Adult, All ages, Classics, Reviews

Review: A Dream Play by August Strindberg

(I read the Swedish version of the drama, the other cover is the English version with Caryl Churchills interpretation)

I haven´t read anything by August Strindberg before, but growing up in Sweden it´s completely impossible not being raised into knowing and believing he is one of the greatest authors coming from this long, northern country of ours. In the context and on the topic of his words, it feels impossible not starting to formulate your sentences with more metaphors, with more angst and drama and with just more than you normally would. You almost unconsciously know you should respect him and that his work is something which we should appreciate and bow before.

Now, I have some mixed opinions on this after finally getting a taste of my own, but I´m choosing to leave it for my future review on Miss Julie, where I´m already suspicioning I will have a long debate ahead of me to try to type out.

But for now, the Dream.

I haven´t started reading Miss Julie yet, but I´ve watched the recording of it played by Bibi Andersson and Thommy Berggren from 1969 in class the other week. While, once again, that tragedy certainly caused some knots to inflict themselves in my otherwise quite clear view of Strindberg, just hearing the language, the old and dramatic that some consider pretentious and ostentatious, put a kind of spell on me and I found it was exactly the type of words that I like. The type of words that don´t just make me love the story, but it makes me love the story and the dialog and each and every little word and this passage and that. It makes me appreciate words and it makes me want to make my own.

So when the copy of Miss Julie given to me from school also included A Dream Play, I got a whim this Sunday to maybe just try reading it. I didn´t really want to take a break from reading Strange the Dreamer (apparently April weather is making me want nothing but dreams) but something in me just wanted to see more. I wanted to hear more, see if that thing bothering me in Miss Julie would continue and more importantly, I wanted more of his beautifully put words that (even if this sounds like a drama in itself) reminded me how beautiful my mother tongue can be.

So, down I sat, book and coffee in hand. I thought that maybe it was going to be too hard, the language too old and complicated to be available for someone like me. I also thought that even if it is, what is the worst thing that can happen? So in I went – and let me tell you, the dream swallowed me whole and kept me for one long sitting until it was finished.

A Dream Play, is written in a form that revolutionized the idea of how dramas can be created and played and it certainly surprised – not to mention confused – me when reading. There is structure, but it´s constantly moving and it flows in and out of different scenes. At one point I found myself flicking back and forth a few pages, realizing the scene and the characters had morphed into something else and left me without any clue as to when this actually happened. It made me a little annoyed the first couple times it occurred, I felt like I just wasn´t getting it, but then I realized that is the exact point. It´s all a dream, and just like our dreams it flowed in and out and it made things turn into new things without making any sense or being logical at all. At one point you´re following the officer and then the lawyer takes over and at one point the oak tree is just a tree, then in the next, it has conveniently turned into a coat hanger and I almost want to laugh because while reading, this all made perfect sense. When explaining it afterward, it sounds like complete nonsense, but in the moment, it was logical and clear and it really is like trying to explain a dream.

Not only has Strindberg managed to replicate the lucid nature of dreaming, he is also using plenty of symbols and there´s many dialogues and lines where I was smiling at how brilliantly – how cleverly –  you can formulate words and sentences.

There is one quite known one where I actually had to just pause and appreciate it, and it goes something like this:

A blind man asks a boy why the sea is salt, the boy replies saying it´s because sailors cry so much. The man goes on to ask why the sailors cry so much and the boy replies and says it´s because they have to go away from home for very long, which is why they dry their handkerchiefs on the masthead. Finally, the blind man asks why people cry when they are sad. The boy replies, “That’s because they have to wash the glasses of their eyes so they can see better.”


Finally, we are led to realize the whole thing has been a dream of the character “the Daugther” also known as Agnes. We also find out that she is actually the Daughter of Indra, who according to Indian folktale is the god who sent his daughter to earth so she could see how the humans are living.

It all wraps up and as you get closer and closer towards the end of the drama things get clearer and clearer. You realize it´s all a dream and it all ends in fire, as well as the constantly growing fairytale castle stopping to bloom its giant chrysanthemum crown.

It kept me locked down, completely submerged in this state of dreaming, and waking I find I want to see more.

5/5 stars.



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