The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The setting contains a two-story house with a balcony. The house has a marble statue of a young girl, pots of hyacinths, and white sheets over the windows to signify mourning. The play opens on a bright Sunday morning. The sound of churchbells, steamship gongs, and organ music can be heard. A milkmaid in a summer dress drinks from a fountain as the disheveled Arkenholz (generally referred to as “the Student”), a Sunday’s child gifted with second sight, enters. Since the Student has been helping the wounded and moving corpses, the Milkmaid bathes his eyes for him. Hummel, an old man in a wheelchair, has seen the Student’s picture in the paper and tries to match the Student with the Colonel’s daughter, who lives in the house. The Student sees the house as a paradise where he could rear a family and live in luxury. Hummel can arrange for him to enter the house if the Student will go to a performance of Die Walkure and sit next to the Colonel’s daughter. Hummel knows everyone in the house and hints that all is not as it seems. The Colonel’s wife is a mummy in a closet. The Dead Consul, who lived on the second floor, has had an illicit relationship with the Superintendent’s Wife, who lives in the basement. Their illegitimate daughter, the Lady in Black, is having an affair with the Aristocrat, who is divorcing the Consul’s legitimate daughter. Hummel’s onetime fiancee is an old woman who looks at the world through a series of mirrors. This eerie ensemble is in the audience’s view, some still, some milling about. Even the Dead Consul walks around.

Hummel wants to control human destinies and to do some good in his life through the Student. Hummel’s icy grip freezes the Student, who tries to free himself. The Student fears that he is selling his soul, but the sight of the beautiful Young Lady moves him, and he knows that Hummel can help him win her. Johansson, Hummel’s servant, describes Hummel as a man who has been everything from a Don Juan to a horse thief. Hummel, riding his chariot like Thor, infiltrates and destroys houses, enslaves people, corrupts the police, and bewitches the poor. Just as the Student is about to back out of his bargain, the Young Lady drops her bracelet, and he retrieves it. Hummel proclaims the Student a hero as the group cheers. Hummel, who has plainly shown that the Milkmaid is the one person he fears, sees her pantomiming the act of drowning and shrinks back. He then reminds the confused Student to go to Die Walkure. The stage is now set for the Student’s entrance into his dream house.

Scene 2 opens in the Round Room, which reveals a marble statue, a mirror, and a pendulum...

(The entire section is 1089 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

August Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata makes use of both spatial and temporal metaphors to create theatrical effects. Strindberg sees all humanity as linked by a common network of guilt and sin; the house becomes a symbol, then, for humanity and the social system. The Consul, the upper class, lives on the top level; the Colonel, the middle class, lives on the ground level; and the Superintendent, the lower class, lives below. The poor are found outside the house, clamoring at the doors.

Hummel is old enough to know all the inhabitants of the house and understands how they are linked by a chain of guilt and betrayals. The Consul (upper class) has slept with the Superintendent’s Wife (lower class); their daughter, the second generation, perpetuates the chain, for she is having an affair with the Aristocrat (upper class), who is married to the Consul’s daughter. The Aristocrat links all the classes in their sins. He has married the Consul’s daughter (upper class), slept with the Colonel’s wife (middle class), and is having an affair with the Lady in Black, the daughter of the Superintendent’s Wife (lower class). Thus, all generations and social classes are interconnected in a house of sin.

The play is also a journey. It begins on a sunny Sunday morning, with steamship bells announcing a voyage. The bright sunlight shines on the Student’s dream house. As hidden sins are revealed and ominous pacts are planned, however, the sky...

(The entire section is 553 words.)

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Dream Plays and Psychoanalysis
Strindberg began his successful literary career in the 1880s writing the kind of realistic dramas...

(The entire section is 973 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

The form of The Ghost Sonata is modeled after a particular type of chamber music called a ‘‘sonata.’’ The...

(The entire section is 822 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1907: Gustav V becomes King of Sweden. During his 43-year rule the Social Democratic Party created many progressive reforms, including...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

In literature, a symbol is something that represents something else, and is often used to communicate deeper levels of meaning. In Nathaniel...

(The entire section is 482 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

A television version of The Ghost Sonata, translated by Michael Myer and directed by Stuart Burge, was aired by the British...

(The entire section is 64 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

In a career spanning forty years, August Strindberg wrote 60 plays. Many were never very popular, and are no longer performed, even in the...

(The entire section is 361 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Bandy, Stephen C. ‘‘Strindberg's Biblical Sources for Ghost Sonata,’’ in Scandinavian Studies,...

(The entire section is 485 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bandy, Stephen C. “Strindberg’s Biblical Sources for The Ghost Sonata,” in Scandinavian Studies. XL (1968), pp. 200-209.

Corrigan, Robert W. “Strindberg and the Abyss,” in A Dream Play and The Ghost Sonata: With Selected Notes to the Members of the Intimate Theatre, 1966.

Haugen, Einar. “Strindberg the Regenerated.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 29 (1930): 257-270. Discusses The Ghost Sonata as one of several late plays by Strindberg in which Christian virtues triumph over the bleak vision of the earlier plays.

Jarvi, Raymond....

(The entire section is 305 words.)