Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Some Time in Strindberg

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Some Time in Strindberg

Article excerpt

IT SEEMS ALMOST a trivial observation that many of Strindberg's plays, especially the later ones, deal with Time in some special fashion. We are often confronted with situations in which Time is handled in a manner that confounds our experience, even as Strindberg must be said to be playing fair with his audience in its chronological expectations. But Strindberg plays with Time on his stage, and he does that in two ways, the one sensual and the other intellectual.

Apart from drastic and obvious theatrical measures--a radical change of lighting, say, or of setting, measures he might have been expected to take ordinarily, as witness his experiments with the sets and lighting for Till Damaskus I or Ett dromspel--Strindberg also had recourse to a stage technique that was important to his dramatic points, that is the speed of the play, especially that governed by its language.

Inspection shows us that Strindberg's language is enormously flexible, highly rhythmic in its disposition of utterances. He uses language rhythm for characterization as much as he uses diction, and he does this without an extensive use of uncommon vocabulary or unusual syntax, except when the situation or character calls for it. Even Master Olof speaks a recognizably everyday language that is still not quite everyday. (1) This use of language is clear when we set it into relief against that of many of his contemporaries, even that of Ibsen. We may, perhaps, see this as deriving in some measure from Strindberg's close interest in the naturalist movement: if of nothing else, think of the preface to Froken Julie. Further, it need be no secret that Strindberg thought deeply about the speech of his characters--what playwright does not. We understand, too, Strindberg's search for the ideal theater-company that could perform his plays as he saw them, a search that led eventually to the formation, with August Falck, of Intima Teatern (1907-10). We have subsequently seen the ideas embodied in that theater blossom and will only to be replanted as acting styles and fashions changed under the pressure of movies, radio, and television as well as the present vast array of kinds of theater-spaces. Intimacy and realism of utterance and gesture have become the norm expected in most modern theater. In this context, then, it is worth revisiting Strindberg's own advice to his actors in Intiman.

In his justly famous Memorandum till medlemmarne af Intima Teatern Fran Regissoren (1908), Strindberg brings together, as he tells us, all his advice given--usually in written form--about performance in the theater's first year of business. Indeed, this little pamphlet begins with a great irony. "Da jag nu intrader i regelbunden tjanstgoring vid Intima Teatern sa halsar jag personalen med detta skrivna tal, emedan jag icke kan tala mina tal" (9) [Now, as I enter regular service with Intima Teatern, I greet you with this written speech, since I cannot speak my speeches]. This in a booklet which talks mostly about stage utterance! Yet, it is likely here that Strindberg is only acknowledging his own deficiencies as an actor, deficiencies made clear to him when he tried out and actually debuted in 1869. (2) Indeed, Strindberg was much the man of the written word, as his enormous correspondence and his fictive and essayistic output testifiy. (3) Yet, time and time again in his Memorandum, and elsewhere, Strindberg comes back to the spoken words of the play: "Det borjar med det talade ordet, och detta tror jag vara huvudsaken i den sceniska konsten" (17) [It begins with the spoken word, and this I believe to be the main thing in the art of the stage].

Strindberg's advice about stage utterance in the memorandum is telling, to the point, and relevant today. "Numera ar jag mest bojd satta det talade ordet forst och hogst. Man kan ge en seen i morkret och njuta av den, bara den talas val. / Att tala val! / Forsta vilkoret darfor ar att tala langsamt" (17-9) [Nowadays, I am mostly inclined to put the spoken word first and foremost. …

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