Stringberg's Cosmos in A Dream Play: Medieval or Modern


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Thus Sven Delblanc points to the seeming paradox of Strindberg's A Dream Play, "the precursor of all modernity" in the theater, and its ancient world picture with roots extending back to the Middle Ages and beyond.2 Shakespeare's beautiful words express Cleopatra's desire to be united with her beloved Antony in death, but the playwright's essentially medieval notion of the cosmos as a Chain of Being representing the hidden orderedness of all things in hierarchies-from the Creator, Seraphim and Cherubim, and Powers to human beings and the simple mussel, from the Sun to the sublunar world, from king to slave, from gold to lead-no longer has any intrinsic meaning to a modern audience beyond the poetry. Shakespeare's words expressed a view of cosmos that was taken for granted by the Elizabethans. They all knew that Cleopatra's death invoked the final separation of the higher and the baser elements, fire and air going upwards, and the baser elements, water and earth going downwards, the ultimate redemption out of creatural suffering. Is Strindberg in A Dream Play using the same notion of the cosmos but in the spirit of modernity in order to express through innovation a new historical situation, or is he sharing Shakespeare's view of an unus mundus where everything in the created universe existed in absolute form in the mind of God? ls Strindberg's mysterious symbolism and revolutionary stagecraft in A Dream Play an eclectic aestheticism drawing upon older notions and ideas, or is he part of the philosophia perennis of antiquity and medieval times which presupposed the primordial bond between nature and the divine? The questions raised by Delblanc's observations concerning the nature and character of Strindberg's "modernism" can be illustrated by a close reading of key scenes from A Dream Play as a wedge into his speculations about the cosmos - modern or medieval?

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