To Damascus (Parts 1, 2, and 3

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AT: The Road to Damascus A: August Strindberg W: 1898–1904 Pf: (1) 1900, Stockholm; (2) 1924, Gothenburg; (3) 1922, Gothenburg Pb: (1 and 2) 1900; (3) 1904 Tr: 1913 G: (1) Drama in 5 acts; (2 and 3) Dramas in 4 acts; Swedish prose S: Various locations in an indeterminate country, 1890s C: (1) 12m, 5f, extras; (2) 8m, 9f, 3 children, extras; (3) 14m, 8f, extrasPart 1. The Stranger (or The Unknown – den Okände) stands at a street corner, undecided about his future direction. He accosts a passing Lady and begs her to stay with him. Although he is expecting mail, he refuses to go to the post office for fear of what a letter might contain. He persuades the Lady to leave her husband, a Doctor, whom they then visit. The Doctor gives his consent to their elopement, and the Stranger and the Lady go to a hotel, where their dreams of freedom are shattered by their feelings of guilt. Penniless, they walk the roads until they come to the Lady's parental home. Her pious Mother forces her daughter to read the Stranger's book. Having ‘eaten of the tree of knowledge’, the horrified Lady drives the Stranger away. Three months later, he is recuperating at an asylum in a convent, having been found delirious on the mountain clutching a cross. The Confessor curses him, and the Stranger retraces his steps. He returns to the Mother, who tells him that he is on the road to Damascus and that he [like Saul] must seek forgiveness. He finds the Lady, and goes with her to the Doctor, who refuses to forgive him. Back at the street corner, the Stranger collects his mail, which contains money. This will allow them to return to the mountains, but first the Lady induces him to go with her to church. Part 2. The Stranger and the Lady are living together unhappily. She is pregnant and makes his life miserable by intercepting his mail and preventing his scientific work. The Doctor, now very resentful about their elopement, reappears to add to their unhappiness. When the Lady goes into labour, her Mother tortures the Stranger by telling him that it is not his child. His experiments at making gold are nevertheless successful, and he is invited to a lavish banquet to hail the great scientist. However, the banquet transforms itself into a nightmarish occasion, and the Stranger is exposed as a charlatan who cannot pay the bill. At the Lady's bedside, he wonders whether he merely dreamed of the banquet. When a daughter is born, he abandons the Lady, fearful lest he should become too attached to the little girl. He is persuaded to return to them by an alter ego, the Beggar, whom he had encountered in Part 1. The Confessor persuades him to accompany him back to a monastery. Part 3. The Stranger is led by the Confessor up long mountain paths, where they encounter fellow pilgrims, including his daughter from his first marriage Sylvia. He then meets the Lady, who is in mourning for the death of their baby Mitzi. His way takes him past sulphur springs and Venus-worshippers, where he meets the Tempter and Maja, the old nurse of his first child. The Lady has become beautiful in her suffering, and she reveals herself as the Stranger's mother, ready to console him. They marry again and enjoy brief happiness. But the Stranger continues his search. Reaching the monastery, the Prior urges him to learn to forgive himself and to abandon questioning. Instead, the Stranger gives himself up to a symbolic death, and the Confessor prays that he may enjoy eternal rest.Considered by some to be Strindberg's greatest work, To Damascus is certainly a major achievement: a dream-like blending of Strindberg's own life, powerfully theatrical scenes, and a relentless searching after enlightenment, informed by the philosophy of Swedenborg. It had a decisive influence on modernist drama, offering a model of the Stationendrama (drama of stations), a common feature of German Expressionist plays, in which a central character passes through a series of stations, usually in the quest for redemption. On his journey he encounters unnamed figures, many of whom are manifestations of aspects of his own personality or the same character reappearing in a different guise. Most disturbingly, the Lady, who contains the redemptive features of the ‘eternal womanly’ celebrated in Goethe's Faust, can, especially in Part 2, be transformed into an evil persecutor.


Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

Reference entries

August Strindberg (1849—1912) Swedish dramatist and novelist

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