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A DRAMA IN FIVE ACTS
BY AUGUST STRINDBERG
TRANSLATED FROM THE SWEDISH
From the Prose Version of 1872
THE AMERICAN-SCANDINAVIAN FOUNDATION
THE original prose version of Master Olof which is here presented for the first time in English form, was written between June 8 and August 8,1872, while Strindberg, then only twenty-three years old, was living with two friends on one of the numerous little islands that lie between Stockholm and the open sea.
Up to that time he had produced half-a-dozen plays, one of which had been performed at the Royal Theatre of Stockholm and had won him the good-will and financial support of King Carl XV. Thus he had been able to return to the University of Upsala, whence he had been driven a year earlier by poverty as well as by spiritual revolt. During his second term of study at the old university Strindberg wrote some plays that he subsequently destroyed. In the same period he not only conceived the idea later developed in Master Olof but he also acquired the historical data underlying the play and actually began to put it into dialogue.
Duringthat samewinterof 1871—72 he read extensively, although his reading probably had slight reference to the university curriculum. The two works that seem to have taken the lion's share of his attention were Goethe's youthful drama Goetz von Berlichingen and Buckle's History of Civilization in England. Both impressed him deeply, and both became in his mind logically connected with an external event which, perhaps,had touched his supersensitive soul more keenly than anything else: an event concerning which he says in the third volume of The Bondwoman's Son, that "he had just discovered that the men of the Paris Commune merely put into action what Buckle preached."
Such were the main influences at work on his mind when, early in 1872, his royal protector died, and Strindberg found himself once more dependent on his own resources. To continue at the university was out of the question, and he seems to have taken his final departure from it without the least feeling of regret. Unwise as he may have been in other respects, he was wise enough to realize that, whatever his goal, the road to it must be of his own making. Returning to Stockholm, he groped around for a while as he had done a year earlier, when he even tried to eke out a living as the editor of a trade journal. Yet the seeds sown within him during the previous winter were sprouting. An irresistible impulse urged him to continue the work of Buckle. History and philosophy were the ultimate ends tempting his mind, but first of all he was impelled to express himself in terms of concrete life, and the way had been shown him by Goethe. Moved by Goethe's example, he felt himself obliged to break through the stifling forms of classical drama. " No verse, no eloquence, no unity of place," was the resolution he formulated straightway.*
Having armed himself with a liberal supply of writing-paper, he joined his two friends in the little island of Kymmendo. Of money he had so little that, but for the generosity of one of his friends, he would have had to leave the island in the autumn without settling the small debt he owed for board and lodging. Yet those months were happy indeed—above all because he felt himself moved by an inspiration more authentic than he had ever before experienced. Thus page was added to page, and act to act, until at last, in the surprisingly brief time of two months,
* See again Tne Bondwoman's Son, vol. iii: In the Red Room.