 1974)
Martin, Paul “Pablo”; Renegar, Valerie R., ““The Man For His Time” The Big Lebowski As Carnivalesque Social Critique”, Communication Studies, 58 (2007), pg. 299-313 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10510970701518397
Moffatt, Laurel, “The Woods As Heterotopia In A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Studia Neophilologica, 76 (2004), pg. 182-187 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00393270410033321
Shakespeare, William; Wells, Stanley, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pg. 4
The Big Lebowski (Hollywood: Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 1998)
Tigges, Wim, An Anatomy Of Literary Nonsense (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988) pg. 47
Tyree, J. M; Walters, Ben, The Big Lebowski (London: British Film Institute, 2007) pg. 30
Wittgenstein, Ludwig; von Wright, G.H; Nyman, Heikki; Pichler, Alois, Culture And Value (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1998) pg. 83
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?’
So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.
There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat–pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.
In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again
William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
O, why rebuke you him that loves you so?
Lay breath so bitter on your bitter foe.
Now I but chide; but I should use thee worse,
For thou (I fear) hast given me cause to curse.
If thou hast slain Lysander in his sleep,
Being o’er shoes in blood, plunge in the deep,
And kill me too.
The sun was not so true unto the day
As he to me. Would he have stolen away
From sleeping Hermia? I’ll believe as soon
This whole earth may be bor’d, and that the moon
May through the centre creep, and so displease
Her brother’s noontide with th’ Antipodes.
It cannot be but thou hast murd’red him;
So should a murderer look—so dead, so grim.
So should the murdered look, and so should I,
Pierc’d through the heart with your stern cruelty.
Yet you, the murderer, look as bright, as clear,
As yonder Venus in her glimmering sphere.
What’s this to my Lysander? Where is he?
Ah, good Demetrius, wilt thou give him me?
I had rather give his carcass to my hounds.
Out, dog, out, cur! Thou driv’st me past the bounds
Of maiden’s patience. Hast thou slain him then?
Henceforth be never numb’red among men!
O, once tell true; tell true, even for my sake!
Durst thou have look’d upon him being awake?
And hast thou kill’d him sleeping? O brave touch!
Could not a worm, an adder, do so much?
An adder did it! For with doubler tongue
Than thine, thou serpent, never adder stung.
You spend your passion on a mispris’d mood.
I am not guilty of Lysander’s blood;
Nor is he dead, for aught that I can tell.
I pray thee, tell me then that he is well.
And if I could, what should I get therefore?
A privilege never to see me more.
And from thy hated presence part I so:
See me no more, whether he be dead or no.
There is no following her in this fierce vein.
Here therefore for a while I will remain.
So sorrow’s heaviness doth heavier grow
For debt that bankrout sleep doth sorrow owe;
Which now in some slight measure it will pay,
If for his tender here I make some stay.
Lie down and sleep.
What hast thou done? Thou hast mistaken quite,
And laid the love-juice on some true-love’s sight.
Of thy misprision must perforce ensue
Some true love turn’d, and not a false turn’d true.
Then fate o’errules, that one man holding troth,
A million fail, confounding oath on oath.
About the wood go swifter than the wind,
And Helena of Athens look thou find.
All fancy-sick she is and pale of cheer
With sighs of love, that costs the fresh blood dear.
By some illusion see thou bring her here.
I’ll charm his eyes against she do appear.
I go, I go, look how I go,
Swifter than arrow from the Tartar’s bow.
Flower of this purple dye,
Hit with Cupid’s archery,
Sink in apple of his eye.
When his love he doth espy,
Let her shine as gloriously
As the Venus of the sky.
When thou wak’st, if she be by,
Beg of her for remedy.
Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand,
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover’s fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!
Stand aside. The noise they make
Will cause Demetrius to awake.
Then will two at once woo one;
That must needs be sport alone.
And those things do best please me
That befall prepost’rously.
Enter Lysander and Helena.
Why should you think that I should woo in scorn?
Scorn and derision never come in tears.
Look when I vow, I weep; and vows so born,
In their nativity all truth appears.
How can these things in me seem scorn to you,
Bearing the badge of faith to prove them true?
You do advance your cunning more and more;
When truth kills truth, O devilish-holy fray!
These vows are Hermia’s. Will you give her o’er?
Weigh oath with oath, and you will nothing weigh.
Your vows to her and me, put in two scales,
Will even weigh; and both as light as tales.
I had no judgment when to her I swore.
Nor none, in my mind, now you give her o’er.
Demetrius loves her; and he loves not you.
O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!
To what, my love, shall I compare thine eyne?
Crystal is muddy. O, how ripe in show
Thy lips, those kissing cherries, tempting grow!
That pure congealed white, high Taurus’ snow,
Fann’d with the eastern wind, turns to a crow
When thou hold’st up thy hand. O, let me kiss
This princess of pure white, this seal of bliss!
O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment.
If you were civil and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?
If you were men, as men you are in show,
You would not use a gentle lady so;
To vow, and swear, and superpraise my parts,
When I am sure you hate me with your hearts.
You both are rivals, and love Hermia;
And now both rivals, to mock Helena.
A trim exploit, a manly enterprise,
To conjure tears up in a poor maid’s eyes
With your derision! None of noble sort
Would so offend a virgin, and extort
A poor soul’s patience, all to make you sport.
You are unkind, Demetrius; be not so;
For you love Hermia; this you know I know.
And here, with all good will, with all my heart,
In Hermia’s love I yield you up my part;
And yours of Helena to me bequeath,
Whom I do love, and will do till my death.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Big Lebowski