Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A Midsummer Night's Play


I seldom read drama anymore, not so much out of choice but impetus. I have a huge collection of plays however and love the work of so many playwrights including David Mamet, Marina Carr, Martin McDonagh, Brian Friel, Ann Marie di Mambro, Shakespeare... The last play I read (and the only one reviewed) was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, which I enjoyed. I intend to make a point of reading more drama.

I thought it would be apt to read a play famously set on Midsummer's Night (and yet not the one you think) on ... Midsummer's Night. I can barely recall why there is a copy of Miss Julie by August Strindberg on my drama shelf (I told you I have a number of plays) other than it being a recommendation from a Professor but there is and I hadn't read it until now.

Strindberg was a Swedish playwright (my copy is translated by Kenneth McLeish) who was a contemporary and competitor of Henrik Ibsen, with whose work this play shares similarities. Miss Julie is a naturalistic tragedy and is is rather brutal, savage even. In a coincidental thematic comparison to D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, which I am currently reading, it centres around Miss Julie (a lady) who is fraternising with the help and concerns class tensions between the ruling and serving classes. There is much resentment//snobbery/aspiration/power play between Miss Julie and the footman Jean; ultimately it is a battle between the classes and the sexes with Kristin, the cook, who respects her "betters" and acts as foil to Jean. Miss Julie and Jean begin dancing with one another at the servant's Midsummer Night's ball, flirting back and forth, acheiving and relinquishing the upper hand, seducing one another then consumating their love/lust, abusing and bullying one another, before devolving into a man and woman in mutual despair looking for escape.

The tragedy of this play is effective as is the power struggle between Miss Julie and Jean; both are emotionally charged and ultimately their battle for power is fruitless as they are powerless in the face of Miss Julie's father and Jean's employer, His Lordship, who does not appear as a character but whose control is sensed. Definitely recommended; I hope to see it performed one day.

7 comments:

Savidge Reads said...

I have to say that I do not tend to get on with plays as reading material and I am not sure why. I am possibly missing out on some great books.

JoAnn said...

I read Ibsen's A Doll's House for a challenge earlier this year. It was probably the first play I've read since high school...and that was quite a few years ago! It was a nice change of pace and I won't wait quite so long before reading another.

Samantha said...

I tend to only read plays that I am about to see performed on stage - especially Shakespeare :-)

I read Lady Chatterly's Lover not too long ago for book club and I was surprised at how much social commentary there was in it. Because of all the "other" hype about this book this plot line tends to be overlooked but forms a good part of the novel and I found it to be very interesting.

verity said...

I don't think I've ever read a play - I'm not hugely into the theatre, I don't really know why. But that sounds really interesting.

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, there are some great stories told through that medium but I can understand why not everyone reads them.

JoAnn, yesterday whilst reading Miss Julie I was contemplating re-reading A Doll's House. I enjoyed the change of pace too and will definitely be reading more drama soon; I don't know why I stopped.

Samantha, I tend not to see as many plays performed as I used to, if at all, but when I do I will read the play first or have a working knowledge of it, unless it's new.

The social commentary of Lady Chatterley's Lover took me by surprise too! It is also a book group choice for me but I am glad I'm reading it.

Verity, that's such a surprise to me. I think you would enjoy reading plays, even just for the change of pace.
I studied drama at school, read a lot of plays, and then at University less so unless it was Shakespeare or personal choice (I opted to read a lot in preparation for my Finals as they were so quick to read and could fit more in). During my Master's degree I did an Irish Literature course and Irish drama is so rich and I discovered many that I adored. I feel quite attached to plays and really need to ensure that I read them more often.

Nymeth said...

I hope you do read and review more drama, so that I can get more recommendations for you :P

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Nymeth! I definitely intend to; there are a number on the TBR list.