How can I analyze sexuality in August Strindberg's play Miss Julie by focusing on aspects of performance, space and place, scenic elements, action, and movement?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To analyze sexuality in a performance, you would focus on gestures, tone and volume of voice, touching and near-touching, proximity of actors in space, places represented, symbolic elements introduced in scenes as well as lighting changes, actions incorporated with dialogue, and actors' movement reflecting director's blocking.  

Strindberg's script, as preserved in English translations as in the Dover (1992, Bjorkman translation) and Oxford (1998, Robinson translation) editions, contains minimal stage directions as to performance, space, action and movement. He describes place and scenic elements--all action taking place in the Count's estate kitchen--in detail, but refrains from giving performance detail. Consequently, indications of sexuality will be infused by the director and actors of any given performance, and any two performances can differ widely.

Examples of this and of analysis of sexuality in a performance are readily available in the opening.  

1. Kristin is on stage and Jean enters through the glass doors in the rear wall. The script gives a simple stage direction part way through a brief dialogue between Jean and Kristin. The stage direction says: "[He sits down at the end of the table]." In a filmed performance starring Janet McTeer (YouTube), Jean enters and sits on a side bench where he undoes his high boots while Kristin approaches to remove them.

2. In the script, there is no stage direction for Kristin and Jean before Miss Julie is heard speaking offstage by the cupid fountain. In the performance, Kristin and Jean, both seated at the table, kiss.

3. At the end of the quarrel Miss Julie and Jean have over whether he should be seen dancing with her again at the servants' ball in the barn, the scripted stage direction for Miss Julie is "[softly]." In the performance, Miss Julie sidles suggestively up close to Jean and speaks with her face close to his (YouTube).

In the script, very little of sexuality can be analyzed from these three examples, yet much can be found of sexuality that was infused into the performance, movement and action by the director and actors. In the first example, Kristin's immediately extended help in removing Jean's boots suggests her sexual subservience and availability while simultaneously suggesting Jean's male virility. Both these suggestions of sexual availability and sexual role are reinforced in the second example in which Kristin lowers herself to Jean's level--by sitting down--and they kiss.

The third example is a very good one for seeing how performance can suggest sexuality. While standing in the doorway quarreling, Miss Julie and Jean are a respectful distance apart (they have appropriate spacial proximity that provides proximal distance). But when Miss Julie intends to manipulate Jean by diffusing his annoyance and overcoming his objections, she locks her eyes on his and moves very close to him. These are both openly sexual advances that indicate her attraction to him, her readiness to be openly flirtatious and her desire to dominate in the sexual battle of wills. It also foreshadows what is to transpire after the dancing, the events that undo Miss Julie's integrity, self-image and dominating will.

Using scenic and place elements to analyze sexuality is a little more exacting. You need to look for symbolism in set decorations and in places represented by set elements. For example, in the kitchen, the only setting in the play, there are lilacs, symbolic of first love (investigate the symbolism of Lombardy poplars); in the yard out the glass doors is seen a cupid's fountain, representative of the god of love; the kitchen shelves are lined with paper, edged with a scalloped fringe, that has been crimped with a hot iron (goffered paper), possibly symbolizing first love devastated (crimped, burned). And, as earlier, boots are symbolic of sexual dominance. The ball at which Miss Julie and Jean dance takes place in the barn, a place conventionally symbolic of illicit sexual encounters.

Read the study guide:
Miss Julie

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question