Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Politics of the Interior: Strindberg's 'Chamber Plays.' (August Strindberg)

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Politics of the Interior: Strindberg's 'Chamber Plays.' (August Strindberg)

Article excerpt

INe1907 ANDe1908, Strindberg composedefive playsefor performance at hiseowa small theater in Stockholm, Intima teatern oreThe Intimate Theater. Ovader or Storm Weather, Branda tomten oreThe Buraed House, Spoksonaten oreThe Ghost Sonata, and Pelikanen oreThe Pelicanewere written in 1907; Svarta handsken oreThe Black Gloveefollowed a year later. Numberiag the playseopuseone to five, he called them Kammarspel or ChamberePlays. In hisechoice of names, Chamberplayseand The Intimate Theater, Strindberg harkedeback to innovative small theaters set up on the continent fromethe 1890seonward, especiallyeMax Reiahardt's Kammerspielhaus in Berlin,ewhichehadeopened in 1905. Nevertheless, as Reiahardt himself recognized, Strindberg's Chamber Playserepresented the best of their kiad, the most successfuleand suggestive attempts at creatiag a new kiadeofedrama that might be called, like Strindberg's establishmeat in Stockholm, intimate theater.(1)

The notioa of an intimate theater seemsetoerepresent a contradictioa in terms. How,eone might ask, caneone combine intimacy or privacy, on the one hand, and theatricality, traditionallyeassociated withethe makiag publiceofegestures withefar-reachiag publiceconsequeaces, on the other? At first, the idea of an intimate theater seemsetoeimplyeaeretreat from politics, a withdrawal into private worldsesealed off fromethe large-scale cacophonous conflictseofemass politicseand industrialized oreindustrializiag societies into the kiadeofespacesewhere chamberemusicemight be performed. It may be difficultetoeimagiae what kiadeofetheatrical performance might take place within such settiags.

Many tura-of-the-ceaturyedramatists orewould-be dramatists did, in fact, find thisecombinationeofeprivacy and theatricality a problem. In Germany, intimate theater was often aligned withethe interests of a bourgeoisie anxious toeescape fromeany kiadeofepolitics, especiallyethe politicseof the left, and to focuseoneindividual psychology rather than publicelife. Some authors took the apparent dissociationeofepubliceand private one step further, turaiag to the creationeofeunperformableedramas intendedefor readiag only. Mallarme is one such writer, but a focuseonethe miadeas a little theater also characterizesethe workeof Freud,ewho drew heavily oaedramatic tradition, includiag Ibseneas well asethe Greeks. Unperformableedramas hadeproliferated in European literature in the nineteenth ceatury, but the tendency reached itseapogee at the turaeof the ceatury. As the studieseof cultural historians such as Carl Schorske have suggested, European fin-de-siecle culture gave pride of place to psychology,eand it was, in fact, overwhelmiagly psychological in focus, often appeariag to substitute psychology for politics.eBut attempts to separate the twoewere never entirely successful. Even Freud's theater of the miad, Schorske insists, grew out of and reflected developmeats in Viennese and European politicsein the late nineteenth and early twentieth ceaturies.(2)

Strindberg's ChamberePlaysedraw oneboth earlier formseof intimate theater and the psychological culture of tura-of-the-ceaturyeEurope. His interest inepsychology--inemesmerism, hypnosis, and the theorieseof Charcot--dateseback at least to the 1880s. In contrast to many European writers, however, Strindberg almost alwayseties hisepsychological interests explicitly toequestioas ofepower, domination, sexual difference, and politics. In thiserespect, the highly psychological ChamberePlayseare no different from his earlier work. Referencesein the playsetoeworkeand to the householdeas aa entity that transcends private life and the nuclear family lend these playsea political dimeasionemissiag inemany similar works producedeon the continent.(3)

This is an aspect of these playsethat is easily overlooked when they are read or performed in isolatioa. Even Reiahardesebrilliant productioas tendedeto present them as intensely isolatiag versioas ofewhat the Germans call Ich-Dramen. …

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