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“What is life and what is its meaning?” August Strindberg asked
this question many times throughout his life. He questions human
existence, good and evil, happiness and sorrow, from the beginning of
mans life until the end, in every thing he writes. He wrote novels,
plays, poetry and over 7,000 letters. The collected works consists of 55
volumes. Strindberg was known best for his expressionist plays that he
had made throughout his life.
August Strindberg was born in Stockholm in 1849. Before he became
a writer he studied at Uppsala university and worked as a librarian and
a journalist. In 1877 he married Siri Von Essen with whom he had three
children, Karin, Greta and the son Hans. After twelve years they divorce
and Strindberg, not feeling appreciated in Sweden, moves to central
Europe. After a couple of years of “artist life” with people like and
he marries the young Austrian Frieda Uhl . After a stormy year
travelling in Europe they divorce. Then for his third marriage Harriet
Bosse became his wife. But that marriage also ended in divorce.
Historian’s say that the reason his plays are expressionistic is that
most of them model his experiences in life.
Strindberg was thought to be one of the greatest within world
literature. He was the gentleman, a man of the world, who was polite and
friendly and knew how to behave in literary circles and other important
occasions. But he could also turn his back on the world, when something
happened in his life and he detested everything and everybody.
Strindberg’s early works were mostly novels and plays they are strongly
naturalistic. They were written in to go against the widespread
romanticism that was in Swedish literature. Strindberg was an known as
“the godfather” of naturalist drama. He was so far ahead of his time
that he never really enjoyed the success that his talents deserved.
People back then could not truly appreciate his writings, so therefore
he could not truly appreciate his success.
At first his plays were too realistic, and the effects of those
plays were much too weak. Soon he decided to be more expressionist in
his plays. Those expressionistic plays came in two parts. First in
1914 to 1915 then from 1919 to 1922. These plays were more successful
then his realistic plays were. Strindberg kept writing throughout his
life, but eventually died of stomach cancer in May of 1912.
“A Dream Play” was maybe the first drama to engage a dream-like
reality as a genre in itself. Traditionally plays have included scenes
illustrating dreams or nightmares, but none have based an entire play
around them. By doing this, Strindberg abandoned conventional
perceptions of time and space. In this play he gave off an illusion of
how the dream world was. “A Dream Play” was written in 1901 and first
produced in 1907. “A Dream Play’s” premiere was at the Swedish Theatre
on April 17, 1907 with Harriet Bosse (who was his third wife) as Indra’s
daughter. Its most successful premiere was in Germany on March 17,
He believed that all of man kind was placed on a trial. It was
one of Strindberg’s most personal plays. He combined the techniques of
dramatic with his own conception of psychology, including unaffected
dialogue, simple scenery, and the use of stage props as symbols. With
that he began a new movement in European drama. In “A Dream Play,” the
daughter of God comes to Earth – and discovers that things are every bit
as bad as she’d heard – and worse.
“A Dream Play” largely established theatrical modernism. Some
historians place modernism as starting with the Industrial revolution.
Modernism first became evident in art works around 1850 with the realist
movement, then impressionism. It is a cultural movement which rebelled
against Victorian ideals. Modernists emphasized the ways in which
humans were part of and responsible to nature. They argued for multiple
ways of looking at the world. Which is exactly what Strindberg did with
a dream play. He took reality, and made it into a dream world.
In this story things change in a matter of seconds. There would
be one group of characters talking about one thing, and in the next
second, it changes to different characters talking about another thing.
Yet throughout the whole story line the Daughter of Indra is there
believing that man should be pitied. The scenery also changes as
quickly as the characters. A lemon tree can turn into a coat rack in an
attorneys office as quickly a castle can grow. Throughout out the whole
entire play one sees all the troubles the Daughter of Indra has seen.
As she bids her farewell she remarks that she could feel the utter pain
of being and of living.
By writing “A Dream Play,” Strindberg created this new theory of
expressionism and modernism. He created a genre of a dream world.
With this new genre, he modeled his own experiences into his dream
world. “A Dream Play” constituted a beginning for more playwrights to
become inspired and more expressionistic in the theater world.
“August Strindberg.” www.extrapis.com/astrindberg.html. May 6, 2001
Holm, Ingvar. “Theories and Practice in Staging ‘A Dream Play’”
Strindberg’s Pramatongy. ed. Jovan Stockenstroin. US Minn Press. 1998
Paulson, Arvid. Eight Expressionist Plays by August Strindberg. New
York University Press. New York 1975
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