Places: The Dance of Death

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1901 as Dödsdansen, första delen and Dödsdansen, andra delen (English translation, 1912 as The Dance of Death I and The Dance of Death II)

First produced: 1905

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Places DiscussedTower

Tower. Dance of Death, TheIsland home of Alice and her husband Edgar, a captain in the Swedish army. Part of an ancient fortress that was once a prison, the tower is still a prison for Edgar and Alice, who are cut off from the mainland and from the other officers and officials on the island. Edgar believes himself superior in rank, intelligence, and general character to any others on the island. It is clear that Edgar and Alice have grown to dislike each other intensely; it is also clear that Edgar is not well. There is so much bickering between the two that all the servants have left. Into this isolated place comes Alice’s cousin Kirk, who brings further proof of isolation as he announces that he has been sent by the government to oversee a quarantine of the entire island because of an infectious disease. The sense of isolation and entrapment is intensified when Edgar has a heart attack and it becomes obvious that he is dying. Alice and Kirk renew an old love interest as they care for the dying Edgar. Alice tells her lover that prisoners used to call the fortress “hell” and that they are now the “devils” living in hell. When Edgar confronts the lovers, Kirk runs off into the night, deserting Alice. She and her husband must now do the final measures of his “dance of death” alone in the fortress known as “hell.”

BibliographyBrady, Philip. “The Dance of Death.” Times Literary Supplement, February 10, 1995, 18. Brief review affirms the relevance of the play in the twentieth century. Argues that the drama moves beyond the warring of the sexes to the inefficacy of life.Hildeman, Karl-Ivan. “Strindberg, The Dance of Death, and Revenge.” Scandinavian Studies 35, no. 4 (November, 1963): 267-294. Asserts that character sketches and events in The Dance of Death are based on Strindberg’s sister and brother-in-law. Concludes that Strindberg created these characters as punishment or revenge for real or imagined injury.Johnson, Walter. “Strindberg and the Danse Macabre.” In Strindberg: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Otto Reinert. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971. Discusses Strindberg’s use of the medieval image of Death characterized by the danse macabre (the dance of death) as a symbol in parts 1 and 2. Contends that the dance symbolizes life as an evil dream while death becomes a release from the horrors of hell/life. Includes a detailed bibliography.Meyer, Michael. Strindberg: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1985. Includes relevant biographical information on many of Strindberg’s major plays, including The Dance of Death. Meyer has translated eighteen of Strindberg’s plays to English and is knowledgeable about the playwright. His biography is concerned primarily with Strindberg’s influence on modern theater. Includes subject index.Valency, Maurice. The Flower and the Castle: An Introduction to Modern Drama. New York: Macmillan, 1963. Comprehensive discussion of all of Strindberg’s major plays and his contribution to modern theater. Includes subject index and selected bibliography.
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