August Strindberg Essay - Strindberg, August

Strindberg, August


August Strindberg 1849-1912

(Also wrote under the pseudonym of Härved Ulf) Swedish playwright, novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist, and journalist.

Strindberg is considered one of the most important and influential dramatists in modern literature. With the plays Fadren (1887; The Father, ) and Fröken Julie (1889; Miss Julie), he proved himself an innovative exponent of Naturalism, while the later plays Ett drömspel(1907; The Dream Play) and the trilogy Till Damaskus (1898-1904; To Damascus) are recognized as forerunners of Expressionism, Surrealism, and the Theater of the Absurd.

Biographical Information

Strindberg was born in Stockholm. Although he portrayed himself in his autobiographical novel Tjänstekvinnans son (1886; The Son of a Servant) as the unwanted product of a union between an impoverished aristocrat and a former servant, recent biographers have constructed a more favorable picture of the circumstances of his birth. His father was involved in the shipping trade, and although his mother had worked as a maid for a short time, she was the daughter of a tailor. Life in the Strindberg home was by all objective accounts rather comfortable, but Strindberg was an extremely shy and sensitive child who held an excessively negative perception of his own circumstances. He was educated first at the local primary school, then at the Stockholm Lyceum, a progressive private school, where he was an average student. In 1867 Strindberg enrolled at the University of Uppsala. While at the university, he wrote his first play; the endeavor afforded him such satisfaction that he resolved to make playwriting his profession. During 1869 he wrote three more plays, two of which were accepted for production by the prestigious Royal Theater in Stockholm. However, these plays were not financially successful, and Strindberg was obliged to write stories and articles for periodicals in order to earn a living, a practice he considered degrading. It was not until the publication of his novel Röda rummet (The Red Room) in 1879 that Strindberg became a highly respected and nationally recognized author.

Essential material for Strindberg's subsequent works was provided by his three tempestuous marriages. The first and longest, to Sigrid von Essen, was the basis for a novel, two collections of short stories, and several plays. The story collections, titled Giftas (1884-86; Married, Parts I and II) contained irreverent passages that caused Strindberg and his publisher to be charged with blasphemy. Following the breakup of his second marriage in 1891, Strindberg experienced a period of deep depression and hallucinations that he called his Inferno Crisis, because it occurred while he was writing the novel Inferno (1897; The Inferno). While his behavior had always been slightly bizarre, during this period he appears to have suffered a complete psychological break with reality. Severely paranoiac, he moved from lodging to lodging, convinced that his enemies were trying to murder him with electrical currents and lethal gases. Further manifestations of Strindberg's breakdown are observed in his abandonment of his literary career in order to devote himself to alchemical experiments and in the radical alteration of his religious thinking from agnostic to traditionally Christian. Believing that his affliction had been decreed by God as punishment for his sins, Strindberg sought a reconciliation with the deity as a possible cure, becoming fascinated with the work of Emmanuel Swedenborg, a Christian mystic.

Strindberg's eventual recovery from his psychosis was accompanied by a surge of creative activity. He returned to the theater to transform the horrors of the Inferno Crisis and his new-found religious mysticism into dramatic images. Strindberg's final years were relatively peaceful and productive, and he was revered by the Swedish people, who staged an enormous celebration in honor of his sixtieth birthday. He continued to write until he became incapacitated by illness. He died in 1912.

Major Works

Critics divide Strindberg's work into two phases, citing the Inferno Crisis as the fulcrum of the playwright's career. The historical drama Mäster Olof (1881; Master Olof) and the naturalistic plays The Father and Miss Julie are the most significant examples of his pre-Inferno writings. Master Olof, Strindberg's first theatrical success, is also first in a cycle of twelve chronicle plays concerning Swedish historical figures. As Shakespeare had done, Strindberg dramatized a series of historic events that embodied the social and political issues of his own day. Although Master Olof introduced Strindberg as an important playwright, The Father and Miss Julie established his reputation as a brilliant innovator of theatrical form. In these works Strindberg developed a new, intense form of Naturalism. Influenced by the French novelist Emile Zola, Strindberg depicted his characters and their lives with scientific objectivity. However, he furthered this concept by focusing solely on the “moment of struggle,” the immediate conflict or crisis affecting his characters. Dialogue and incidents not pertaining to this moment were eliminated. Thematically, The Father, Miss Julie, and Strindberg's other Naturalist plays are rooted in Friedrich Nietzsche's conception of life as a succession of contests between stronger and weaker wills. Strindberg applied this theory to his recurring subject of to the conflict between the sexes for psychological supremacy. The female characters of his Naturalist dramas are typically diabolic usurpers of the “naturally” dominant role of males in society: with infinite cunning and cruelty, they eventually shatter the male characters' “superior” psyches and drain their creative and intellectual powers.

The stylistic experiments of Strindberg's post-Inferno period proved a turning point in modern drama. From his studies, Strindberg concluded that earthly life is a hell which men and women are forced to endure, a nightmare in which they suffer for sins committed in a previous existence. To Damascus, A Dream Play, and The Ghost Sonata are based on this premise, presenting a fragmented and highly subjective view of reality. To achieve this effect, Strindberg employed symbolism and structure of dreams, creating a grotesque and ludicrous world that is both believable and frighteningly unreal: individuals appear and disappear at random; scenes and images change at the slightest provocation; and characters encounter their worst fears and fantasies. With To Damascus and The Dream Play Strindberg prefigured the major dramatic movements of the twentieth century, and his influence can be seen in the work of playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugene O'Neill, and Eugène Ionesco.

Critical Reception

Early reaction to Strindberg's plays was often highly mixed. Because Strindberg was an intensely autobiographical and self-analytical writer, some early critics dismissed his plays as self-absorbed and overly confessional. His early Naturalist plays, while successful, were often controversial, particularly for the anti-feminist and unorthodox religious views they presented. The plays from the period after the Inferno Crisis, with their highly subjective interpretations of experience and nightmarish effects, often confounded Strindberg's contemporaries, to whom the playwright appeared to have lost touch with reality. Modern critical evaluations, however, have been much more favorable. Harry G. Carlson, for example, while conceding that Strindberg was “a diligent journalist, plundering the details of his own life for copy,” asserted that he was also “a developing author, restlessly experimenting with new forms of expression in drama and fiction” and “an eloquent mythopoeic artist, constantly searching for ways to anchor the present more firmly in the past.” Modern commentators almost universally agree that Strindberg's later work initiated, in both content and form, the dramatic methods of modern theater. Pär Lagerkvist, a younger contemporary of Strindberg and himself an influential dramatic innovator, shortly after Strindberg's death praised the elder playwright's “distinctly new creative work in the drama”: “If one wishes to understand the direction in which the modern theatre is actually striving and the line of development it will probably follow, it is certainly wise to turn to [Strindberg] first of all.” Similarly, in a remark, cited approvingly by several critics, O'Neill declared that Strindberg “was the precursor of all modernity in our present theatre.”

Principal Works

Fritankaren 1869

En namnsdagsgäva 1869

I Rom [In Rome] 1870

Den Fredlöse [The Outlaw] 1871

Mäster Olof [Master Olof] 1881

Lycko-Pers resa [Lucky Pehr] 1883

Fadren [The Father] 1887

Fordringsägare [The Creditors] 1888

Fröken Julie [Miss Julie] 1889

Advent: Ett mysterium [Advent] 1898

Till Damaskus, första delen [To Damascus, I] 1898

Till Damaskus, andra delen [To Damascus, II] 1898

Brott och brott [Crimes and Crimes] 1899

Erik XIV 1899

Folkungasagan [The Saga of the Folkungs] 1899

Gustaf Vasa [Gustavus Vasa] 1899

Dödsdansen [The Dance of Death] 1901

Ett drömspel [A Dream Play] 1901

Kristina [Queen Christina] 1901

Påsk [Easter] 1901

Svanevit [Swanwhite] 1901

Carl XII [Charles XII] 1902

Gustav III 1902

Till Damaskus, tredje delen [To Damascus, III] 1904

*Brända tomten [The Burned House] 1907

*Oväder [Storm Weather] 1907

*Spöksonaten [The Ghost Sonata] 1907

*Pelikanen [The Pelican] 1907

Abu Casems tofflor [Abu Casem's Slippers] 1908

*Svarta handsken [The Black Glove] 1908

Stora landsvägen [The Great Highway] 1910

Röda rummet [The Red Room] (novel) 1879

Sömngångarnåtter på vakna dagar (poetry) 1884

Giftas. 2 vols. [Married] (short stories) 1884-86

Tjänstekvinnans son [The Son of a Servant] (memoir) 1886

Hemsöborna [The People of Hemso] (novel) 1887

Inferno [The Inferno] (autobiographical novel) 1898

En blå bok. 4 vols. [Zones of the Spirit] (essays) 1907-12

*Known collectively as The Chamber Plays, these five works were written by Strindberg for his Intimate Theater, which he founded in 1907.

Criticism: General Commentary

Harry G. Carlson (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: Carlson, Harry G. “Collecting the Corpse in the Cargo.” In Strindberg and the Poetry of Myth,” pp. 78-91. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

[In the following essay, Carlson examines the progrss of Strindberg's naturalistic period, from The Father through Miss Julie to The Creditors.]

The sheer intense virtuosity of Strindberg's performance during his so-called naturalistic period was impressive. He was a diligent journalist, plundering the details of his own life for copy; a developing author, restlessly experimenting with new forms of expression in drama and fiction; and an eloquent mythopoeic artist, constantly searching for...

(The entire section is 4844 words.)

Richard Bark (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: Bark, Richard. “Strindberg's Dream Play Technique.” In Strindberg's Dramaturgy, edited by Göran Stockenström, pp. 98-106. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Bart explores Strindberg's use of the “dream play” technique.]

When Strindberg wrote his preface to A Dream Play, he called To 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 as The Ghost Sonata—“dream plays,” bearing in mind that although they are different in character and technique, there are more things that unite them than...

(The entire section is 3961 words.)

Freddie Rokem (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: Rokem, Freddie. “The Camera and the Aesthetics of Repetition: Strindberg's Use of Space and Scenography in Miss Julie, A Dream Play, and The Ghost Sonata.” In Strindberg's Dramaturgy, edited by Göran Stockenström, pp. 107-28. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Roken spotlights Strindberg's presentation of visual information as an element of his narrative technique.]

The question of how that which the writer-dramatist wants to communicate is passed on to the reader-spectator as experience of knowledge was one of Strindberg's primary concerns. In several of his plays, the actual process of passing...

(The entire section is 10687 words.)

Barbro Ståhle Sjönell (essay date winter 1990)

SOURCE: Sjönell, Barbro Ståhle. “The Plans, Drafts, and Manuscripts of the Historical Plays in Strindberg's ‘Green Bag.’” Scandinavian Studies 62, no. 1 (winter 1990): 69-75.

[In the following essay, based on the notes in Strindberg's “green bag,” Sjönell describes Strindberg's construction of the history plays and his plans to complete a history cycle.]

During Strindberg's second long stay abroad (1890-98) he began to collect his drafts and manuscripts in a green cloth bag. The bag aroused great curiosity among all who met him, and it is mentioned in several of the memoirs written by friends he made during his time in Berlin. Dr. Carl Ludwig Schleich...

(The entire section is 2980 words.)

Barry Jacobs (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Jacobs, Barry. “Strindberg's Advent and Brott och brott: Sagospel and Comedy in a Higher Court.” In Strindberg and Genre, edited by Michael Robinson, pp. 167-87. Norvik Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Jacobs discusses Strindberg's comedy and fantasy plays.]

In Tjänstekvinnans son, Strindberg dismisses Lycko-Pers resa, the sagospel (fairy-tale play) that had been his most popular theatre piece in Sweden, as ‘en anakronism och en konjunktur på samma gång’ (simultaneously an anachronism and a profitable enterprise—SS 19, p. 188). He seems always to have undervalued this work and to have been somewhat...

(The entire section is 10148 words.)

Barbara Lide (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Lide, Barbara. “Perspectives on a Genre: Strindberg's comédies rosses.” In Strindberg and Genre, edited by Michael Robinson, pp. 149-66. Norvik Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Lide looks at the body of Strindberg's work that can be classified as comedy.]

In an article entitled ‘Why We Can't Help Genre-alizing and How Not to Go About It’, the American genre specialist Paul Hernadi proposes as one of two main theses that ‘all knowledge is genre-bound in both senses of the word: it is tied up with and directed towards conceptual classification.’ Hernadi quotes I. A. Richards's statements that ‘perception takes whatever it perceives as a...

(The entire section is 8557 words.)

Margareta Wirmark (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Wirmark, Margareta. “Strindberg's History Plays: Some Reflections.” In Strindberg and Genre, edited by Michael Robinson, pp. 200-06. Norvik Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Wirmark discusses Strindberg's history plays.]

At the turn of the year 1898-9 Strindberg entered upon an intense period of dramatic writing. ‘Jag har nu lagt undan allt annat och ägnar mig uteslutande åt teaterförfatteri’ (I have now put everything else aside and am devoting myself entirely to writing for the theatre—XIII, p. 59) he wrote, in a letter dated 26 December 1898. In January 1899 he was to celebrate his fiftieth birthday, which may have been one of the reasons...

(The entire section is 2800 words.)

Lynn R. Wilkinson (essay date fall 1993)

SOURCE: Wilkinson, Lynn R. “The Politics of the Interior: Strindberg's Chamber Plays. Scaninavian Studies 65, no. 4 (fall 1993): 33-50.

[In the following essay, Wilkinson examines a group of five plays known as the Chamber Plays: Oväder (Storm Weather), Brända temten (The Burned House), Spöksonaten (Ghost Sonata), Pelikanen (The Pelican), and Svarta handsken (The Black Glove).]

In 1907 and 1908, Strindberg composed five plays for performance at his own small theater in Stockholm, Intima teatern or The Intimate Theater. Oväder or Storm Weather, Brända tomten or The Burned House, Spöksonaten or The Ghost...

(The entire section is 10265 words.)

Egil Törnqvist (essay date summer 1996)

SOURCE: Törnqvist, Egil. “The Strindbergian One-Act Play.” Scandinavian Studies 68, no. 3 (summer 1996): 356-69.

[In the following essay, Törnqvist examines Strindberg's one-act plays.]

Strindberg's international reputation as a dramatist is usually connected with two enterprises. Before the so-called Inferno Crisis in the mid-1890s, he was an eminent representative of naturalist drama. His famous preface to Fröken Julie [Miss Julie] is generally recognized along with Zola's Le Naturalisme au théâtre as its most important manifesto. After the Inferno Crisis, he penned his preexpressionist plays, in which the protagonists are more in...

(The entire section is 5430 words.)

Marilyn Johns Blackwell (essay date fall 1999)

SOURCE: Blackwell, Marilyn Johns. “Strindberg's Early Dramas and Lacan's ‘Law of the Father.’” Scandinavian Studies 71, no. 3 (fall 1999): 311-24.

[In the following essay, Blackwell discusses contemporary attitudes toward sex roles and how Strindberg expressed them in his plays.]

As the erosion of European patriarchal structures accelerated through the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many distinguished and important (largely but not exclusively) male readers and producers of culture responded to this development with varying degrees of horror, outrage, and counterattack. As two such pivotal figures, both August Strindberg and Jacques Lacan are central...

(The entire section is 5988 words.)

Criticism: Fadren (The Father)

John Eric Bellquist (essay date December 1986)

SOURCE: Bellquist, John Eric. “Strindberg's Father: Symbolism, Nihilism, Myth.” Modern Drama 29, no. 4 (December 1986): 532-43.

[In the following essay, Bellquist presents a detailed examination of Fadren.]

As part of the Strindberg Festival held in Stockholm during May, 1981, the Stockholm Stadsteater presented a putatively polemical version of the play Fadren with the slightly reconstructed title Fadern instead.1 In the foyer of the theater the play's audiences encountered displays intended to reveal the socio-economic plight of women in Strindberg's day; during the performance they were faced with Laura cast as a harassed, hapless...

(The entire section is 5502 words.)

Arnold Weinstein (essay date summer 1994)

SOURCE: Weinstein, Arnold. “Child's Play: The Cradle Song in Strindberg's Fadren.Scandinavian Studies 66, no. 3 (summer 1994): 336-60.

[In the following essay, Weinstein highlights the child's voice in Fadren.]


Fadren has long been seen as predominantly a war between the sexes, and it is hard not to view the role of the child, Bertha, as something of a pawn. As is well known, the play revolves around the power struggle as to who will finally control the fate of the child, and this nineteenth century custody battle finishes with Laura's triumphal cry, “Mitt Barn! Mitt eget Barn!” (98) [“My child! My own child!”...

(The entire section is 11110 words.)

Criticism: FröKen Julie (Miss Julie)

Charles Spencer (review date 2 March 2000)

SOURCE: Spencer, Charles. “The Arts: Turn up the Heat.” The Daily Telegraph (March 2, 2000): 26.

[Below, Spencer offers a review of the production of Miss Julie at the Theatre Royal in Haymarket, London, directed by Michael Boyd.]

It is de rigueur these days to mock those bewhiskered Victorians who took such exception to the scandalous Scandinavian plays of Ibsen and Strindberg. But though Ibsen now seems more like an earnest moralist than a shock merchant, Strindberg still comes over as a thoroughly disconcerting writer.

Few of us would now describe Miss Julie (1888) as “a heap of ordure”, still less ban it from the stage, as...

(The entire section is 641 words.)

John L. Greenway (essay date May 1986)

SOURCE: Greenway, John L. “Strindberg and Suggestion in Miss Julie.South Atlantic Review 51, no. 2 (May 1986): 21-34.

[In the following essay, Greenway explains how contemporary psychology influenced Strindberg's characters in Miss Julie.]

Listing naturalistic elements in Miss Julie and reviewing Strindberg's preface to point out the many influences on the play would be tantamount to announcing the discovery of the wheel. Such work has been done thoroughly by Madsen, Lindström and Sprinchorn. While it is not our intent to reduce Miss Julie to a gloss of the history of physiology, one aspect of the drama and, more generally, Strindberg's...

(The entire section is 5584 words.)

Edward S. Franchuk (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Franchuk, Edward S. “Symbolism in Miss Julie.Theatre Research International 18, supplementary issue (1993): 11-15.

[In the following essay, Franchuck explores the symbolism in Miss Julie.]

The theme of Strindberg's Miss Julie (Fröken Julie, 1888), the struggle for sexual ascendancy between a liberated young woman and an ambitious young man who is her social inferior, continues to hold fascination even in times such as our own, which purport to be sexually liberated, socially egalitarian, and feminist. Perhaps, one might speculate, fascination with the play, its characters, and its situation is especially intense in such times....

(The entire section is 3356 words.)

Erik Näslund (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Näslund, Erik. “Miss Julie—The Ballet, 1950-1.” Theatre Research International 18, supplementary issue (1993): 16-23.

[In the following essay, Näslund presents a history of the ballet version of Miss Julie.]

If by a classic one means a work of art which has the ability to remain alive through various epochs and continue to engage people's attention, then the word is suitable to describe Birgit Cullberg's ballet Miss Julie. Perhaps one ought to adjust the notion slightly and describe the ballet as a ‘modern classic’, because we do not know how it will have endured in, let us say, fifty or a hundred years.

But as the...

(The entire section is 4327 words.)

Lorelei Lingard (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Lingard, Lorelei. “The Daughter's Double Bind: The Single-parent Family as Cultural Analogue in Two Turn-of-the-Century Dramas.” Modern Drama 40 (1997): 123-38.

[In the following essay, Lingard examines the relationship between Julie and her father in Miss Julie in light of contemporary ideas of parental and sex roles.]

It may seem surprising how frequently single-parent families are found in plays written at the turn of the twentieth century. The number of plays by Ibsen Chekhov, Brecht, Strindberg, and Shaw that involve single-parent families is remarkable, particularly as the issue of single parenthood itself rarely surfaces in the action. But...

(The entire section is 5273 words.)

Criticism: Brott Och Brott (Crimes And Crimes)

SOURCE: Davy, Daniel. “Strindberg's Unknown Comedy.” Modern Drama 15, no. 3 (1997): 305-24.

[In the following essay, Davy analyzes Crimes and Crimes as a tragicomedy.]

How could a play entitled Crime and Crime and
obviously preoccupied with a conflict between
forces of good and evil be devoid of moral

—James L. Allen, Jr.1

Don't you know this is the witching hour?
That's when you hear things—and see things
sometimes. Staying up all night has the
same sort of magic as crime. Puts you over
and above the laws of nature.

Crimes and Crimes2

August Strindberg's...

(The entire section is 8904 words.)

Criticism: DöDsdansen (The Dance Of Death)

Ben Brantley (review date 2001)

SOURCE: Brantley, Ben. “To Stay Alive, Snipe, Snipe.” The New York Times (October 12, 2001): section E, page 1.

[Below, Brantley presents a review of the production of The Dance of Death at the Broadhurst Theater, New York, directed by Sean Mathias.]

Before the dance, there is the walk.

It is not a graceful walk, at least not by conventional standards, that is being practiced by Ian McKellen in the revival of Strindberg's Dance of Death that opened on Broadway last night. His legs stiffen and stray; his basic navigational instincts betray him. But his posture is as arrogantly erect as pain allows. And when a footstool intrudes itself...

(The entire section is 1646 words.)

Charles Spencer (review date 21 November 2001)

SOURCE: Spencer, Charles. “A Marrowing Odyssey to the Heart of Marital Hell.” Daily Telegraph (November 21, 2001): 21.

[Below, Spencer offers a review of the production of The Dance of Death at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, directed by David Hunt.]

What a tremendous terrifying play The Dance of Death (1900) is. And how terrific to see a regional theatre staging Strindberg—a dramatist usually regarded as box-office poison—with such passion, commitment and shockingly black humour.

Strindberg discovered long before Jean-Paul Sartre that hell is other people. On the evidence of this play—one of his most autobiographical—he was...

(The entire section is 595 words.)

D. J. R. Bruckner (review date 15 March 2002)

SOURCE: Bruckner, D. J. R. “More of Strindberg's Peace amid Misery.” New York Times (March 15, 2002): E.

[In the following review, Bruckner comments on the production of The Dance of Death at the Bouwerie Lane Theater, New York, directed by Karen Lordi.]

The Jean Cocteau Repertory company certainly has its mettle tested this year. Its production of Strindberg's Dance of Death recently entered its 2001-2 roster less than six weeks after the closing of a Broadway adaptation with the vastly admired British stars Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren in the leading roles. It's good to see that the Cocteau, using a translation that Strindberg signed off on, was...

(The entire section is 663 words.)

Criticism: Ett DröMspel (A Dream Play)

SOURCE: Grabowski, Simon. “Unreality in Plays of Ibsen, Strindberg and Hamsun.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Comparative Study of Literature and Ideas 4, no. 2 (winter 1970): 63-8.

[In the following essay, Grabowski explores Strindberg's innovative departure from realism in A Dream Play.]


Towards and around the turn of the century, three leading Scandinavian authors were venturing, each in his own way, into a kind of drama which has traditionally been referred to as one of symbolism. The two older of the three, Ibsen and Strindberg, had already become established as dramatists of the foremost rank, while the third, Knut Hamsun, had only...

(The entire section is 2864 words.)

Criticism: Kristina (Queen Christina)

SOURCE: Wirmark, Margareta. “Strindberg's Queen Christina: Eve and Pandora.” Scandinavian Studies 62, no. 1 (winter 1990): 116-22.

[In the following essay, Wirmark considers the relevance of the play-within-a-play in Queen Christina.]

In the fourth act of Strindberg's drama Queen Christina (Kristina, 1901), there is a play within the play that draws upon Greek mythology. Let us call this play Pandora. It takes place at a private party given by Christina for Klas Tott. The two lovers are the only actors. This drama is of great interest from different aspects, also from a dramaturgical point of view. The Pandora play is composed of two...

(The entire section is 2451 words.)

Criticism: PåSke (Easter)

Harry G. Carlson (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: Carlson, Harry G. “Easter: Persephone's Return.” In Strindberg and the Poetry of Myth, pp. 124-36. Bekerley: University of California Press, 1982.

[In the following essay, Carlson provides an in-depth view of the play Easter.]

One might argue that Easter only narrowly deserves to be included among Strindberg's major plays. Although audiences have been attracted to what was for Strindberg an unusually serene and reconciliatory tone, there is an awkwardness about the play. The playwright's effort to inform his drama with the solemnity of religious ritual observance by hanging the act structure on the temporal divisions of the Easter...

(The entire section is 4356 words.)

Jeffrey B. Loomis (essay date spring 1983)

SOURCE: Loomis, Jeffrey B. “The Intertestamental Dispensation of Strindberg's Easter.Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 35, no. 3 (spring 1983): 196-202.

[In the following essay, Loomis describes the religious and Biblical reference in the play Easter.]

August Strindberg's Easter has been called a “Passion Play,”1 and in a special way it is. But we must clarify the contextual meaning of that statement. The play dramatizes imitations of Christ's Passion within individual Swedish Christians at the turn of the twentieth century; yet Christ's own Passion also seems strongly present within the onstage events. The play is set...

(The entire section is 2847 words.)

Stephen A. Mitchell (essay date June 1986)

SOURCE: Mitchell, Stephen A. “The Path from Inferno to the Chamber Plays: Easter and Swedenborg.” Modern Drama 29, no. 2 (June 1986): 157-68.

[In the following essay, Mitchell discusses the influence of Emmanuel Swedenborg's philosophy on Strindberg while he was writing Easter.]

Response to the 1901 Swedish première of Easter, Strindberg's modern passion play, was sharply critical. Tor Hedberg, for example, complained: “The entire [play] is superficial and sentimental and concludes in a childish moral. … Those who are edified by such may be so, but for my part, I decline.”1 Yet despite this strong negative reaction, the play...

(The entire section is 5368 words.)

Criticism: Svanevit (Swanwhite)

SOURCE: Kingston, Jeremy. “Fairytale Love Among the Archetypes.” The Times London (December 3, 1996).

[Below, Kingston presents a review of the production of Swanwhite directed by Timothy Walker.]

This charmingly peculiar fairytale shows how much there is of Strindberg that most of us know absolutely nothing about. The wife-taming Strindberg, yes, or rather the would-be wife-tamer; the dramatist of terrible family life, of lives unconvincingly redeemed by suffering, and plenty of lives not so redeemed; of strife under the Vasa kings (not that we are given many opportunities to see these).

Now that Timothy Walker has directed what is thought...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

Criticism: Carl Xii (Charles Xii)

Susan Brantly (essay date winter 1990)

SOURCE: Brantly, Susan. “The Formal Tension in Strindberg's Carl XII. Scandinavian Studies 62, no. 1 (winter 1990): 92-107.

[In the following essay, Brantly examines Carl XII and considers its place in Strindberg's oeuvre.]

In the cycle of twelve historical plays written after Inferno (1897), Strindberg is constantly aware of the Conscious Will in history and seeks to interpret the logic of its tendencies.1 A central wish of the Conscious Will in Strindberg's historical cycle appears to be the rise of democracy and the abolishment of absolutism. Strindberg stresses this theme even at the expense of historical accuracy.


(The entire section is 7353 words.)

Egil Törnqvist (essay date winter 1990)

SOURCE: Törnqvist, Egil. “Verbal and Visual Scenery in Strindberg's Historical Plays: The Opening of Carl XII as Paradigmatic Example.” Scandinavian Studies 62, no. 1 (winter 1990): 76-84.

[In the following essay, Törnqvist breaks down Carl XII into its dramatic elements.]

The double status of drama as verbal text and visual presentation gives rise to a number of fundamental questions, the consequences of which we only now begin to discover. Keeping in mind that a (Strindbergian) drama may be experienced either by a reader or a spectator, the significance of this circumstance will in the following be discussed with regard to the stage and acting...

(The entire section is 3109 words.)

Criticism: Gustav Iii

Matthew H. Wikander (essay date March 1987)

SOURCE: Wikander, Matthew H. “Strindberg's Gustav III: The Player King on the Stage of History.” Modern Drama 30 no. 1 (March 1987): 80-9.

[In the following essay, Wilkander critiques Gustav III.]

Strindberg's interest in Sweden's Gustav III, founder of the Swedish Academy and both the Royal Opera and the Royal Theatre, began in 1882 with the Royal Theatre's plans to celebrate its centenary by presenting two of Gustav's plays. “Since Herr Josephson altered the program for the festival in September so that it became an ovation for instead of a protest against Gustav III and his so-called creation,” he wrote in a letter to Josephson, “I am prevented in...

(The entire section is 4850 words.)

Matthew H. Wikander (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: Wikander, Matthew H. “Historical Vision and Dramatic Historiography: Strindberg's Gustav III in Light of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Corneille's Cinna.Scandinavian Studies 62, no. 1 (winter 1990): 123-29.

[In the following essay, Wilander compares the way that three history plays, including Strindberg's Gustav III, treat their subjects.]

Shakespeare är providentialist som antikens tragödier voro,” Strindberg declared in Öppna brev till Intima Teatern (1909; Letters to the Intimate Theater), “därför försummar han icke det historiska, utan låter den högsta rätten skipas ända till småaktighet...

(The entire section is 3121 words.)

Criticism: SpöEksonaten (The Ghost Sonata)

SOURCE: Jenkins, Ron. “Letting Silence Speak of Anguish in Strindberg.” New York Times (June 17, 2001): sec. 2, p. 5.

[Below, Jenkins reviews a production of The Ghost Sonata performed at the National Theater in Oslo by the Royal Dramatic Theater of Sweden and directed by Ingmar Bergman.]

“We are bound to each other by crimes and secrets and guilt,” confesses one of the tormented characters in August Strindberg's Ghost Sonata. This web of anguish is a constant invisible presence throughout Ingmar Bergman's stark production of the Swedish play that opens on Wednesday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Although the characters often inhabit isolated...

(The entire section is 1751 words.)

Criticism: Pelikanen (The Pelican)

SOURCE: Walsh, Paul. “Textual Clues to Performance Strategies in The Pelican.” In Strindberg's Dramaturgy, edited by Göran Stockenström, pp. 330-41. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Walsh remarks on the mixture of dramatic styles Strindberg used in The Pelican.]

Despite its popularity in Scandinavia, The Pelican has 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 in The Pelican strike one as slight compared, for example, with those in The Ghost...

(The entire section is 5536 words.)

Criticism: Abu Casems Tofflor (Abu Casems Slippers)

SOURCE: Ekman, Hans-Göran. “Abu Casems tofflor: Strindberg's Worst Play?”. In Strindberg and Genre, edited by Michael Robinson, pp. 188-99. Norvik Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Ekman critiques Abu Casems tofflor.]

Strindberg criticism seems to agree on at least one point: that his 1908 sagospel (fairy tale) in five acts, Abu Casems tofflor, is the weakest of his published dramas.1 In the final volume of his biography of Strindberg, Gunnar Brandell goes so far as to claim that it is the only one of Strindberg's plays that could have been written by someone else.2

My purpose here is not to proclaim...

(The entire section is 5423 words.)

Criticism: Svarta Handsken (The Black Glove)

SOURCE: Rokem, Freddie. “The Black Glove: Wilhelm Carlsson's Production at the Dramaten, 1988.” Theatre Research International 18, supplementary issue (1993): 24-36.

[In the following essay, Rokem follows a production of The Black Glove, directed by Wilhem Carlsson and performed by the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden, through rehearsals, noting changes and additions made by the director and cast to better frame the staging.]

On 1 December 1987, the production team for Strindberg's last and least performed chamber play, The Black Glove (Svarta Handsken) written in 1909, had gathered in one of the rehearsal rooms at the Royal Dramatic...

(The entire section is 8283 words.)

Further Reading


Brater, Enoch. “Play Strindberg and the Theater of Adaptation.” Comparative Drama 16, no. 1 (spring 1982): 12-25.

Describes a creative theatrical adaptation of The Dance of Death originally produced in Germany by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

Bryant-Bertail, Sarah. “The Tower of Babel: Space and Movement in The Ghost Sonata.” In Strindberg's Dramaturgy, edited by Göran Stockenström, pp. 303-15. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Explores of the use of space as written into The Ghost Sonata.

Dahlbäback, Kerstin. “Kristina and Strindberg's...

(The entire section is 472 words.)