Halldór Laxness Essay - Critical Essays

Halldór Laxness Drama Analysis

Though Halldór Laxness always had close connections with the theater, his real career as playwright was relatively brief, from about 1960 to 1966. During this time, he wrote his three last plays, Strompleikurinn (the chimney play), Prjónastofan Sólin (the knitting workshop called “the sun”), and The Pigeon Banquet. The two other plays, Straumrof (short circuit) and Silfurtúnglið (the silver moon), were written during short breaks from other writing. Unlike most of Laxness’s best-known novels, his plays focus on contemporary themes. Their setting is the materialistic urban world, where the old way of life, family ties, beliefs, and values are gradually giving way to individualistic desires to live according to one’s own wishes and to pursue one’s own dreams of happiness, fame, and wealth. All the plays are social dramas, in the sense that Laxness tries to reveal some great truth about Icelandic or Western society, especially its vital problems or failures. The two earliest plays are classical tragedies, written in realistic style and marked by the author’s endeavor to move the audience. The last three plays are, on the other hand, pure comedies. They certainly deal with important questions but without giving any clear answers. These plays are commonly regarded as some of the earliest and most important Icelandic plays in the style of the Theater of the Absurd. As such, these plays are a milestone in Icelandic theater.

Straumrof

The first play by Laxness is a conventional psychological drama with close connections to the works of the Scandinavian dramatists Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg. The play centers on a prosperous upper-class family, especially on the wife and mother, Gæa (mother Earth), who for years has led an isolated and sterile life inside the home. When her husband, Loftur (Sky), suddenly dies, she eyes a chance to escape from her prison. She begins to compete with her young and beautiful daughter, Alda (Wave), for a lover, setting the stage for catastrophe. As the names of the protagonists suggest, they are not only individuals but also mythological symbols or archetypes. Besides, it is in many ways natural to interpret them in the light of Sigmund Freud’s ideas of the eternal conflict of id, ego, and superego. When the play was first produced in 1934, it created quite a shock because of its daring subject matter, and children were not admitted.

Silfurtúnglið

A wife and mother is also the protagonist in Silfurtúnglið, a social satire with a tragic end. The play is set in postwar Iceland and describes the people’s reaction to a flood of new and irresistible ideas and opportunities, which in many cases oppose traditional values. In Silfurtúnglið, the heroine must choose between her family (a husband and a child) and fame as an international entertainer. She is the inevitable loser because her conscience and desire are doomed to clash, and in the end, her life is in ruins. In spite of this, she refuses to give up, but as a free woman she is aware of her responsibility for what has happened. In this play, Laxness began to create his own dramatic style, by mixing realism and farce. Many critics have traced some influence here from the social realism and the dramatic theories of Bertolt Brecht, and Laxness...

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