Critical Context

The Ghost Sonata is one of August Strindberg’s chamber plays, written near the end of his career. In 1907, Strindberg opened the Intimate Theatre in Stockholm with a series of experimental dramas. These chamber plays are based on thematic movements rather than linear plots. They display a series of theatrical images juxtaposed and intertwined like the themes in a piece of chamber music. The plays are short, with small casts and simple staging; they focus on a world of discord, sin, guilt, retribution, and reconciliation. Their mood is somber and elegiac, their structure compressed. Combining realistic scenes with grotesque symbolic images, they envelop the audience in a muted spectacle of sight and sound that is almost surrealistic.

In The Ghost Sonata, Strindberg brings together many of the features that were later to become the hallmark of expressionistic drama. He subtly interweaves autobiographical material into dreamlike visions in which time and space are shattered. His characters are types and symbols, speaking in language that moves from the nonsensical to the poetic. His careful interplay of light and sound create a ritualistic drama that is both mystic and visionary.

In The Ghost Sonata, one can see how Strindberg’s work foreshadowed modern avant-garde theater. His drama is based on a series of images, not on a linear plot. Motivation is often ambiguous, and the nature of individual identity is questioned. Characters haunted by vague anxieties and grotesque visions are trapped in confined worlds where it is impossible to decipher the difference between truth and illusion. Language becomes an ineffectual means of communication, and often silence is all that is left. A relentless experimenter, Strindberg left a legacy that would influence dramatists such as Eugene O’Neill, Sean O’Casey, and Friedrich Durrenmatt, who said, “Modern drama has come out of Strindberg: we have never gone beyond the second scene of The Ghost Sonata.”