Short summary - A Dream Play - August Strindberg

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - A Dream Play
August Strindberg

The author recalls that he sought to imitate the incoherent but seemingly logical form of the dream. Time and space do not exist, clinging to the tiny basis of reality, the imagination spins its yarn. Heroes split, evaporate, condense, merge together. Above all is the consciousness of the dreamer.

In the prologue, the Daughter of Indra descends on a cloud to Earth. Indra sends her to find out if the fate of people is really so difficult. The daughter of Indra feels how pernicious the air below is a mixture of smoke and water. Indra calls her to be filled with courage and endure this test.

The Daughter and the Glazier approach the castle, which is growing right out of the ground. Its roof is crowned with a bud, which, according to the Daughter, is about to blossom. The daughter thinks that a prisoner is languishing in the castle and wants to free him. Entering the castle, she frees the Officer, who sees in her the embodiment of beauty and is ready to suffer, if only he could see her. The Officer and the Daughter look behind the screen-partition and see the sick Mother, who tells the Officer that the Daughter is Agnes, the child of Indra. Before her death, the Mother asks the Officer never to argue with God and not consider himself offended by life. The Mother wants to give the maid the mantilla that the Father gave her: the maid has nothing to wear to the christening, and the Mother is so ill that she doesn't go anywhere anyway. The Father is offended, and the Mother is upset: it is impossible to do good to one person without doing harm to another. Daughters feel sorry for the people. The Officer and Daughter see the Doorkeeper in a shawl, crocheting a starry veil, waiting for the groom who left her thirty years ago when she was a ballerina in the theater. The daughter asks the Gatekeeper to lend her a shawl and allow her to sit in her place and look at the children of men. The daughter sees the actress, who did not receive an engagement, sobbing. The doorkeeper shows her what a happy person looks like: An officer with a bouquet is waiting for his beloved, Victoria, who promised him her hand and heart. He has been caring for her for seven years now and now he is waiting for her to come down, but she still does not come. Evening comes, the roses withered, but Victoria did not come. The officer turned gray, autumn came, but he is still waiting for his beloved. The officer tries to find out what is behind the closed door, but no one knows. He sends for a blacksmith to open it, but the Glazier comes instead of the blacksmith. As soon as the Glazier comes to the door, the Policeman appears and, in the name of the law, forbids opening it. The officer does not give up and decides to turn to a lawyer. The lawyer complains that he never sees happy people: everyone comes to him to pour out anger, envy, suspicions. The daughter takes pity on people. The lawyer hopes to receive a Juris Doctor degree and a laurel wreath, but is turned down. The daughter, seeing his suffering and desire to restore justice, puts a crown of thorns on his head. The daughter asks the Lawyer if there is joy in the world? He replies that the sweetest and bitterest joy is love. The daughter wants to test her and becomes the lawyer's wife, despite the fact that he is poor: if they lose heart, a child will appear and give them comfort.

Kristin seals the windows in the house. The daughter complains that she is very stuffy. The lawyer argues that if the windows are not sealed, the heat will leave and they will freeze. A child with his crying scares away customers. It would be nice to rent a bigger apartment, but there is no money. The daughter is not accustomed to living in the mud, but neither she nor the Advocate can wash the floor, and Kristin is busy sealing the windows. The lawyer notes that many live even worse. Upon learning that the Daughter lit the fire with his newspaper, the Advocate scolds her for her carelessness. Although they don't get along, they have to put up with each other for the sake of the baby. The daughter takes pity on people. Kristin continues to seal the cracks in the house. The lawyer comes out, colliding at the door with the Officer, who came to call the Daughter with him to the Bay of Beauty. But instead of the Bay of Beauty, the Officer and the Daughter end up in the Strait of Shame. The head of the quarantine asks the Officer if they managed to open the door. The officer replies that no, because the trial is not yet over. The head of the quarantine draws the attention of the Daughter to the Poet, who is going to take a mud bath: he is constantly hovering in the higher spheres, so he misses the mud. A white sailboat is seen in the distance, sailing to the Bay of Beauty. At the helm sit embracing He and She. The officer forces them to turn into the Straits of Shame. He and She go ashore, sad and ashamed. They do not understand why they are here, but the Head of Quarantine explains to them that it is not necessary to do something bad in order to incur minor troubles. Now they have to stay here for forty days. The daughter takes pity on people.

In the Bay of Beauty, fun reigns, everyone is dancing. Only Edith sits at a distance and is sad: she is not good-looking and no one invites her to dance.

The teacher checks the knowledge of the Officer, but he cannot answer in any way how much twice two will be. Although the Officer has been awarded his doctorate, he must remain at the school until he is mature. The officer himself understands that he has not yet matured. He asks the Master what time is. The teacher replies that time is what runs while he speaks. One of the students gets up and runs away while the Master is talking, comes out, is he the time? The teacher thinks that this is absolutely correct according to the laws of logic, although crazy.

The officer shows the Daughter of a man whom everyone envy, for he is the richest man in these places. But he also grumbles: he is blind and does not even see his son, whom he came to see him off. The blind man talks about the fact that life consists of meetings and partings: he met a woman, the mother of his son, but she left him. He had a son, but now he is leaving him. The daughter comforts the Blind Man, saying that his son will return.

The lawyer tells the Daughter that now she has seen almost everything except the worst. The worst thing is the eternal repetition and return. He urges the Daughter to return to her duties. Responsibilities are all that she does not want to, but must do. The daughter asks if there are pleasant duties? The lawyer explains that duties become pleasurable when done. The daughter understands that duties are all that is unpleasant, and wants to know what is then pleasant. The lawyer explains to her that pleasure is a sin, but sin is punishable, and after a pleasant day or evening, a person is tormented by remorse. The daughter sighs: it's not easy being human. She wants to go back to heaven, but first she needs to open the door and find out the secret. The lawyer says that she will have to get back on track, go all the way back and relive the whole nightmarish process of repeating, recreating, rehashing, repeating ... The daughter is ready, but first she wants to retire to the desert region in order to find herself. She hears the loud groans of the unfortunates from the Strait of Shame and wants to free them. The lawyer says that once a liberator appeared, but the righteous crucified him on a cross. The daughter ends up on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. She thinks it's heaven, but she sees two charcoal workers who carry coal in a terrible heat and have no right to bathe or pick an orange from a tree. The coal miners explain to her that every person at least once committed a bad deed, but some were punished and now carry coal in the sweat of their faces all day long, while others were not punished and sit in the casino and gobble up an eight-course dinner. The daughter is surprised that people do nothing to alleviate their situation. The lawyer says that those who try to do something end up either in prison or in a lunatic asylum. The place that seemed to the Daughter as paradise, in fact, turns out to be a real hell.

The daughter leads the Poet to the end of the world in a cave, which is called the ear of Indra, for here the heavenly ruler listens to the greed of mortals. The daughter tells the Poet what the wind moans about, what the waves sing about. The poet finds the wreckage of ships, including the one that sailed from the Bay of Beauty. It seems to her daughter that both the Bay of Beauty, and the Strait of Shame, and the "growing castle", and the Officer she dreamed about. The poet says that he composed it all. Poetry is not reality, but more than reality, not a dream, but a dream. The daughter feels that she has been too long below, on the ground, her thoughts can no longer take off. She asks her Heavenly Father for help. The poet asks the Daughter of Indra to convey to the Ruler of the world the petition of mankind, composed by a dreamer. He hands the Daughter a scroll with his poem. The poet notices a ship in the distance by the reefs. His crew begs for help, but when they see the Savior, the sailors jump overboard in fear. The daughter is not sure that in front of them is really a ship, it seems to her that this is a two-story house, and next to it is a telephone tower reaching up to the clouds. The poet sees a snowy wasteland, a training ground along which a platoon of soldiers is marching. A cloud descends on the wasteland, covering the sun. Everything disappears. The moisture of the cloud extinguished the fire of the sun. Sunlight created the shadow of the tower, and the shadow of the cloud smothered the shadow of the tower.

The daughter asks the Gatekeeper to call the Deans of the four faculties: now they will open the door, behind which lies the solution to the secrets of the world. An officer appears, beaming with joy, with a bouquet of roses: his beloved, Victoria, is about to go downstairs. It seems to both the Poet and the Daughter that they have already seen all this somewhere: either the Poet dreamed it, or he composed it. The daughter remembers that they have already said these words somewhere else. The poet promises that soon the Daughter will be able to determine what reality is. The Lord Chancellor and the Deans of the four Houses are discussing the matter of the door. The Lord Chancellor asks what the Dean of the Faculty of Theology thinks, but he does not think, he believes. The Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy has an opinion, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine knows, and the Dean of the Faculty of Law has doubts. An argument erupts. The Daughter accuses them all of sowing doubt and discord in the minds of the youth, in response to which the Dean of the Faculty of Law accuses the Daughter on behalf of all the righteous of arousing doubt in the youth about their authority. They drive her away, threatening to kill her. The daughter calls the Poet with her, promising him that he will soon find out the solution to the secrets of the world. The door opens. The righteous shout "Hurrah" but see nothing. They shout that the Daughter has deceived them: there is nothing behind the door, the Daughter says that they did not understand this nothingness. The righteous want to beat her. The daughter is about to leave, but the Advocate takes her by the hand and reminds her that she has responsibilities. The daughter replies that she obeys the command of a higher duty. The lawyer says that the child is calling her, and she realizes how much she is tied to the earth. She feels remorse, the only salvation from which is to fulfill her duty. The daughter suffers a lot. She says that everyone around her is her children. Alone, each of them is good, but as soon as they come together, they begin to quarrel and turn into demons. She leaves the Advocate.

Daughter and Poet at the walls of the castle growing from the ground. The daughter realized how difficult it is to be a man. The poet reminds her that she promised to reveal to him the secret of the world. The daughter tells that at the dawn of time, Brahma, the divine fundamental principle, allowed the mother of the world Maya to seduce himself in order to multiply. This contact of the divine first mother with the earthly became the fall of heaven. Thus, the world, life, people are nothing more than a phantom, an appearance, a dream. In order to free themselves from earthly matter, the descendants of Brahma seek hardship and suffering. But the need for suffering collides with the thirst for pleasure, or with love. There is a struggle between the pain of pleasure and the pleasure of suffering. This struggle of opposites gives rise to strength. The daughter suffered on earth much more than people, because her feelings are more subtle. The poet asks her what caused her the most severe suffering on earth. The daughter replies that her existence: the feeling that her eyesight is weakened by her eyes, her hearing is dulled by her ears, and her thought is entangled in a labyrinth of fatty convolutions. To shake off the dust from her feet, the Daughter takes off her shoes and throws them into the fire. The Doorkeeper enters and throws his shawl into the fire, the Officer his roses, which are left with only thorns, and the Glazier his diamond, which opened the door. The theologian throws the martyrology into the fire, for he can no longer defend a God who does not defend his children. The poet explains to the Daughters who the martyrs for the faith are. The daughter explains to him that suffering is redemption and death is deliverance. The poet read that when life is nearing its end, everything and everything rushes by in a whirlwind. The daughter says goodbye to him. She enters the castle. Music plays out. The castle lights up and the bud on its roof blossoms into a giant chrysanthemum flower. On the backdrop, illuminated by the flames of the burning castle, many human faces appear - surprised, saddened, desperate ...