The Father (Strindberg)

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The Father at the Betty Nansen-Theatret in Copenhagen in 1918. Peter Fjelstrup as The Captain and Thilda Fønss as Bertha.

The Father (Swedish: Fadren) is a Naturalistic tragedy by Swedish playwright August Strindberg, written in 1887.

Plot[edit]

Captain Adolph, an officer of the calvary, and his wife Laura have a disagreement regarding the education of their daughter Bertha. Laura wants her to stay at home and become an artist, while Adolph wants Bertha to move into town and study to be a teacher. Adolph points out that his decision is final, and that the law supports him, because, he points out, the woman sells her rights when she agrees to be married. The argument grows and becomes fierce.

Laura suggests that Adolph may in fact not be the father, and therefore he may have no rights in the matter. Laura persuades the family doctor that Adolph may be mad, because, as an amateur scientist, he thinks he has discovered life on another planet by looking through a microscope. Adolph in fact has discovered signs of organic life by studying meteorites through a spectroscope. Laura also reveals to the doctor that she has obtained a letter that Adolph once wrote confessing that he himself feared he might go mad.

Adolph becomes frustrated and responds with violence — he throws a burning lamp in the direction of his wife as she exits. The moment he does that he is sunk. It appears that Laura has cunningly provoked him to commit this irrational act, which then becomes the pretext for having him committed. While waiting for the straitjacket to arrive the pastor tells Laura she is incredibly strong. "Let me see your hand! Not one incriminating spot of blood to give you away!" he says, "One little innocent murder that the law can’t touch; an unconscious crime!"[1] In a scene of intense emotional pathos, it is Margaret, the captain’s old nurse, who cajoles the captain, who has now been driven mad, into a straight jacket. Laura is presented as having a stronger will than her husband, who says to her: "You could hypnotize me when I was wide awake, so that I neither saw nor heard, only obeyed." As the captain suffers a stroke and dies, Bertha rushes to her mother, who exclaims, "My child! My own child!" as the pastor says, "Amen".[2][3]

Themes[edit]

This play expresses a recurrent theme in Strindberg: the state’s marriage laws are often unjust, in particular when the law gives the husband rights while depriving the wife and mother. The play shows a determined individual finding her way to oppose injustice, and the play also demonstrates how factors can lead one to become fiercely determined.[4] At the time the play was written, Strindberg's marriage was deteriorating with his wife Siri von Essen, and situations in the play could have very loosely resembled situations occurring in his failing marriage. Different religions, Methodist, Baptist, and an occult spiritualism, exist in the household and vie for Bertha's acceptance.[5] There are also references in the play to Greek Mythology and Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and Hamlet.

Production background[edit]

Strindberg was aware of the literary discussions regarding what constituted naturalism in drama, and particularly the theory of Emile Zola, who was naturalism’s chief proponent. Zola felt that the naturalistic playwright should observe life very carefully, and render it in a documentary fashion. In creating character the playwright should be scientific and show that character is determined by heredity and environment. And the playwright should apply understanding of psychology and physiology. Sets and costumes should be realistic, and the long expositions and complicated intrigues of romances and the "well-made play" should be avoided. Zola felt that the French drama had not achieved true naturalism, and Strindberg felt challenged to succeed where others had not.[6] Because of blasphemous comments, Strindberg found it hard for his work to be published and produced in Sweden. This play was the first Strindberg play to be produced outside of Scandinavia, in Berlin in 1890. The Father marked a turning point for Strindberg, as he went to a style of writing he deemed "artistic-psychological writing".

In an essay "Psychic Murder", written just after "The Father" was completed, Strindberg discusses Henrik Ibsen’s play Rosmersholm, and suggests how Ibsen might have handled Rebecca West’s "psychic murder" of Mrs. Rosmer, which Ibsen doesn’t describe. It might be effected, according to Strindberg, by planting jealousy in Mrs. Rosmer's mind, the way Iago did to Othello. He then goes on to describe the very same methods that Laura uses against the Captain in The Father. The use of psychological elements in Strindberg’s play move it closer to Naturalism than Ibsen’s play.[7] There is almost a Darwinian struggle between the two principles, and Darwin's theory is referenced in the play.

Reception in English[edit]

The play has been translated by Peter Watts (1958), Michael Meyer (1964), Harry G. Carlson (1981), Michael Robinson (1998), Gregory Motton (2000) and Laurie Slade (2012). The role of the Captain has been played in the West End by Michael Redgrave (1948), Wilfrid Lawson (1953) and Trevor Howard (1964).[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Strindberg, August. Carlson, Harry G. translator. Strindberg: Five Plays. University of California Press. 1983. Page 52. ISBN 0-520-04698-6.
  2. ^ Strindberg, August. Carlson, Harry G. translator. Strindberg: Five Plays. University of California Press. 1983. Page 62. ISBN 0-520-04698-6.
  3. ^ Lamm, Martin. Carlson, Harry G., translator/editor. August Strindberg. Benjamin Blom, Inc. 1971
  4. ^ Strindberg, August. Carlson, Harry G. translator. Strindberg: Five Plays. University of California Press.1983. Page 62. ISBN 0-520-04698-6.
  5. ^ Strindberg, August. Carlson, Harry G. translator. Strindberg: Five Plays. University of California Press. 1983. Page 22. ISBN 0-520-04698-6.
  6. ^ Madsen, Borge Gedso (1973). Strindberg’s Naturalistic Theatre. Russell & Russell. p. 13. ISBN 0-8462-1729-5. 
  7. ^ Lamm, Martin; Carlson, Harry G., translator/editor (1971). August Strindberg. Benjamin Blom, Inc. p. 205. 
  8. ^ The Plays of Strindberg Volume 1 translated by Michael Meyer, Vintage, New York. 1974. ISBN 0-394-71698-1

External links[edit]