August Strindberg

Definition

Theater

  • (1849 - 1912) Swedish playwright, novelist, and poet. Althoughhailed in his own lifetime as a pioneer of naturalism, hismost lastingly influential works were the symbolic dramas he wrotetowards the end of his life. Strindberg, who had an interest in hypnosis,was the first dramatist to explore the role of the subconscious - an approach more easily accepted by later audiences familiar withthe theories of psychoanalysis. Although his works have never enjoyedwide popular appeal, Strindberg was one of the most famous writersin the world when he died.

    Strindberg was the son of a shipping agent who married hishousekeeper after a long illicit relationship; his unstable childhoodis described in the autobiographical work The Son of a Servant(1886). After leaving Uppsala University without a degree he workedas a freelance journalist in Stockholm while writing the historicaldrama Master Olof (1872) in a style influenced by Shakespeareand the early Ibsen. The play was rejected by the Royal Theatre. In 1877 hemarried the actress Siri von Essen, a relationship that was soon souredby Strindberg's pathological jealousy.

    In 1883, prompted by his involvement in a bitter literarycontroversy, he left Sweden with his family to travel somewhat aimlesslyin Europe. Meanwhile he established his reputation as a naturalisticdramatist with The Father (1887) and Miss Julie(1888), grimly pessimistic plays about the inevitable (as Strindbergsaw it) conflict between the sexes. After returning to Sweden in 1889he wrote Creditors (1891), a manically bitter play thatreflects the breakdown of his marriage. He was divorced in 1891 andlost custody of his children.

    The following year he travelled to Berlin, where he marriedthe Austrian journalist Frida Uhl. When this marriage collapsed aftertwo years Strindberg suffered a mental breakdown during which he becameobsessed with the occult and experimented with alchemy. He emergedfrom this period as a disciple of the mystic Swedenborg. In 1901 hemarried the Norwegian actress Harriet Bosse but, again, the relationshipfailed. His most innovative works were written during this time. Inspiredby Maeterlinck, Strindberg wrote a number of symbolic 'dream'plays, including the trilogy The Road to Damascus (1898 - 1901)and The Dream Play (1902). He said of the form, "Anythingmay happen; everything is possible and probable. Time and space donot exist. The characters split, double, multiply, vanish, solidify,blur, clarify."

    Strindberg returned to Sweden again for the last four yearsof his life. Although his plans for a Scandinavian Experimental Theatrewere never realized, from 1907 to 1910 he helped August Falck (1882 - 1938)to run the 161-seat Intima Teatern (Intimate Theatre) in Stockholm.It was for this venue that he wrote his five 'chamber plays', thebest known being The Ghost Sonata (1907). His last play,The Great Highway (1909) was an allegory of his life.

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