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August Strindberg

Author, Swedish
Johan August Strindberg (1849–1912) was a Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, essayist, and painter. A prolific writer who often drew directly on his personal experience, Strindberg had a career that spanned four decades, during which time he wrote more than sixty plays and more than thirty works of fiction, autobiography, history, cultural analysis, and politics. A bold experimenter and iconoclast throughout, he explored a wide range of dramatic methods and purposes, from naturalistic tragedy, monodrama, and history plays, to his anticipations of expressionist and surrealist dramatic techniques. From his earliest work, Strindberg developed innovative forms of dramatic action, language, and visual composition. He is considered the “father” of modern Swedish literature and his The Red Room (1879) has frequently been described as the first modern Swedish novel. In Sweden, Strindberg is known as an essayist, painter, poet, and especially as a novelist and playwright, but in other countries he is known mostly as a playwright. The Royal Theatre rejected his first major play, Master Olof, in 1872; it was not until 1881, at the age of thirty-two, that its premiere at the New Theatre gave him his theatrical breakthrough. In his plays The Father (1887), Miss Julie (1888), and Creditors (1889), he created naturalistic dramas that responded to the call-to-arms of Émile Zola’s manifesto “Naturalism in the Theatre” (1881). During the 1890s he spent significant time abroad, engaged in scientific experiments and studies of the occult. A series of psychotic attacks between 1894 and 1896 (referred to as his “Inferno crisis”) led to his hospitalization and return to Sweden. Under the influence of the ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg, he resolved after his recovery to become “the Zola of the Occult.” In 1898 he returned to playwriting with To Damascus, which, like The Great Highway (1909), is a dream-play of spiritual pilgrimage. His A Dream Play (1902)—with its radical attempt to dramatize the workings of the unconscious by means of an abolition of conventional dramatic time and space and the splitting, doubling, merging, and multiplication of its characters—was an important precursor to both expressionism and surrealism. He also returned to writing historical drama, the genre with which he had begun his playwriting career. He helped to run the Intimate Theatre from 1907, a small-scale theater modeled on Max Reinhardt’s Kammerspielhaus, which staged his chamber plays (such as The Ghost Sonata).
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