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A Dream Play


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AT: The Dream Play A: August Strindberg Pf: 1907, Stockholm Pb: 1902 Tr: 1912 G: Drama without act or scene divisions; Swedish prose and some verse S: Indeterminate locations in Europe, 1900s C: 26m, 15f, extrasIndra invites his daughter to descend to earth to discover the source of humankind's misery. She approaches a castle growing on manure, topped by a flower bud. Here she frees the imprisoned Officer. After visiting his parents, he stands at the stage door of the opera, waiting, as he has done for seven years, for his bride to emerge. Indra's Daughter becomes the Stage-Door Keeper, so that she can learn about human unhappiness. When the Officer, now aged from his constant waiting, is forbidden from opening an intriguing door, he goes to the Advocate (or Lawyer) to seek an injunction. The Advocate, contaminated from years of dealing with other people's crimes, is denied a doctor's degree. Feeling sorry for him, Indra's Daughter marries him. The Daughter, now named Agnes, is unhappy with the squalor and bickering of her marriage and leaves the Advocate and their baby son. She travels with the rejuvenated Officer to the seashore, arriving in Foulstrand rather than the intended Fairhaven. The resident Quarantine Master fumigates an Old Dandy and a Coquette (the bride for whom the Officer had been waiting) and an ineffectual Poet. Two optimistic young lovers are soon disappointed by their foul surroundings. The Officer finds himself back at school, being disciplined by a fearsome Schoolmaster. The Daughter returns to her Advocate husband, and together they visit a beautiful beach, but she learns from Coal-Carriers that there is suffering here too. The Advocate tells her that people who try to improve their lot end in prison or the madhouse. Visiting Fingal's Cave with the Poet, Indra's Daughter sees how the sea has taken the lives of many, wonders if she has dreamt everything, and reads the Poet's verse describing human misery. Back at the opera house, Indra's Daughter commands that the mysterious door should at last be opened: ‘People feel that the riddle of existence is hidden there.’ When, after much learned disputation, the door is opened, there is nothing. After being threatened with a flogging, Indra's Daughter bids a painful farewell to the Advocate. Returning to the rising castle, where flowers have begun to bloom, she takes her leave of the Poet. Characters return briefly, and Indra's Daughter promises to speak of their unhappiness when she returns to her father. The castle burns, and the bud on the roof bursts open into a giant chrysanthemum.

AT: The Dream Play A: August Strindberg Pf: 1907, Stockholm Pb: 1902 Tr: 1912 G: Drama without act or scene divisions; Swedish prose and some verse S: Indeterminate locations in Europe, 1900s C: 26m, 15f, extras

Reflecting aspects of Strindberg's own life, especially his disappointment over his third marriage to the actress Harriet Bosse, this extraordinary play stands as one of the most influential works of modern drama. The ‘Author's Note’ is a manifesto of modernism: ‘this dream play…[imitates] the inconsequent yet transparently logical shape of a dream. Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable. Time and place do not exist.…The characters split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, disperse, assemble. But one consciousness rules over them all, that of the dreamer.’ Ingmar Bergman memorably staged a shortened version on an almost bare stage in 1970.

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Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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August Strindberg (1849—1912) Swedish dramatist and novelist


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