Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 564
A Dream Play is a Swedish play written by August Strindberg and was first performed on the 17th of April 1907 in Stockholm. Agnes, who is the daughter of Indra, the god of thunder and war, comes to Earth with orders from her father to establish the reason for the discontent and anguish witnessed among the human beings. In the play’s foreword, Strindberg ensures that readers are acquainted with the characters and setting of the play. He stipulates that the characters have the ability to assume any number or form whatsoever. This is made possible by their ability to split, multiply, disperse, and assemble. When Agnes descends to Earth, she meets various characters, some of whom had symbolic value (like the four deans who represented medicine, theology, law, and philosophy). Similar to the story of the Bible where Jesus, the son of God, took human form and lived among people, Agnes also reincarnates as a human being and has to live among the people. She has to endure pain and suffering just as Jesus did. She is married to an attorney who gives her more insights into human suffering, especially those related to family squabbles and poverty. The attorney also reminds Agnes of her sacred duty to her child.
The different people with whom Agnes interacts during the play have problems of their own. The first one is Alfred, a military officer who is disillusioned and weary of waiting for Victoria, his dream lover. He quickly deteriorates from a well-groomed, effervescent, and youthful soldier into an unkempt, weary, and hopeless person who spends every moment of his life waiting for Victoria. He clings to his hope that one day love will take away his sorrows. This is the same hope that Agnes had when she first came to Earth, believing that love had the ability to conquer all. However, her hopes are dashed by the painful stories told by people and the pain that comes with marriage. The pain and suffering experienced by Agnes are an allusion to the pain experienced by Jesus during his stay on Earth despite his firm belief that love had the ability to cure human pain. The story of the attorney within the play shows that anyone who sides with the poor and the less fortunate in society does not have a place within society. The academics who considered themselves righteous deny the attorney his doctorate because of his standing for justice. This story also alludes to the story of Jesus, who was rejected by the teachers of law because he defended the helpless and the poor in Israel.
In the long run, Agnes states that “there are tears for sufferings, and there is a pity for humankind." Eventually, due to the immense pain and suffering witnessed among humankind, Agnes concludes that “Det är synd om människorna” (humans are to be pitied).
This is the same feeling that the Poet has toward human life. When the people around him are on the verge of abandoning hope, he concludes that the only way that humans can get redemption is through suffering and death. This is quite a pity: humans are designated to suffer for as long as they live, and death is their only redemption. In other words, humanity is doomed, and the only thing that Agnes, the daughter of a god, can do is have pity on them.