A Dream Play  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A Dream Play (Swedish: Ett drömspel) was written in 1901 by the Swedish playwright, August Strindberg, and first performed in Stockholm on April 17, 1907. It remains one of Strindberg's most admired and influential dramas, seen as an important precursor to both dramatic expressionism and surrealism. It was the first play that Ingmar Bergman attended. It was staged by Antonin Artaud on June 2, 1928.

Contents

Plot

The primary character in the play is Agnes, a daughter of the Vedic god Indra. She descends to Earth to bear witness to problems of human beings. She meets about 40 characters, some of them having a clearly symbolical value (such as four deans representing theology, philosophy, medicine, and law). After experiencing all sorts of human suffering (for example poverty, cruelty, and routine of the family life), the daughter of gods realizes that human beings are to be pitied. Finally, she returns to the Heaven and this moment corresponds to the awakening from a dream-like sequence of events.

Interpretations

The use of a dream to represent a setting in a theatrical work appealed to the traditionally realist author in that Strindberg expresses realistic concerns such as materialism, class struggle, gender role struggle, and the destruction of traditional marriage in (as stated in the preface) "the disconnected but apparently logical form of a dream. Everything can happen; everything is possible and likely."

The play itself represents a change in his style, one that would have widespread influence on the development of modernist drama. Eschewing realism, Strindberg explained that he had modeled his play, not on the pattern of cause and effect that had characterized the well-made play, but on the associative links found in dreams. Locales dissolve and give way to each other; time both moves forward and backward. During the course of the play, a castle grows up in the garden, as if it were a plant. At the play's end, it burns, revealing a wall of suffering and despairing faces, then blossoms at its top in a huge chrysanthemum.

The best description of the play's style can be found in Strindberg's prefatory note:

"The characters split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, dissolve and merge. But one consciousness rules them all: the dreamer's; for him there are no secrets, no inconsistencies, no scruples and no laws. He does not judge or acquit, he merely relates; and because a dream is usually painful rather than pleasant, a tone of melancholy and compassion for all living creatures permeates the rambling narrative."

The play itself is interesting for several reasons. First of all, it doesn't center around a single well-defined individual, but rather simply follows someone who seems to be a combination of different professional men, all confused. Incidentally, the play forecasts our devastating urban pollution.

Psychology of the author

Strindberg wrote it following a near-psychotic episode. He later wrote a memoir about this period of his life. Eventually, though, he recovered, thanks to his mother-in-law.

Previously, Strindberg had seen himself as a martyr, constantly persecuted by women. This affected his view of the overall relationship between the sexes, and of course his writing. He finally realized that he was playing a part in his failed relationships after one of his marriages (to Harriet Bosse) collapsed.

Harriet Bosse was behind the main character of A Dream Play. The play, called by Strindberg "the child of my greatest pain," reflects the author's observation that life is an illusion, similar to a dream.

Notable productions

The play attracted some of the twentieth century's most celebrated directors, including Max Reinhardt, Olof Molander, Antonin Artaud, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Wilson, Mike Dempsey, and Robert Lepage.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "A Dream Play" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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