Looking for Ariel and finding Caliban : psychological warfare and women in Strindberg’s naturalistic dramas

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Donnelly, Stephen
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BA (Hons) in Film, Literature and Drama
Dublin Business School
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In this dissertation I shall examine the treatment of women in three of the naturalistic plays of August Strindberg. He was writing extensively on Darwinism and, through his Vivisections collection of essays, examining the power structures which are at play in the world, and he used his naturalistic dramas to work through the theories he analysed in those texts. With the weight of patriarchal structures and hierarchical mores around them these women in these plays are inevitably constrained into fighting dirty. The main point is not just on the nature of women, but on the fragile relationship between men and women and how a patriarchal system has engineered a skewed view of gender and of gender relations. I intend to use close readings of the texts to ascertain as to whether women are treated more unfavourably than the men in these works, and to back this up with academic texts upon both Strindberg in general and feminism in literature. I shall refer the theories examined in his Battle of the Brains and Soul Murder essays to isolate the new types of psychological battles being waged between men and women. He has been accused of misogyny for his treatment of women in these plays but I believe that this is a very one-dimensional view. I shall endeavour to show that the women are not portrayed as being worse than the males, even if Strindberg’s depictions are far from the pure and innocent images of women which have persisted down the years. My overriding impression is that his dramas are intended as moral lessons, forcing the viewer to evaluate, Brechtian-style, how the protagonists reached their current situations, and to put the lessons they have learnt from exposure to the plays to work in their own lives.