Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Six Plays of Strindberg - August Strindberg

The recently concluded Bangalore Theater Festival, staged Stindberg's master piece Miss Julie, performed by an amateur troupe from Delhi. The book was with me for over a month and I thought this was the right time to read Strindberg. Unlike some of the older play you read, what impresses one with these plays are its relevance despite a century passed since they were originally written and staged. This is my first read of strindberg and I guess, these are the best and essential reading of Strindberg.

Six plays in this collection are written between 1887 and 1907 , reflective of his progress as a writer. Though all the plays are good, I was deeply impressed with 'Easter' and 'The Father'. Influences of "Expressionism" and "naturalism" of the 19th century artistic concepts are evident in his plays.

Both 'The Father' and 'Miss Julie' work around the 'battle of sexes' theme, where the feminine gender perceived to be taking upper hand often in the negative shades. In 'The father' we see the husband and wife trying to take control of the life of their only daughter. husband wants to send his daughter away fo rhigher education and the progressive way of living. Fearing , she will loose the hold on her daughter, the wife conjures up plans to scuttle his decision playing around the basic nature of the husband-wife relationship. Her attempt to protect her authority goes as low as creating doubt in his mind about the parentage of the child. She even manages to work around the rest of the crew in making them believe about his mental state and manipulate every one, In then end the father succumbs to the loss of his daughter, his pride and his senses dropping dead with a  heart attack.

Miss Julie, again work on a similar theme. Miss Julie, heir apparent of a wealthy baron, uses her charm to to work her magic with her valet. In her attempt to shake off from the monotonous life and add little fun, she dances at the servants midsummer eve with Jean. The play act get serious with she following him into the kitchen, where Jean's fiancee Christine is cooking. The politics of power thus play out between the trio. For Julie, being the upper class and daughter of the count, has power and control over the others. Jean on the other hand has the male authority over the rest, but also learned through his wide travel across Europe. Christina and Jean are also free from the prejudice of the upper class. The battle for superiority, in subtle form continues through out the night which began with flirtation progressed into a love affair. In the end, unable to shackle out of the maze of existence, the only way out suggest was the suicide of Julie.

Stronger a one-act play is loosely based on his own experience. At the time of writing this play, it wsa said that he was having an affair with a 17 year old actress, while entertaining another two love relationship. However, his wife seems to have stood by him through out this and at the end of each affair he returned back to her. Madame X, middle aged lady trying to save their marriage, by working it out with Mademoiselle Y. A play starts with cordial interaction between two ladies, changes into a powerful monologue of anger, hate and desperation by Madam X, at the end of which she thanks Y for teaching her husband to love.

Starting on a Maundy Thursday through to Easter Eve, "The Easter" goes through the despair and hope of a family riddled with debt , whose future is in the hands of the vicious creditor. To add to their woes, the mentally unstable sister comes back from the sanatorium. As the days progressed, the changes and hopes in their life is visible through the changes in the external world. Winter is over and the ice is melting. Sun is slowly seen in the outside and autumn is setting in. The day of crucification (his father was arrested and jailed for false crime) to the day of resurrection is obvious. To me this setting and the indirect , very subtly symbolic expression of hope was the highlight of the play.

A dream play was very different from the rest. Daughter of Indra ( the leader of Gods as per Hindu Mythology) comes to earth to understand and experience the human predicament. "because I want to know about human being and life-to find out if it is really as hard as they say".  Indra agrees:

Descend and see, and hear, then come again
and tell me if their lamentations
and their complaints are justified

Through several encounters and experiences, she tries to learn and understand the human conditions before returning to heavens. The characters are symbolic and depicts various facets of life. There are people representing various professions and believes, people in different social structure. As is the performance, the characters emerge, dissolve change shape in accordance to the scene.

The Ghost sonata, an experimental play is much more complex in nature. An accidental encounter of a student, who apparently performed a brave deed, with an old man changes their lives for ever, On the invitation from the Old man, he accepts to attend the dinner at the colonels residence where he meets a hoard of characters each expresses their life experiences. It is here he realises, after falling in love with the colonel's daughter, that he has ended up in a dead house. I guess, there could be various interpretations and understanding of this play. I could also sense some continuation from 'the Easter' in few characters and schemes.

Phenomenal set of plays from one of the masters of modern theater. The eternal relevance of his theme makes these play enjoyable even after 100s of years.
Six Plays of Strindberg ( The Father(1887), Miss Julie( 1888), The Stronger(1889) , Easter(1900), A Dream Play(1901), The Ghost Sonata (1907) )

August Strindberg ( translated from Swedish by Elizabeth Sprigge 1955)

Anchor Books

304 Pages

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