August Strindberg.

Plays by August Strindberg: The dream play, The link, The dance of death, part I, The dance of death, part II; online

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Online LibraryAugust StrindbergPlays by August Strindberg: The dream play, The link, The dance of death, part I, The dance of death, part II; → online text (page 1 of 16)
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The Dream Play

The Link


The Dance ofDeath, Part IF














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Copyright, 1912, by

Published February, 1912
Reprinted May. July and November, 1912


This translation is authorised by
Mr. Strindberg, and he has also
approved the selection of the
plays included in this volume.




Introduction 1

A Chronological List of August Strindberg's

Main Works 21

The Dream Play 23

The Link 105

The Dance of Death, Part I 145

The Dance of Death, Part II 217



To the first volume of his remarkable series of autobiograph-
ical novels, August Strindberg gave the name of "The Bond-
woman's Son." The allusion was twofold — to his birth and
to the position which fate, in his own eyes, seemed to have
assigned him both as man and artist.

If we pass on to the third part of his big trilogy, "To Damas-
cus," also an autobiographical work, but written nearly twenty
years later, we find The Stranger, who is none but the author,
saying: "I was the Bondwoman's Son, concerning whom it
was writ — * Cast out this bondwoman and her son ; for the son
of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the free woman's
son.' "

And The Lady, back of whom we glimpse Strindberg's sec-
ond wife, replies: "Do you know why Ishmael was cast out.''
It is to be read a little further back — because he was a scof-
fer! And then it is also said: 'He will be a wild man;
his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand
against him; and he shall dwell in opposition to all his breth-
ren.' "

These quotations should be read in conjunction with still
another, taken from Strindberg's latest play, "The Great
Highway," which, while being a sort of symbolical summary
of his life experience, yet pierces the magic circle of self-
concern within which too often he has remained a captive.
There The Hermit asks: "You do not love your fellow-
men?" And Strindberg, masquerading as The Hunter, cries
in answer : " Yes, far too much, and fear them for that reason,



August Strindberg was born at Stockholm, Sweden, on
January 22, 1849. His father was a small tradesman, who
had lost his business just before August was born, but who
had the energy and ability to start all over again as a steam-
ship agent, making a decided success of his second venture.
The success, however, was slow in coming, and the boy's
earliest years were spent in the worst kind of poverty — that
poverty which has to keep up outward appearances.

The mother had been a barmaid in one of the numerous
inns forming one of the Swedish capital's most characteristic
features. There the elder Strindberg had met her and fallen
deeply in love with her. August was their third child, born a
couple of months after their relationship had become legalized
in spite of bitter opposition from the husband's family. Other
children followed, many of them dying early, so that August
could write in later years that one of his first concrete recollec-
tions was of the black-jacketed candy which used to be passed
around at every Swedish funeral.

Though the parents were always tired, and though the
little home was hopelessly overcrowded — ten persons living
in three rooms — yet the family life was not without its happi-
ness. Only August seemed to stand apart from the rest,
having nothing in common with his parents or with the other
children. In fact, a sort of warfare seems to have been rag-
ing incessantly between him and his elder brothers. Thus
a character naturally timid and reserved had those traits de-
veloped to a point where its whole existence seemed in dan-
ger of being warped.

At school he was not much happier, and as a rule he re-
garded the tasks set him there as so much useless drudgery.
Always and everywhere he seemed in fear of having his per-
sonality violated, until at last that apprehension, years later,
took on a form so morbid that it all but carried him across the


limits of rationality. With this suspiciousness of his environ-
ment went, however, a keen desire to question and to under-
stand. He has said of himself that the predominant traits of
his character have been "doubt and sensitiveness to pres-
sure." In these two traits much of his art will, indeed, find
its explanation.

At the age of thirteen he lost his mother, and less than a
year later his father remarried — choosing for his second wife
the former housekeeper. That occurrence made the boy's
isolation at home complete. During the years that followed
he threw himself with his usual passionate surrender into re-
ligious broodings and practices. This mood lasted until he
left for the university at Upsala. He was then eighteen.
During his first term at the university he was so poor that he
could buy no books. Worse even — he could not buy the wood
needed to heat the bare garret where he lived.

Returning to Stockholm, he tried to teach in one of the pub-
lic schools — the very school which he had attended during the
unhappiest part of his childhood. From that time dates the
theme of eternal repetition, of forced return to past experi-
ences, which recurs constantly in his works. Another recur-
ring theme is that of unjust punishment, and it has also come
out of his own life — from an occasion when, as a boy of eight,
he was suspected of having drunk some wine that was missing,
and when, in spite of his indignant protests, he was held guilty
and finally compelled to acknowledge himself so in order to
escape further punishment.

But while still teaching school, he made certain acquaint-
ances that set his mind groping for some sort of literary ex-
pression. He tried time and again to write verse, only to
fail — until one day, in a sort of trance, he found himself
shaping words into measured lines, and it suddenly dawned
on him that he had accomplished the feat held beyond him.


From the first the stage drew him, and his initial work was
a httle comedy, concerning which nothing is known now.
Then he wrote another one-act play with the Danish sculp-
tor Thorvaldsen for central figure, and this was accepted by
the Royal Theatre and actually played with some success.
Finally he produced a brief historical play in prose, "The
Outlaw," which was spurned by the critics and the public,
but which brought him the personal good-will and financial
support of King Charles XV.

Thus favoured, he returned to the university with the
thought of taking a degree. Instead he read everything not
required in the courses, quarrelled with every professor to
whom he had to submit himself for examination, and spent
the major part of his time with a set of youngsters whose sole
ambition was to make literature. Of that coterie, Strindberg
was the only one to reach the goal which all dreamt of. On
the sudden death of the king, when his little stipend ceased,
he went up to the capital again, bent on staying away for ever
from the university.

During the next couple of years, he studied medicine for
a while, tried himself as an actor, conducted a trade journal,
and failed rather than succeeded to make a living as a hack
writer for various obscure newspapers. All this life he has
pictured with biting humour in his first big novel, "The Red
Room." At last, when he was twenty-three and had with-
drawn in sheer desperation to one of the little islands between
Stockholm and the open sea, he conceived and completed a
five-act historical play, named "Master Olof," after Arch-
bishop Olaus Petri, the Luther of Sweden.

The three main figures of that play. Master Olof, King
Gustavus Vasa, and Gert the Printer, were designed by the
author to represent three phases of his own character. The
King was the opportunist, Olof the idealist, and Gert the " im-


possibilist." The title first chosen for the play was "The
Renegade." It was suggested by the cry with which Gert
greets the surrender of Olo] in the final scene.

The indifference shown that first big work came near turn-
ing Strindberg away from a Hterary career for ever. It took
him several years to recover from the shock of disappoint-
ment — a shock the more severe because he felt so uncertain
of his own gifts. But those years of seeming inactivity were
not lost. He had obtained a position in the Royal Library,
which gave him a living and free access to all the books he
wanted. At first he sought forgetfulness in the most exotic
studies, such as the Chinese language. The honours of the
savant tempted him, and he wrote a monograph which was
accepted by the French Institute.

Gradually, however, he was drawn back to his own time.
And there was hardly a field of human thought to which he
did not give some attention. Already as a student at Upsala,
his conception of life had been largely determined by the study
of the Danish individualistic philosopher Kierkegaard, the
English determinist Buckle, and the German pessimist Eduard
von Hartmann. Among novelists, Hugo and Dickens were
his favourites. They together with the brothers de Goncourt,
and not Zola, helped principally to shape his artistic form
until he was strong enough to stand wholly on his own feet.

At the age of twenty-six he met the woman who was to
play the double part of muse and fate to him. She was
already married. In the end she obtained a divorce and
became Strindberg's wife. To begin with they were very
happy, and under the stimulus of this unfamiliar feeling Strind-
berg began once more to write — but now in a manner such
that recognition could no longer be denied him. The novel
already mentioned was his first popular success. It drew
bitter attacks from the conservative elements, but the flavour


of real life pervading it conquered all opposition. To this
day that first work of social criticism has not been forgiven
Strindberg by the official guardians of Swedish literature.

After a while Strindberg threw himself with passion into
the study of Swedish history. One of the results was a dar-
ing work named "The Swedish People," which is still, next
to the Bible, the most read book among the Swedes in this
country. He wrote also a series of short stories on histori-
cal themes which combined artistic value with a truly re-
markable insight into the life of by-gone days. This series
was named "Swedish Events and Adventures." About the
same time he administered some scathing strictures on social
and political conditions in a volume of satirical essays en-
titled "The New Kingdom."

His plays from this period include "The Secret of the
Guild" and "Sir Bengt's Lady," both historical dramas of
romantic nature. To these must be added his first fairy
play, "The Wanderings of Lucky-Per," concerning which he
declared recently that it was meant for children only and must
not be counted among his more serious efforts. But this play
has from the start been a great favourite with the public, com-
bining in its rapidly moving scenes something of a modern
"Everyman" and not a little of a Swedish "Peer Gynt."

After he had resigned from the Royal Library and retired
to Switzerland for the purpose of devoting all his time to
writing, he produced the volume of short stories, "Marriage,"
which led him up to the first turning point in his artistic career.
It dealt with modern marital conditions in a manner meant
to reveal the economic reefs on which so many unions are
wrecked. His attitude toward women had already become
critical in that work, but it was not yet hostile.

The book was confiscated. Criminal proceedings were
brought against its pubUsher. The charge was that it spoke


offensively of rites held sacred by the estabhshed rehgion of
Sweden. Everybody knew that this was a mere pretext, and
that the true grievance against the book lay in its outspoken
utterances on questions of sex morality. Urged by friends,
Strindberg hastened home and succeeded in assuming the
part of defendant in place of the publisher. The jury freed
him, and the youth of the country proclaimed him their
leader and spokesman.

But the impression left on Strindberg's mind by that epi-
sode was very serious and distinctly unfavourable. As in his
childhood, when he found himself disbelieved though telling
the truth, so he felt now more keenly than anything else the
questioning of his motives, which he knew to be pure. And
the leaders of the feminist movement, then particularly strong
in Sweden, turned against him with a bitterness not sur-
passed by that which Ibsen had to face from directly opposite
quarters after the publication of "A Doll's House." Add
finally that his marriage, which had begun so auspiciously,
was rapidly changing into torture for both parties concerned
in it.

Yet his growing embitterment did not make itself felt at
once. In 1885 he published four short stories meant to em-
body the onward trend of the modern spirit and the actual
materialisation of some of its fondest dreams. Collectively
he named those stories "Real Utopias," and they went far
toward winning him a reputation in Germany, where he was
then living.

But with the appearance of the second part of "Marriage"
m 1886, it was plain that a change had come over him. Its
eighteen stories constituted an unmistakable protest against
everything for which the feminist movement stood. The
efforts of Ibsen and Bjornson to abolish the so-called "double
code of morality " — one for men and another one for women —


were openly challenged on the ground that different results
made male and female "immorality" two widely different
things. Right here it should be pointed out, however, that
Strindberg always, and especially in his later years, has de-
manded as high a measure of moral purity from men as
from women — the real distinction between him and the two
great Norwegians lying in the motives on which he based
that demand.

The second part of 'Marriage'* shows a change not only in
spirit but in form, and this change becomes more accentuated
in every work published during the next few years. Until
then Strindberg had shown strong evidence of the Romantic
origin of his art. From now on, and until the ending of the
great mental crisis in the later nineties, he must be classed as
an ultra-naturalist, with strong materialistic and sceptical
leanings. At the same time he becomes more and more
individualistic in his social outlook, spurning the mass which,
as he then felt, had spurned him. And after a while the
works of Nietzsche came to complete what his personal ex-
perience had begun. His attitude toward woman, as finally
developed during this period, may be summed up in an allega-
tion not only of moral and mental but of biological inferiority.
And though during his later life he has retracted much and
softened more of what he said in those years of rampant
masculine rebellion, he continues to this day to regard women
as an intermediary biological form, standing between the
man and the child.

With the publication, in 1887, of "The Father," a modern
three-act tragedy, Strindberg reached a double climax. That
work has been hailed as one of his greatest, if not the great-
est, as far as technical perfection is concerned. At the same
time it presents that duel of the sexes — ^which to him had taken
the place of love — in its most startling and hideous aspects.


The gloom of the play is almost unsurpassed. The ingen-
iousness of its plot may well be called infernal. By throwing
doubt on her husband's rights as father of the child held to be
theirs in common, the woman in the play manages to under-
mine the reason of a strong and well-balanced man until he
becomes transformed into a raving maniac.

"The Comrades," a modern four-act comedy, portrays the
marriage of two artists and shows the woman as a menbd
parasite, drawing both her inspiration and her skill from the
husband, whom she tries to shake off when she thinks him
no longer needed for her success. Then came the play of his
which is perhaps the most widely known — I mean the realistic
drama which, for want of a better English equivalent, must be
named here "Miss Juliet." It embodied some starthng ex-
periments in form and has undoubtedly exercised a distinct
influence on the subsequent development of dramatic tech-
nique. On the surface it appears to offer little more than
another version of the sex duel, but back of the conflict be-
tween man and woman we discover another one, less deep-
going perhaps, but rendered more acute by existing conditions.
It is the conflict between the upper and partly outlived
elements of society and its still unrefined, but vitally unim-
paired, strata. And it is the stronger vitality, here repre-
sented by the man, which carries the day.

The rest of Strindberg's dramatic productions during this
middle, naturalistic period, lasting from 1885 to 1894, in-
cluded eight more one-act plays, several of which rank very
high, and another fairy play, "The Keys to Heaven," which
probably marks his nearest approach to a purely negative
conception of life.

Paralleling the plays, we find a series of novels and short
stories dealing with the people on those islands where Strind-
berg fifteen years earlier had written his "Master Oloi."


Two things make these works remarkable: first, the rare
understanding shown in them of the hfe led by the tough race
that exists, so to speak, between land and sea; and secondly,
their genuine humour, which at times, as in the little story
named "The Tailor Has a Dance," rises into almost epic ex-
pression. The last of these novels, "At the Edge of the Sea,"
embodies Strindberg's farthest advance into Nietzschean
dreams of supermanhood. But led by his incorruptible logic,
he is forced to reduce those dreams to the absurdity which they
are sure to involve whenever the superman feels himself
standing apart from ordinary humanity.

Finally he wrote, during the earlier part of this marvellously
prohfic period, five autobiographical novels. One of these
was not published until years later. Three others were
collectively known as "The Bondwoman's Son," and carried
his revelations up to the time of his marriage. The first vol-
ume in the series is especially noteworthy because of its search-
ing and sympathetic study of child psychology. But all the
novels in this series are of high value because of the sharp light
they throw on social conditions. Strindberg's power as an
acute and accurate observer has never been questioned, and
it has rarely been more strikingly evidenced than in his auto-
biographical writings. A place by itself, though belonging to
the same series, is held by "iV Fool's Confession," wherein
Strindberg laid bare the tragedy of his first marriage. It is
the book that has exposed him to more serious criticism than
any other. He wrote it in French and consented to its pub-
hcation only as a last means of escaping unendurable finan-
cial straits. Against his vain protests, unauthorised trans-
lations were brought out in German and Swedish.

The dissolution of his marriage occurred in 1891. The
circumstances surrounding that break were extremely painful
to Strindberg. Both the facts of the legal procedure and the


feelings it evoked within himself have been almost photo-
graphically portrayed in the one-act play, "The Link," which
forms part of this volume. The "link" which binds man and
woman together even when their love is gone and the law has
severed all external ties is the child — and it is always for tlie
offspring that Strindberg reserves his tenderest feelings and
greatest concern.

After the divorce Strindberg left for Germany, where his
works in the meantime had been making steady headway.
A couple of years later he was taken up in France, and there
was a time during the first half of the nineties, when he had
plays running simultaneously at half a dozen Parisian theatres.
While at Berlin, he met a young woman writer of Austrian
birth who soon after became his second wife. Their mar-
riage lasted only a few years, and while it was not as un-
happy as the first one, it helped to bring on the mental crisis
for which Strindberg had been heading ever since the prose-
cution of "Marriage," in 1884.

He ceased entirely to write and plunged instead into scien-
tific speculation and experimentation. Chemistry was the
subject that had the greatest fascination for him, and his
dream was to prove the transmutability of the elements. In
the course of a prolonged stay at Paris, where he shunned
everybody and risked both health and life in his improvised
laboratory, his mental state became more and more abnor-
mal, without ever reaching a point where he ceased to real-
ise just what was going on within himself. He began to
have psychic experiences of a character that to him appeared
distinctly supernatural. At the same time he was led by
the reading of Balzac to the discovery of Swedenborg. By
quick degrees, though not without much mental suffering, he
rejected all that until then had to him represented life's
highest truths. From being a materialistic sceptic, he be-


came a believing mystic, to whom this world seemed a mere
transitory state of punishment, a "heU" created by his own

The crisis took him in the end to a private sanitarium kept
by an old friend in the southern part of Sweden, but it would
be far from safe to assume that he ever reached a state of
actual insanity. His return to health began in 1896 and was
completed in a year. In 1897 he resumed his work of artistic
creation once more, and with a new spirit that startled those
who had held him lost for ever. First of all a flood of personal
experiences and impressions needed expression. This he ac-
complished by his two autobiographical novels, "Inferno"
and "Legends," the former of which must be counted one
of the most remarkable studies in abnormal psychology in
the world's literature. Next came "The Link" and another
one-act play. In 1898 he produced the first two parts of
"To Damascus," a play that — in strikingly original form, and
with a depth of thought and feeling not before achieved —
embodied his own soul's long pilgrimage in search of internal
and external harmony. The last part of the trilogy was not
added until 1904.

Then followed ten years of production so amazing that it
surpassed his previous high-water mark during the middle
eighties, both in quality and quantity. Once for all the
mood and mode of his creation had been settled. He was
still a realist in so far as faithfulness to life was concerned,
but the reality for which he had now begun to strive was
spiritual rather than material. He can, during this final
period, only be classed as a symbolist, but of the kind typi-
fied by Ibsen in the series of masterpieces beginning with
" Rosmersholm " and ending with "Little Eyolf."

More and more as he pushes on from one height to another,
he manages to fuse the two offices of artist and moralist with-


out injury to either of them. His view of Hfe is s.till pessi-
mistic, but back of man's earthly disappointments and humil-
iations and sufferings he glimpses a higher existence to which
this one serves merely as a preparation. Everything that
happens to himself and to others seems to reveal the per-
sistent influence of secret powers, pulling and pushing, re-
warding and punishing, but always urging and leading man
to some goal not yet bared to his conscious vision. Resig-
nation, humility, kindness become the main virtues of human
existence. And the greatest tragedy of that existence he sees
in man's — that is, his own — failure to make all his actions con-

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Online LibraryAugust StrindbergPlays by August Strindberg: The dream play, The link, The dance of death, part I, The dance of death, part II; → online text (page 1 of 16)