History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Scandinavian Pre-WWII

In addition to plays mentioned in the 19th century, major Strindberg plays in the 20th century include "Påsk" (Easter, 1901), "Dödsdansen" (The dance of death, parts 1 and 2, 1905), and "Spöksonaten" (The ghost sonata, 1908).

Danish drama is represented by Kjeld Abell (1901-1961), who wrote "Melodien der blev væk" (The melody that got lost, 1935) and Hjalmar Söderberg (1869-1941), who "Gertrud" (1906).

Representing Norwegian drama, Hans Wiers-Jenssen (1866-1925) wrote "Anne Pedersdotter" (1908) and Kaj Munk (1898-1944) "Ordet" (The word, 1932).

Also of note is "Fjalla-Eyvind" (Eyvind of the hills, 1911) by the Icelandic dramatist, Johann Sigurjonsson (1880-1911).

August Strindberg, the dominant Scandavavian playwright of the early 20th century

"Easter"Edit

"Easter". Time: 1900s. Place: Sweden.

"Easter" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8500

Eleonora played by Doris Svedlund (1926-1985) and the mother by Dora Söderberg (1899-1990) at the Royal Dramatic Theatre studio in Stockholm, 1946

Elis and Kristina intend to marry in the fall and are looking forward to summer after passing through a rough winter. One year has passed since his father was imprisoned for debt, the principal creditor being Lindkvist. Soon after, Elis' sister, Eleonora, went insane and was sent to an asylum. On Maundy Thursday, Kristina is surprised to learn that Elis wants to attend a dinner given by an ungrateful student of his, Peter, who stole some of his ideas in his doctoral thesis. They receive an anonymous package containing a birch rod, which Elis, instead of taking the presumed threat badly, places in water. A grief-stricken Benjamin, a pupil living in the same house, informs them he has just failed his Latin examination. Looking out the window, Elis notices Lindkvist, who may soon decide to take away their furniture, but he merely nods, smiles, and passes by. Left alone, Benjamin is surprised to see a stranger entering. It is Eleonora, escaped from the asylum to join her family. She informs Benjamin that her father was arrested because he took the blame for her embezzling some funds. She specifies she suffers for him and all her family. "Will you be one of my flock, so that I can suffer for you, too?" she asks. She hears the telephone wires hum, caused by the cruel words people say to each other. She also tells him she entered a florist's shop and took away an Easter lily. She places it on the table. Elis learns his father's case has been sent to the court of appeals, so that he must read the court transcripts to find a loophole in the procedure. He notices the Easter lily. "Poor Eleonora," he exclaims, "So unhappy herself yet bringing joy to others!" On Good Friday, Elis is unable to find any loophole. He and Kristana find comfort in looking at Benjamin and Eleonora's love grow, who push the lamp towards each other so that they can read better. Elis' mother, Mrs Heyst, arrives to tell them that Lindkvist is about to come over, a thing which greatly worries them. She also tells them a burglary was committed at a florist's shop concerning a tulip, she thinks. They anxiously behold Lindkvist's shadow on the curtains, enlarging to a giant-like size, but he goes away. "Think of it as a trial, Elis," advises Kristina. When the rest go, Benjamin suggests to Eleonora to call the florist' shop and explain the mistake, but she answers: "No, I have commmitted a wrong and I must be punished by my conscience...Everyone must suffer on Good Friday, to be reminded of Christ's suffering on the cross." On Easter eve, Elis worries Kristina has left him. He learns from his mother that the Easter lily was stolen, at which Benjamin blames himself until Eleanor admits her mistake. Then Mrs Heyst says she spoke to the florist, who finally found a coin Eleanor put there. Lindkvist finally arrives. "I ask neither charity not favors, only justice," Elis proudly declares. Lindkvist accedes to this point of view, demanding him to pay back all that he owes and warning him that, unless he begs the governor's help, he will arrange to have his mother arraigned, too. Elis is forced to accept all his conditions. Lindkvist next informs him he must thank Peter for interceding on his mother's behalf to the governor, which he declines to accept. To "squeeze his pride", Lindkvist next demands the crushed man to empty his entire bank account for his sake. But then the apparent monster reveals he once knew a man who long ago saved him from prison, when he was falsely blamed for breaking a window-pane: Elis' father, and so he cancels all his claims. A stunned Elis watches Eleanora tear the leaves out of the calendar and exclaim: "April, May, June, and the sun shining on them all!" as Kristina walks back in.

"The dance of death, part 1"Edit

A married life without love is a dance of death as illustrated from the Nuremberg Chronicle of the dance of death by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514)

"The dance of death, part 1". Time: 1900s. Place: Sweden.

""The dance of death, part 1" text at http://www.onread.com/book/Plays-by-August-Strindberg-The-dream-play-The-link-The-dance-of-death-part-I-The-dance-of-death-part-II-768136/

In a fortress tower of a military camp, Edgar and Alice are near their silver wedding anniversary. Because of her coldness and brusque manner, a servant, Jenny, leaves them. Instead of supplying his usual remark to her usual remark, Edgar yawns. "What else is there for me to do?" he asks. Another servant, Kristin, is hired but may follow the other one. "So now I am the domestic again," an upset Alice complain. The unhappily married pair receive the visit of Kurt, her cousin and the new master of the quarantine station. Edgar and Alice agree on one point at least: they dislike everyone on the island. "I have had nothing but enemies all my life, and instead of being a hindrance, they have been a help to me," Edgar rejoices. Suddenly, Edgar becomes motionless, the victim of a stroke. Almost immediately after his fit, he nevertheless goes out to inspect the guard. Alice informs Kurt that her husband incited their children against her, and did she. She bemoans the state of her hands because of domestic duties, also resenting having lost a career as an actress following her marriage. Edgar returns but almost as soon collapses under the throes of a second stroke. After learning he is still alive, Alice sighs with sadness. But after learning Kristin has truly left after she threatened to do so, she sobs. They learn by telegraph that none of the doctors can come to help Edgar. "That's what you get for treating your doctors so contemptuously and always ignoring their bills," she accuses him. He denies this. While the captain stares emptily into space, Kurt tells Alice that a doctor said he may die at any moment without warning. She is glad about that piece of news. But, after a night of rest, he recovers. Alice tells Kurt that it is thanks to Edgar his wife obtained custody of his children. According to Alice, it is his vampire nature that expresses itself when he tells Kurt his son, a cadet officer, will be transferred to the island, which Kurt disapproves of. He next tears up his will in her favor and declares he has filed for divorce. Alice is glad and accuses him of trying to drown her once, "without witnesses", the captain notes, though their daughter, Judith, was present, whom "you have taught to lie," accuses Alice, to which he remarks: "I didn't have to." Being free at last, Alice flirts with her cousin, who playfully bites her neck. In anger, he raises his hand to her, but she forces him to kiss her shoe. They discover that Edgar heard no word about Kurt's son transfer and never filed for divorce. Although Alice is willing to follow Kurt wherever he goes, he pushes her away. The married couple are back together again and beg Kurt to remain with them. The captain has one philosophy which never fails to sustain him: "Erase, and keep going."

"The dance of death, part 2"Edit

"The dance of death, part 2". Time: 1900s. Place: Sweden.

"The dance of death, part 2" text at http://www.onread.com/book/Plays-by-August-Strindberg-The-dream-play-The-link-The-dance-of-death-part-I-The-dance-of-death-part-II-768136/

An unloving couple is threatened by hovering death. Etching by Lovis Corinth (1858-1925)

Kurt has noticed that some of his supposed friends have grown colder towards him, a sign, according to Alice, that Edgar has been stealing these friends from him. Edgar accuses Kurt of ingratitude in view of the 6% profit he gained while investing in a soda water company on his advice. Kurt's son, Allan, a cadet officer, has been reduced to tears, tormented by Judith, daughter to Edgar and Alice. Alice advises Allan to compare notes on her with his rival, a lieutenant, because the real objective of her ambition for her daughter, to his astonishment, is a colonel, despite his sixty years of age. Edgar informs Kurt that the soda water company he invested in is now out of business. Without informing his wife's cousin, Edgar sold his stock before the crash. As a result, Kurt loses his savings and is forced to sell his house and furniture. Edgar advises him to send his son away to a cheaper school, since he, too, wishes Judith to marry the colonel. Moreover, he takes over Kurt's house and furnishings and tells Allan he is transferred to another training course. When Allan discloses to Judith he will be away for a year, she says she will wait for him. Edgar informs Kurt about the transfer, paid for by a group of military men. Kurt is crushed, for this amounts to charity, which ends his hopes of being elected in Parliament. Edgar is surprised Kurt ever considered this, especially on considering he intends to run for the same office. "This indicates that you underrate me," accuses Edgar. Has he anything to reproach him with? No. "You say this with a resignation I should like to call cynical," Edgar comments. But his marriage plan concerning Judith is thwarted, as he learns from a telegram from the colonel, who has ben insulted by her. Edgar suffers another stroke. "Look after my children," he pathetically cries out to Kurt. "This is precious," Kurt remarks, he wants me to look after his children after stealing mine." On seeing Edgar's prostrate state, Alice gloats. "Where is that strength of yours- your own strength- now?" she asks. Pushed to the limit, he spits on her face. In turn, she slaps his face and pulls at his beard. Kurt and the lieutenant charitably carry him to bed. The latter soon returns to reveal to Alice that her husband is dead. "I have a feeling my own life is now at an end, that I'm on the road to decay and dissolution," she wrily comments

"The ghost sonata"Edit

"The ghost sonata". Time: 1900s. Place: Sweden.

"The ghost sonata" text at http://www.archive.org/details/playcriticalanth00bent

A room disappears and then appears the picture of the isle of the dead by Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901)

Arkenholz, a student, wanders in a street. He has been up all night to help save people from a house fire. Because his eyes are inflamed and his hands are possibly infected, he asks a milkmaid to put a damp cloth on them. Director Hummel, an old rich man bound to a wheelchair, asks Arkenholz to whom he has been speaking and is startled on hearing of the milkmaid's existence, whom he does not see, a woman he once had sexual relations with and then abandoned. They discover that Hummel knew Arkenholz' father. According to this man, Hummel cheated him in business dealings, a version Hummel denies, saying on the contrary he helped him so well that the father grew to dislike his benefactor. To help Arkenholz, Hummel proposes to give him a ticket at the opera, where he may meet influential people, notably the colonel and his daughter. Arkenholz agrees. He tells an anecdote about the fire, when he saved a child from burning, but as he was about to take hold of him, the child disappeared. As they speak, a dead consul in his shroud appears in the doorway of a house, and then goes away, seen once again by Arkenholz but not by Hummel. In the colonel's apartment, Bengtsson, the colonel's servant, describes to Johansson, servant to Hummel, the forthcoming evening as a "supper of specters", when the colonel either speaks alone or the others repeat over and over again the same matters. He shows Johansson the colonel's wife, Amalia, surnamed the mummy, demented, it appears, as she is living in a wardrobe and imitates a parrot's voice. Hummel is startled to see her, a woman with whom he had adulterous relations, he being the secret father of her daughter. For unknown reasons relating to an unhappy marriage, Amalia is only pretending to be demented. Hummel confronts the colonel by telling him he has bought the bills of all his debts. He also reveals that his aristocratic title is false and that his daughter is his. He wants the colonel to turn out Bengtsson. Hummel's intention is to reveal the crimes of others. But the mummy reveals Hummel's own crimes, calling him a "man-robber", how he cheated her with false promises, hounded the consul to death with debts, manipulated Arkenholz under the pretense that his father owed him money, and cheated Bengtsson, living off him for two years. Assailed thus, Hummel turns or pretends to turn into a parrot in her place. He quickly dies. After Hummel's funeral, Arkenholz and the colonel's daughter discuss the affairs of the house. She reveals her servitude to her own servants, how the cook sucks the marrow of the food she prepares, how she is forced to do the work her housemaid refuses to do. But when Arkenholz wishes to take her away from this unhealthy environment, she recognizes its futility, saying that she is "struck at the very source of life". As if her body agrees with him, she sickens and appears to be dying. Suddenly, the room disappears and Böcklin's picture of the "Isle of the dead" appears.

"Anne Pedersdotter"Edit

"Anne Pedersdotter". Time: 1570s. Place: Bergen, Norway.

"Anne Pedersdotter" text at http://archive.org/details/annepedersdotter00wieriala

Herlofs-Marte is suspected as a witch and burned to death as illustrated in a drawing by an unknown artist

The town council sends guards to arrest a presumed witch, Herlofs-Marte. She tries to escape by hiding in the house of Absalon Beyer, rector and castle chaplain. Anne, his wife, reluctantly agrees. On the same day, Absalon's son from his first wife, Martin, arrives from Denmark and Germany after receiving a master's degree in theology. He initiates friendly relations with his stepmother, almost of the same age as he is, Absalon having been Anne's father's great friend. "I'll lighten your path all I can," Martin promises. The guards trace the accused witch to his house soon after Absalon's arrival. Though Anne denies having seen Herlofs-Marte, the guards search the house and find her in the loft. She is quickly burnt alive as a witch. Laurentius, a fellow minister, blames Absalon for failing to torture her so that she could name her accomplices. To Anne and Martin, Absalon confesses he has been harboring a guilty conscience for many years, because Herlofs-Marte and Anne's mother had been living as two widows and confessed to him they had "kept themselves by Satan's help". He had not denounced them because of his love for Anne. Alone with her husband, Anne takes him in her arms, but the old man cannot respond to her love. Instead, she looks towards her stepson and they develop a mutual passion for each other. Absalon's mother, Merete, notices how close they have become to eahc other and does her best in preventing them to remain alone together. "Martin, you ought to be looking out for a good wife," she advises him. "You're at an age when it isn't good for a man to be alone. A good wife, and children. The marriage state is well pleasing both to God and man. Marriage drives out Satan, and keeps a man's heart at home." While Anne refuses to think of the future, Martin is tormented by it. "Some day our sin will burst out and cry to Heaven," he warns. "If I could burn you in such a flame of passion that you would be blind and forget- forget all, except that we belonged to each other, body and soul, blood and mind!" Alone with his wife, Absalon feels discouraged by his thankless tasks and thinks his lack of passion has done his wife great harm. After his mentioning that he heard her and Martin laugh together, she admits the truth of this. "You robbed me of joy...To wither away, to dry-rot: that was the fate you marked out for me. I have wished you dead and I've wished it most since your son has come home," she admits. After also admitting she and her son have lain like lovers, he has a heart attack and dies. "You've murdered him, Anne Pedersdotter," Merete sputters, "for you....and he...you two..." After his father's death, Martin finds in himself only terror and remorse. He wonders whether Anne is like Herlofs-Marte, with the power to kill him. "I shall be burnt if you fail me, Martin," she cries out in terror. During the funeral, Merete accuses Anne of murder and witchcraft. Although Martin starts to defend her, he wonders again to Anne's despair about the matter of witchcraft. When the bishop asks Anne to touch her dead husband as proof of guilt or innocence, she confesses herself guilty of both accusations.

Kaj Munk is the author of "The word", a rural play with theological reverberations

"The word"Edit

"The word". Time: 1930s. Place: Jutland, Denmark.

"The word" text at ?

Johannes thinks he is Jesus Christ, depicted by Heinrich Hofmann (1824–1911)

Anders Borgen wishes to marry Anne Skraedder, but his father does not approve, because she and her father, Peter, belong to a different religious sect of the Protestant faith. Old Borgen grumbles against the idea all the more vehemently because his youngest son is easily influenced, while his second son, Johannes, is insane to the point of believing himself to represent the second incarnation of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, ever since his girl-friend lost her life by saving his, while the eldest son, Mikkel, is an atheist, which leaves no one to carry on the tradition as head of the farm. However, on learning that Peter refuses Anders as a son-in-law for the same reason, Borgen is incensed and instantly changes his mind. "You are the best father I have ever had," exclaims a joyful Anders. Borgen encounters a stubborn Peter who seeks to convert him. Failing in that, Peter anticipates trials for him, a prophecy which seems confirmed by a telephone call from Mikkel informing them that his wife, Inger, is in failing health while delivering her baby. Peter hopes that this will open his eyes. Hearing that Peter would rather have her die than the conversion fail, Borgen hits him on his way out. As Borgen returns to his house, Johannes announces he has seen the master with his scythe and hourglass. When Borgen dismisses him, Johannes comments: "There were no works in his native village because of their disbelief." (Matthiew 13:58) Mikkel next discloses that the baby has died. In grief and fear, Borgen asks Maren, Mikkel's 7-year-old daughter, to pray for her mother's life. Johannes reveals that Inger will die but he will bring the dead back to life should the family believe in him. After seeing Borgen will not, he cries out: "Woe to you who choke the glory of God in the cadaverous stink of your faith." Then he pleads: "Just one word, it will cost you but one word." Borgen does not hear. In an apparent fit of inspiration, Johannes sees a great light, to Borgen only the headlights of the doctor's retreating car. Inger dies. From the adjoining room, the two brothers carry in Johannes. "Dead?" Borgen half-hopefully asks. No, he has merely fainted after crying out his dead girl-friend's name. At Inger's funeral, Borgen is surprised to find Peter, who announces he has changed his mind and now consents to the marriage of Anders and Anne so that his daughter may in some sort replace Inger. As they get ready to take away the coffin to the cemetery, Johannes suddenly appears after being missing for five days in the surrounding fields. He now seems to acknowledge Borgen as his father, as the doctor predicted, the dead Inger jarring back the memory of his dead friend. Yet he has not abandoned his belief in bringing Inger back to life. Though only Maren believes, that is enough, because to the amazement of the rest of the company, Inger rises from her coffin.

"The melody that got lost"Edit

"The melody that got lost". Time: Place: .

"The melody that got lost" text at ?

Hjalmar Söderberg wrote "Gertrud" about conflicts in both marital and adulterous relations

"Gertrud"Edit

"Gertrud". Time: 1900s. Place: Stockholm, Sweden.

"Gertrud" text at ?

After six years of marriage, Gertrud wants to divorce Gustav, a lawyer in line to become a minister in the next government. She wants to take up her singing career again. When Gustav assures her he still loves her, Gertrud is convinced he does. "Just like you love your Havana cigars," she retorts. He suspects she has a lover, but she refuses to reveal who it is. It is Erland, a little-known but young classical music composer. Frustrated that they have not yet slept together, Erland says he wants to break off their relation and spend the night with Constance, a courtesan. After announcing her intention to divorce, Gertrud proposes that they go to his apartment. The following day, at a party given in honor of a famous but disillusioned and cynical dramatist, Gabriel, Gertrud's former lover before her marriage, Gustav discovers she has slept with another man and begins to resist more actively to the matter of her divorce. "Gertrud, this night you will belong to me one last time, he says. "Afterwards, you may go wherever you wish, to sink in mud and shame, since you want to sink." She leaves him without a word and meets Gabriel, who reveals he met Erland the previous night at Constance's house, drunk and boasting amid the whores about his latest female conquest. When Gabriel asks her why she left him, she does not answer. As Gabriel wanders away, she accepts Erland's invitation to accompany her singing at the piano. She starts to sing Schumann's "Love and a woman's life" then faints. The next day, when Gertrud meets Erland in a public park, he mentions he does not see the necessity of her divorcing, but she nevertheless wishes to leave the city with him. He says he has no money. She counters they may use hers at first and then together make money with their music. His pride will not permit that. Without imagining to give offense, he casually mentions going to Constance's house after having some trouble sleeping. He then reveals he cannot leave because of a secret engagement to a woman whom he does not love but cannot abandon while she is pregnant, one, moreover, who helped him in the past with money. Returning home, she meets Gabriel, who proposes they go off together, but she refuses. She had left him years ago because love to him was an obstacle to writing, gaining fame, and making money. Now she wants to live alone.

"Eyvind of the hills"Edit

"Eyvind of the hills". Time: 1910s. Place: Iceland.

"Eyvind of the hills" text at ?

Eyvind and Halla suffer in the midst of Iceland snow

Bjorn the bailiff announces to the widow Halla, erewhile his sister-in-law, that her overseer, Kari, has been identified by two men as an escaped convict. Halla does not believe it, but asks him whether it is true. At first Kari denies it, but when she asks him to marry her, he says he cannot, and admits he is Evynd of the hills and a fugitive of the law. They kiss and become lovers. Their idyll is interrupted by Bjorn with news that he has received an official confirmation by letter of Evynd's true identity. Yet he is willing to ignore the law should Halla decide to become his wife. Halla refuses. Evynd overpowers Bjorn and breaks his leg. The couple flee to the hills. Four years later, the couple are joined by Arnes, a migrant laborer, who attempts to seduce Halla, but she rejects him. Bitter over this experience, Arnes leaves the couple, but rapidly returns to announce he has detected law-officers closing in on them. To facilitate their escape, Halla murders her three-year old daughter. When Bjorn seizes Halla, Eyvind stabs him in the heart and the two escape while Arnes gives himself up to the other officers. For twelve years, Evynd and Halla live under difficult circumstances amid the mountains. In the winter-time, sunlight is minimal. Forced to stay inside their small hut for seven days because of a snow-storm, they are famished and desperate. Evynd decides to brave the storm. "When you go out of that door," says Halla, "you need not think of me anymore." An affronted Evynd replies: "You ought to thank me for going out in such weather." Halla considers it best to wait out the storm. "We can dig up roots to still the worst hunger, and go to the lake for fish," she proposes. Hoping to return in two days, Evynd opens the door and leaves, though unable to see his hand before his eyes. Halla soon follows him. When Evynd quickly returns with firewood, he is stunned to find her gone and with anguish rushes out. A cloud of snow whirls inside the empty hut.

Last modified on 8 February 2014, at 13:52