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Strindberg’s Dramaturgy

Strindberg’s Dramaturgy

Göran Stockenström editor
Series: Nordic
Volume: 16
Copyright Date: 1988
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Strindberg’s Dramaturgy
    Book Description:

    Strindberg’s Dramaturgy was first published in 1988. The plays of Swedish dramatist August Strindberg have had more productions in the American theater in the past ten to fifteen years than in the sixty-year period following the 1905 New York debut of Miss Julie. Claimed and reclaimed by the theatrical avant-garde -- the Provincetown Players in the 1920s, the Absurdists of the 1960s, and contemporary postmodernists -- the Strindberg repertoire has also been reviled and ignored; only in recent years has it expanded to include the dream plays, once considered too difficult to produce. The authors of this book are aware that the study of Strindberg means little without a deeper understanding of his complex performance history in Europe and North America. Their collective efforts show that production and reception, always a mediating experience between the theater and its audience, is for Strindberg a particularly dynamic event. Always in a state of becoming, each play takes on meaning through the experience of its audience. The contributors to Strindberg’s Dramaturgy -- an international group of scholars, critics, and directors -- explore this complex pattern of signification or meaning in both his dramatic discourse and the actual staging of the plays. Their aim is to better understand Strindberg’s impact on twentieth-century theater from this dual vantage point; the dialectical tension between text and stage characterizes every chapter in the book. Structured in four parts, the book opens with several essays that establish for Strindberg a historical context reaching beyond the theater -- his place in Western humanism, his relation to Nietzsche, his use of myth and of Swedish history. The essays in Part 2 explore the nature of Strindberg’s modernism, and those in Part 3 contrast the naturalistic plays of the 1880s with the post-Inferno dramas to test continuities and changes in his work as it became, in Eugene O’Neill’s words, “supernaturalistic.” In the last part, the authors tackle the dramaturgy of the dream plays, emphasizing the challenge they have always posed in the realm of creative stagecraft. The book’s illustrations include set designs and photographs of major Strindberg productions from the turn of the century on. The contributors, besides Stockenström, include: Sven Delblanc, Evert Sprinchorn, Harry G. Carlson, Manfred Karnick, Elinor Fuchs, Gunnar Brandell, Richard Bark, Freddie Rokem, James McFarlane, Maurice Gravier, Frederick J. Marker, Lise-Lone Marker, Susan Brantly, Timo Tiusanen, Barry Jacobs, Göran Söderström, Ingvar Holm, Egil Törnqvist, Susan Einhorn, Sarah Bryant-Bertail, Jon M. Berry, and Paul Walsh.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-0007-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. PART I. Strindberg’s Dramas:: Historical Dimensions

    • 1 Strindberg and Humanism
      (pp. 3-13)
      Sven Delblanc

      When I received the flattering invitation to lecture on Strindberg in memory of Alrik Gustafson, a great scholar and humanist whose name will be forever connected with the University of Minnesota, my reaction was one of humble soul-searching. And, soon after, I began to be tormented by the awkward and inevitable question: which Strindberg do they expect me to speak on? In his infinite variety he is as elusive as the Cheshire Cat, as versatile as Cleopatra.

      Chauvinism, politics, religious zeal, and ideological hang-ups tend to distort the image of great writers, always in demand as figureheads, symbols, or scapegoats....

    • 2 Strindberg and the Superman
      (pp. 14-26)
      Evert Sprinchorn

      Although much has been written about the dramatic techniques that Strindberg invented or rediscovered, comparatively little consideration has been given to his thought and philosophy. In contrast to such dramatists as Goethe, Schiller, Ibsen, and Shaw, the Swedish writer appears, at least to many critics, to have no consistent point of view, no broad outlook. Rather, his plays and novels seem to emanate from a mind in which ideas are tossed about helter-skelter. Positions are taken but not adequately defended, and ideas are fired off as if the explosive effect were more important than the target.

      Of course there have...

    • 3 Strindberg and the Dream of the Golden Age: The Poetics of History
      (pp. 27-40)
      Harry G. Carlson

      Strindberg drew on material from a variety of sources for his historical fiction and drama: autobiographical, historical, and philosophical — his own hopes and fears, details from his turbulent marriages, the facts and events of world history, and ideas borrowed from historians and philosophers such as Buckle, de Tocqueville, Swedenborg, Rousseau, and Schopenhauer. I will discuss the question of source from another point of departure: the poetic — the influence of particular metaphors on Strindberg’s conception of history. Hayden White asserts that historians must first “prefigure as a possible object of knowledge the whole set of events” they find reported in documents....

    • 4 Charles XII as Historical Drama
      (pp. 41-56)
      Göran Stockenström

      An examination of Strindberg’s dramaturgy in relation to the twentieth-century theater seldom takes his historical dramas into account, for obvious reasons. His cycle of history plays, spanning more than five hundred years and representing ten Swedish monarchs from Birger Jarl to Gustavus III, belongs to national history. The powerful effect many of these plays have exerted in the Swedish theater has to a great extent been lost when presented abroad. Their success is in a sense predicated on the audience’s awareness that it is witnessing a re-enactment of its own past. Strindberg concludes inOpen Letters to the Intimate Theater...

  6. PART II. Strindberg in the Modern Theater:: Dramatic Form and Discourse

    • 5 Strindberg and the Tradition of Modernity: Structure of Drama and Experience
      (pp. 59-74)
      Manfred Karnick

      Once Eugène lonesco said: “On me prouva que j’étais très influencé par Strindberg. Cela m’obligea à lire le dramaturge scandinave: je me rendis compte, en effet, que cela était vrai.” (They showed me that I was much influenced by Strindberg. This forced me to read the Scandinavian dramatist. I concluded that this was, in fact, true.)¹

      We know that Strindberg has broadly and variously influenced the literature of our century. There are excellent studies on this topic. Among these,Strindberg et le théâtre moderne, Strindberg’s Impact in France, Structures of Influence,andStrindberg und die Folgenare characteristic titles.²


    • 6 Strindberg “Our Contemporary”: Constructing and Deconstructing To Damascus (I)
      (pp. 75-86)
      Elinor Fuchs

      As time separates Strindberg from his dramatic critics, two almost contradictory motions are occurring. On the one hand, Strindberg is being classicized, absorbed back into the long tradition of dramatic art; forerunners, models, and patterns are appearing that were at first obscured in the intense light of his originality. Strindberg was not so long ago too modern to be a romantic, too expressionistic to be a symbolist, and too scientific to be an occultist. But these latter categories and many others are now being brought to bear as critics undertake the project of linguistic, musical, mythic, ritual, and even alchemical...

    • 7 Macro-Form in Strindberg’s Plays: Tight and Loose Structure
      (pp. 87-97)
      Gunnar Brandell

      In an international perspective, Strindberg is above all a dramatist, the author of a handful of plays that are staged and filmed again and again in different countries. All the international Strindberg symposia have more or less exclusively dealt with Strindberg’s plays. Egil Törnqvist and Evert Sprinchorn have recently published full-length Strindberg studies in English, on Strindbergian drama and on Strindberg as dramatist, respectively. Such studies have been a well-established trend since the 1890s when Strindberg acquired his earliest reputation as a dramatist at the theaters in Paris and Berlin.

      I see things from a slightly different angle because I...

    • 8 Strindberg’s Dream-Play Technique
      (pp. 98-106)
      Richard Bark

      When Strindberg wrote his preface toA Dream Play,he calledTo Damascus(I) “his former dream play.” So in a sense the author has given his approval for us to call these two plays — and perhaps others, such asThe Ghost Sonata— “dream plays,” bearing in mind that although they are different in character and technique, there are more things that unite them than separate them — above all a basic view of reality.

      WhenTo Damascus(I),A Dream Play,andThe Ghost Sonatawere first published, the critics discovered their “dream atmosphere.” Ever since then, scholars, professionals in...

    • 9 The Camera and the Aesthetics of Repetition: Strindberg’s Use of Space and Scenography in Miss Julie, A Dream Play, and The Ghost Sonata
      (pp. 107-128)
      Freddie Rokem

      The question of how that which the writer-dramatist wants to communicate is passed on to the reader-spectator as experience or knowledge was one of Strindberg’s primary concerns. In several of his plays, the actual process of passing on information and the issue of its authenticity are placed in the foreground, thus confronting us as spectators with problems that careful narratological and rhetorical analysis of fiction has taught us as readers to carefully sift and weigh for possible counterversions that are in some way embedded in the text itself.¹

      In this paper I investigate how the visual information, based primarily on...

  7. PART III. The Naturalistic or Supernaturalistic Plays:: Dramatic Discourse and Stagings

    • 10 Strindberg’s Vision: Microscopic or Spectroscopic?
      (pp. 131-140)
      James McFarlane

      InThe Father,when Laura seeks to convince the Doctor that her husband is mentally ill, she offers as a self-evident absurdity the fact that he should claim to explain distant cosmic phenomena by peering into a microscope at little bits of rock.

      LAURA: My husband’s mind is unbalanced. . . . Is it sensible for a person to claim to see in a microscope what is happening on another planet?¹

      Whereupon the Doctor has to admit that it seems to be aprima faciecase. But Strindberg immediately permits the Captain to put the record straight.

      CAPTAIN: My duties...

    • 11 Strindberg and the French Drama of His Time
      (pp. 141-151)
      Maurice Gravier

      August Strindberg wanted to be heard by his Swedish public, but at the same time he also sought to write “modern” plays. To be accepted by the audiences of his day, he had no choice but to create a place for himself within the repertory of his time; before he could introduce the innovations he desired, it was necessary to accept a certain theatrical tradition. In the nineteenth century, however, such a tradition, in the true sense of the word, did not yet exist in Sweden. After the great world classics, particularly the ancients and Shakespeare, it was French drama...

    • 12 Love without Lovers: Ingmar Bergman’s Julie
      (pp. 152-163)
      Frederick J. Marker and Lise-Lone Marker

      “Love Without Lovers” was the working title for a film Ingmar Bergman never finished. We are borrowing this evocative phrase, however, to describe all three dramas of corrosive sexual combat that he brought together to form the Bergman Project — as his mammoth triple production ofA Doll’s House, Miss Julie,andScenes from a Marriage,staged sequentially in Munich in 1981, has come to be called.¹ It would be no exaggeration to say that, in each part of this triptych, the spirit of Strindberg seemed the presiding influence and inspiration.

      Nora,as Bergman called his boldly economical revision of Ibsen’s...

    • 13 Naturalism or Expressionism: A Meaningful Mixture of Styles in The Dance of Death (I)
      (pp. 164-174)
      Susan Brantly

      What could Strindberg have been thinking of when he wroteThe Dance of Death(I)? Karl-Ivar Hildeman has indicated the influence that Strindberg’s observations of his sister’s marriage had on the characters and events in the play.¹ Furthermore, Hans Lindström has pointed out that a number of Strindberg’s close acquaintances had died during the year he wroteThe Dance of Death(I), causing his thoughts to revolve around questions of life and death.² As Evert Sprinchorn has shown, Strindberg’s thoughts were also still occupied with hell and purgatory and the Swedenborgian shape of the universe.³

      Strindberg was specifically influenced at...

  8. PART IV. The Dream Plays:: Dramatic Discourse and Stagings

    • 14 Expressionistic Features in To Damascus (I)
      (pp. 177-181)
      Timo Tiusanen

      CallingTo Damascus(I) “expressionistic” is, of course, nothing new. Rather, it reflects a consensus among many Strindberg scholars. Gösta M. Bergman callsTo Damascus(I) “a monodrama” and says that German expressionist plays developed into monodramas following Strindberg’s footsteps,¹ Or, to take a more recent phrasing by Kela Kvam, “With the Damascus trilogy Strindberg had foreshadowed the monologue play and theStationendramaof expressionism.”²

      The Swedish-American scholar C. E. W. L. Dahlström published a study ofStrindberg’s Dramatic Expressionismin 1930. It is a many-sided discussion of the field of problems mentioned in its title — a study that may...

    • 15 Titanism and Satanism in To Damascus (I)
      (pp. 182-204)
      Barry Jacobs

      To Damascus(I) (1898), as the biblical allusion in the title implies, is a play about religious conversion. After a series of increasingly ghastly experiences, a thoroughgoing materialist and nihilist, who is identified only as the Stranger, is forced to acknowledge that some invisible powers govern our lives and that death may not be the end of everything. Shattered, but still somewhat skeptical at the end of the play, he agrees to accompany the Lady into the church “to hear new songs.” Is this really a conversion? One is tempted to answer by echoing the Stranger’s last speech in the...

    • 16 To Damascus (I): A Dream Play?
      (pp. 205-222)
      Göran Söderström

      Several scholars have written about the first performance ofTo Damascus(I), foremost being Ingrid Hollinger and Richard Bark. I will limit my discussion to the scenographic solutions of this production and how they correspond to Strindberg’s intentions and, on the basis of this, I will try to answer the question: wasTo Damascus(I) intended to be a dream play or not?

      In August 1896 in Ystad in southern Sweden (At the Doctor’s House inTo Damascus(I)) when Strindberg was planning the novelInferno,he spoke of it as a drama of penitence, in which the defiant man...

    • 17 Charles XII as Dream Play
      (pp. 223-244)
      Göran Stockenström

      The starting point for Strindberg’s dramatization of the history of Charles XII was a scene in the last act. It contains the king’s final accounting for his life, moments before his death. The idea originated from the short storyThe Wake at Tistedalen(1890), in which the king’s death was used for the purpose of historical retrospection. The dramaturgical principle appears from the earlier versions and in 1901 is still a powerful influence on the final form of the text. In the first version of 1899, this scene was called “the King’s bad dreams” (Kungens onda drömmar) or “Visions of...

    • 18 Theories and Practice in Staging A Dream Play
      (pp. 245-255)
      Ingvar Holm

      In a research group some years ago at the Institute for Research in the Dramatic Arts in Lund, the students decided to study how Strindberg’s plays actually stood in relation to what people in France, Germany, Norway, and elsewhere once called naturalistic theater. That question related mainly to plays such asThe Father, Miss Julie, The Creditors, Pariah,et cetera. Another question concerned how Strindberg’s work related to what Germany, in paticular, would later begin to call expressionistic theater. In the latter case our curiosity concerned plays such asTo Damascus, A Dream Play, The Great Highway,and also, with...

    • 19 Staging A Dream Play
      (pp. 256-290)
      Egil Törnqvist

      The recent interest in theater semiotics has increasingly drawn attention to the communicative problem inherent in the difference between the drama text and the performance “text” (Elam, 214; Fischer-Lichte, 3:34-36). The fundamental question to be posed is this: in what way are the verbal (linguistic) signs of the drama text transposed into visual and/or acoustic signs in the performance text? A number of subsidiary questions can be derived from this basic one: To what extent and in what way are the signs of the two texts just referred to polyinterpretable, explicit/implicit? To what extent and in what way is the...

    • 20 Directing A Dream Play: A Journey through the Waking Dream
      (pp. 291-302)
      Susan Einhorn

      Before January 1981 I had never read or seenA Dream Play.Yet in February 1981, I directed what turned out to be a successful production of the play, using an essentially bare stage and only eight actors. Lynn Michael, artistic director of The Open Space Theatre Experiment in New York City, was the producer and initiator of this project.

      What I hope to do in this paper is relate how I responded intuitively to the images, myths, and symbols in the text and how I turned those responses into a theatrical exploration that was innovative, untraditional, and, ultimately, dramatically...

    • 21 The Tower of Babel: Space and Movement in The Ghost Sonata
      (pp. 303-315)
      Sarah Bryant-Bertail

      Roland Barthes, inSur Racine,¹uses semiotic analysis of various sign systems in conjunction with anthropological and psychoanalytical approaches to arrive at what he calls Racinean space. He projects an architectural design within a landscape, outlines its borders, and rationalizes this space through interpretation of the plays. Whereas the projection of Racinean space is only part of Barthes’s work inSur Racine,it is Anne Ubersfeld’s whole task in “The Space of Phèdre,” one of several articles in a recent issue ofPoetics Today²that is devoted to theater semiotics. The theatrical text that is the object of a semiotician’s...

    • 22 Discourse and Scenography in The Ghost Sonata
      (pp. 316-329)
      Jon M. Berry

      August Strindberg’sThe Ghost Sonatais the most produced of his Chamber Plays. Its complexity and depth allow a great many directorial approaches and absorb countless interpretations. Perhaps this is one reason for its popularity: expressionism, symbolism, and realism can all be found in the work and can each, when used as a major production style, produce valid, powerful results. From the realistic interpretation given the play by Olof Molander, to the divergent expressionistic approaches taken by Max Reinhardt and Ingmar Bergman,The Ghost Sonatahas been proven to be a remarkable play capable of communicating its complex ideas through...

    • 23 Textual Clues to Performance Strategies in The Pelican
      (pp. 330-342)
      Paul Walsh

      Despite its popularity in Scandinavia,The Pelicanhas been performed only rarely in the United States, and it has not attracted the kind of close critical attention given Strindberg’s better known works. At first glance, the dramaturgical innovations inThe Pelicanstrike one as slight compared, for example, with those inThe Ghost Sonata,and the tone and tenor of the language, the catalog of mundane concerns, and the tangled skein of domestic relationships seem to reduce the play to a pathological melodrama about an unfortunately peculiar family. This was the reaction of the Stockholm critics to the premiere performance...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 345-362)
  10. Index
    (pp. 365-375)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 376-376)