What are some examples of expressionism in Strindberg's A Dream Play?

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August Strindberg's A Dream Play is a great example of early expressionism in theater. It also exhibits some elements of surrealism.

The characters of A Dream Play fit perfectly into the mold of expressionism, as most expressionistic characters are not individuals but caricatures of a certain type or group of people. On her journey, Agnes meets a great number of generic characters with names like the Officer, the Lawyer, and the Poet.

Another element of expressionism that we see in A Dream Play is an episodic structure. Rather than building up conflict over the course of one main plot line, the story has us follow Agnes as she moves through a sequence of episodes where she has different interactions with humans in order to learn about their misery.

Seeing as it's titled A Dream Play, it makes sense that the play has a variety of striking, unsettling, or dreamlike settings, which is another element of expressionism in theater. For example, we quite literally start off the play in the clouds, where "the constellations of Leo, Virgo, and Libra are visible, and from their midst the planet Jupiter is shining with a strong light." At the end of the play, we have the juxtaposition of a nightmarish "wall of human faces, questioning, grieving, despairing" and a flaming castle with a huge chrysanthemum blooming on top of it.

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What are expressionistic elements in A Dream Play by August Strindberg?

Both in overall conception and in staging, August Strindberg’s play resonates with Expressionist attitudes toward the representation of interior states. The structure of the play also reflects those attitudes, as Strindberg altered it to remove the traditional division into acts. It calls attention to the playwright’s challenge to social conventions attached to creative realms. A smoothly flowing plot is replaced with episodes that jump through time, so that characters may age several years within a few minutes.

The viewer is often uncertain if the scenery and visual effects are meant to convey the material world, or if everything shown is a single dream or projection of diverse characters’ mental states. The motivations of the characters are consistent with expressionist insistence on passion and unique devotion to the inward journey of self-knowledge.

The Expressionist vision of creative exploration emphasized passion, independence, and a desire to reach beyond the superficial to the essential aspect of all things. Rather than restrict such journeys to any one faith, such as Christianity, Strindberg draws on multiple religious traditions. While Christ appears in a vision, his suffering is further represented as a general condition, with his sacrifice indicated by the aspects of several characters. This multiplicity is connected to ancient Vedic traditions through Indra’s numerous incarnations. The unreliable reality of the material world is rendered through the castle, and the limitations of mortal form symbolized by Alfred’s imprisonment within it.

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