Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 882
A Dream Play is a play by August Strindberg in which the daughter of the god Indra comes down to Earth to learn about humans and why they seem to be suffering.
A useful quote to introduce the story would be the following one from the prologue of the play:
A race most hard to please,
And thankless, are the dwellers on the earth
O, say not so—for I hear cries of joy,
Hear noise and thunder, see the lightnings flash—
Now bells are ringing, fires are lit,
And thousand upon thousand tongues
Sing praise and thanks unto the heavens on high—
Too harshly, father, you are judging them.
Descend, that you may see and hear, and then
Return and let me know if their complaints
And wailings have some reasonable ground—
The Voice is the voice of Indra, speaking to his daughter before she descends to the earth. This quote is important as it sets up the fact that the daughter, Agnes, is going to witness a lot of human misery. But, it also establishes that she will take this misery seriously and not brush it to the side as Indra seems to want to do.
Here is another important quote from later in the play when the daughter is reading the Poet's work:
Every moment of enjoyment
Brings to some one else a sorrow,
But your sorrow gladdens no one,
For from sorrow naught but sorrow springs.
This quote emphasizes the Poet’s cynical perspective. He seems to be describing the cyclical nature of suffering, for more sorrow is easily built upon preexisting sorrow. Here is another excerpt to consider from the Blind Man, who describes a bit of wisdom from the mouth of babes:
Once I asked a child why the ocean is salt, and the child, which had a father on a long trip across the high seas, said immediately: the ocean is salt because the sailors shed so many tears into it. And why do the sailors cry so much then?—Because they are always going away, replied the child; and that is why they are always drying their handkerchiefs in the rigging—And why does man weep when he is sad? I asked at last—Because the glass in the eyes must be washed now and then, so that we can see clearly, said the child.
The following two sections of dialogue show the daughter learning about humanity from the Lawyer. Consider this exchange:
THE LAWYER. Now you have seen most of it, but you have not yet tried the worst of it.
THE DAUGHTER. What can that be?
THE LAWYER. Repetition—recurrence. To retrace one's own tracks; to be sent back to the task once finished—come!
THE DAUGHTER. Where?
THE LAWYER. To your duties.
THE DAUGHTER. What does that mean?
THE LAWYER. Everything you dread. Everything you do not want but must. It means to forego, to give up, to do without, to lack—it means everything that is unpleasant, repulsive, painful.
THE DAUGHTER. Are there no pleasant duties?
THE LAWYER. They become pleasant when they are done.
THE DAUGHTER. When they have ceased to exist—Duty is then something unpleasant. What is pleasant then?
THE LAWYER. What is pleasant is sin.
THE DAUGHTER. Sin?
THE LAWYER. Yes, something that has to be punished. If I have had a pleasant day or night, then I suffer infernal pangs and a bad conscience the next day.
THE DAUGHTER. How strange!
THE LAWYER. I wake up in the morning with...
(This entire section contains 882 words.)
a headache; and then the repetitions begin, but so that everything becomes perverted. What the night before was pretty, agreeable, witty, is presented by memory in the morning as ugly, distasteful, stupid. Pleasure seems to decay, and all joy goes to pieces. What men call success serves always as a basis for their next failure. My own successes have brought ruin upon me. For men view the fortune of others with an instinctive dread. They regard it unjust that fate should favour any one man, and so they try to restore balance by piling rocks on the road. To have talent is to be in danger of one's life, for then one may easily starve to death!
Clearly, the Lawyer has not adopted an optimistic or romantic view of humanity. He has experienced sorrow and taken on the pains of others. It makes sense that his worldview tends toward the negative. Agnes is beginning to understand his experiences—she even feels these pains herself.
THE DAUGHTER. And this pain in my breast, this anguish—what is it?
THE LAWYER. Don't you know?
THE DAUGHTER. No.
THE LAWYER. It is remorse.
THE DAUGHTER. Is that remorse?
THE LAWYER. Yes, and it follows every neglected duty; every pleasure, even the most innocent, if innocent pleasures exist, which seems doubtful; and every suffering inflicted upon one's fellow-beings.
The following section follows Agnes as she learns about faith in the presence of the poet:
THE DAUGHTER. Have you always doubted?
THE POET. No. I have had certainty many times. But after a while it passed away, like a dream when you wake up.
THE DAUGHTER. It is not easy to be human!
THE POET. You see and admit it?
THE DAUGHTER. I do.