The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The prologue to A Dream Play is set in the firmament. Indra, the Vedic god of war and thunder, is addressing his daughter, who has followed a streak of lightning from the High Ether past the planet Venus and finds herself sinking toward Earth. She is puzzled by the dualities that she observes—stuffiness and beauty, darkness and light, and lamentation and joy. Indra instructs his daughter to visit Earth for the purpose of determining whether the constant complaints of humans are justified. She is then to return and make her findings known to him.

The action begins outside a castle, which is both mineral and vegetable: It is fertilized by stable manure, it grows, and it is crowned by a huge chrysanthemum bud. Indra’s daughter is now incarnate as the daughter of a glazier. She tells her father that she is going to free someone who is a prisoner in the castle. The prisoner proves to be Alfred, the officer, who recognizes that the daughter is a child of Heaven and who complains of life’s unjust treatment of him.

As the daughter and Alfred converse, their attention is caught by a domestic scene. In this scene the Mother (Kristina) and the Father of Alfred greet their son and the Glazier’s daughter, whom they identify as Agnes. Kristina speaks of being about to die and reminds Alfred of his having committed a wrongdoing for which his brother was punished. Alfred, realizing that his mother has been dead for ten years, nevertheless continues his conversation with her and chides her for letting the maid Lena wear the mantilla that his father had given to her as a present. The Father lets his hurt be known; Kristina, concluding that to do good for one person is to hurt another, trims the candle and extinguishes it, leaving the stage in darkness.

Agnes hereupon utters two statements which will be repeated during the play and which will underscore the irony of human existence. The first is “Det är synd om människorna” (humans are to be pitied), an echo of Vergil’s “Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt” (there are tears for sufferings, and there is pity for humankind); the second is “Kärleken besegrar allt!” (love conquers all), a literal translation of Vergil’s “Omnia vincit amor.” She then finds herself in a stage-alley, on the far right of which is a door with an airhole in the shape of a four-leaf clover. She talks with a motherly doorkeeper, whose shawl she borrows, and with a billposter, whose life’s wish, a dip net and a green fishing-box, has been realized after a wait of fifty years; later he will confess a gnawing disappointment for his fulfilled wish.

Alfred appears with a bouquet of roses to wait happily for Victoria, whom he is...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The actions, stage settings, and stage directions of A Dream Play are all calculated to produce the effect of a dream. To this end Strindberg removes the demarcations of logic, space, time, life, death, myth, and reality. While the work was in progress he retained the demarcation of acts: “Act 1” included all the scenes up to and including Agnes and Alfred’s decision to marry, “act 2” moved from the wretchedness of the actual marriage through the Coalheavers episode, and “act 3” began with the visit to Fingal’s Cave. Subsequently, however, he abandoned the division into acts and all designations of scenes and episodes save for asterisks and white spaces. The dreamlike continuity that he thereby achieved has been deprived of much of its efficacy by editors and translators, who preferred to restore the three-act structure of the draft.

The nebulousness of a dream is created through unobtrusive scene changes— sometimes in brief darkness, sometimes with the addition of a screen or simple backdrop, sometimes by allowing a single prop to serve different functions in different scenes—and by overt characteristics of fantasy. The Father, for example, at one point walks right through a wall. The growing castle combines the worlds of mineral, vegetable, and, given the humans inside it, animal. The living converse with the dead as though the dead were still alive (but not, it is to be noted, as though the dead had been resurrected). The...

(The entire section is 448 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Austin, John. Review of A Dream Play. Theatre Journal 47 (December, 1995): 553-556.

Carlson, Harry G. Out of Inferno: Strindberg’s Reawakening as an Artist. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996.

Johnson, Walter. “A Dream Play: Plans and Fulfillment.” Scandinavia 10 (1971): 103-111.

Johnson, Walter. “Introduction to A Dream Play.” In A Dream Play and Four Chamber Plays. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1973.

Marker, F. J., and Christopher Innes, eds. Modernism in European Drama. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Meyer, Michael. Strindberg: A Biography. London: Secker and Warburg, 1985.

Sprigge, Elizabeth. The Strange Life of August Strindberg. New York: Macmillan, 1949.

Sprinchorn, Evert. “The Logic of A Dream Play.” In Strindberg: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Otto Reinert. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971.

Sprinchorn, Evert. Strindberg as Dramatist. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982.

Tornqvist, Egil. Strindbergian Drama. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1982.