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- There are Crimes and Crimes - 1/18 -

There are Crimes and Crimes

A Comedy


August Strindberg

Translated from the Swedish with an Introduction by Edwin Bjorkman


Strindberg was fifty years old when he wrote "There Are Crimes and Crimes." In the same year, 1899, he produced three of his finest historical dramas: "The Saga of the Folkungs," "Gustavus Vasa," and "Eric XIV." Just before, he had finished "Advent," which he described as "A Mystery," and which was published together with "There Are Crimes and Crimes" under the common title of "In a Higher Court." Back of these dramas lay his strange confessional works, "Inferno" and "Legends," and the first two parts of his autobiographical dream-play, "Toward Damascus"--all of which were finished between May, 1897, and some time in the latter part of 1898. And back of these again lay that period of mental crisis, when, at Paris, in 1895 and 1896, he strove to make gold by the transmutation of baser metals, while at the same time his spirit was travelling through all the seven hells in its search for the heaven promised by the great mystics of the past.

"There Are Crimes and Crimes" may, in fact, be regarded as his first definite step beyond that crisis, of which the preceding works were at once the record and closing chord. When, in 1909, he issued "The Author," being a long withheld fourth part of his first autobiographical series, "The Bondwoman's Son," he prefixed to it an analytical summary of the entire body of his work. Opposite the works from 1897-8 appears in this summary the following passage: "The great crisis at the age of fifty; revolutions in the life of the soul, desert wanderings, Swedenborgian Heavens and Hells." But concerning "There Are Crimes and Crimes" and the three historical dramas from the same year he writes triumphantly: "Light after darkness; new productivity, with recovered Faith, Hope and Love--and with full, rock-firm Certitude."

In its German version the play is named "Rausch," or "Intoxication," which indicates the part played by the champagne in the plunge of Maurice from the pinnacles of success to the depths of misfortune. Strindberg has more and more come to see that a moderation verging closely on asceticism is wise for most men and essential to the man of genius who wants to fulfil his divine mission. And he does not scorn to press home even this comparatively humble lesson with the naive directness and fiery zeal which form such conspicuous features of all his work.

But in the title which bound it to "Advent" at their joint publication we have a better clue to what the author himself undoubtedly regards as the most important element of his work--its religious tendency. The "higher court," in which are tried the crimes of Maurice, Adolphe, and Henriette, is, of course, the highest one that man can imagine. And the crimes of which they have all become guilty are those which, as Adolphe remarks, "are not mentioned in the criminal code"--in a word, crimes against the spirit, against the impalpable power that moves us, against God. The play, seen in this light, pictures a deep-reaching spiritual change, leading us step by step from the soul adrift on the waters of life to the state where it is definitely oriented and impelled.

There are two distinct currents discernible in this dramatic revelation of progress from spiritual chaos to spiritual order-- for to order the play must be said to lead, and progress is implied in its onward movement, if there be anything at all in our growing modern conviction that ANY vital faith is better than none at all. One of the currents in question refers to the means rather than the end, to the road rather than the goal. It brings us back to those uncanny soul-adventures by which Strindberg himself won his way to the "full, rock-firm Certitude" of which the play in its entirety is the first tangible expression. The elements entering into this current are not only mystical, but occult. They are derived in part from Swedenborg, and in part from that picturesque French dreamer who signs himself "Sar Peladan"; but mostly they have sprung out of Strindberg's own experiences in moments of abnormal tension.

What happened, or seemed to happen, to himself at Paris in 1895, and what he later described with such bewildering exactitude in his "Inferno" and "Legends," all this is here presented in dramatic form, but a little toned down, both to suit the needs of the stage and the calmer mood of the author. Coincidence is law. It is the finger-point of Providence, the signal to man that he must beware. Mystery is the gospel: the secret knitting of man to man, of fact to fact, deep beneath the surface of visible and audible existence. Few writers could take us into such a realm of probable impossibilities and possible improbabilities without losing all claim to serious consideration. If Strindberg has thus ventured to our gain and no loss of his own, his success can be explained only by the presence in the play of that second, parallel current of thought and feeling.

This deeper current is as simple as the one nearer the surface is fantastic. It is the manifestation of that "rock-firm Certitude" to which I have already referred. And nothing will bring us nearer to it than Strindberg's own confession of faith, given in his "Speeches to the Swedish Nation" two years ago. In that pamphlet there is a chapter headed "Religion," in which occurs this passage: "Since 1896 I have been calling myself a Christian. I am not a Catholic, and have never been, but during a stay of seven years in Catholic countries and among Catholic relatives, I discovered that the difference between Catholic and Protestant tenets is either none at all, or else wholly superficial, and that the division which once occurred was merely political or else concerned with theological problems not fundamentally germane to the religion itself. A registered Protestant I am and will remain, but I can hardly be called orthodox or evangelistic, but come nearest to being a Swedenborgian. I use my Bible Christianity internally and privately to tame my somewhat decivilized nature-- decivilised by that veterinary philosophy and animal science (Darwinism) in which, as student at the university, I was reared. And I assure my fellow-beings that they have no right to complain because, according to my ability, I practise the Christian teachings. For only through religion, or the hope of something better, and the recognition of the innermost meaning of life as that of an ordeal, a school, or perhaps a penitentiary, will it be possible to bear the burden of life with sufficient resignation."

Here, as elsewhere, it is made patent that Strindberg's religiosity always, on closer analysis, reduces itself to morality. At bottom he is first and last, and has always been, a moralist--a man passionately craving to know what is RIGHT and to do it. During the middle, naturalistic period of his creative career, this fundamental tendency was in part obscured, and he engaged in the game of intellectual curiosity known as "truth for truth's own sake." One of the chief marks of his final and mystical period is his greater courage to "be himself" in this respect--and this means necessarily a return, or an advance, to a position which the late William James undoubtedly would have acknowledged as "pragmatic." To combat the assertion of over- developed individualism that we are ends in ourselves, that we have certain inalienable personal "rights" to pleasure and happiness merely because we happen to appear here in human shape, this is one of Strindberg's most ardent aims in all his later works.

As to the higher and more inclusive object to which our lives must be held subservient, he is not dogmatic. It may be another life. He calls it God. And the code of service he finds in the tenets of all the Christian churches, but principally in the Commandments. The plain and primitive virtues, the faith that implies little more than square dealing between man and man--these figure foremost in Strindberg's ideals. In an age of supreme self-seeking like ours, such an outlook would seem to have small chance of popularity, but that it embodies just what the time most needs is, perhaps, made evident by the reception which the public almost invariably grants "There Are Crimes and Crimes" when it is staged.

With all its apparent disregard of what is commonly called realism, and with its occasional, but quite unblushing, use of methods generally held superseded--such as the casual introduction of characters at whatever moment they happen to be needed on the stage--it has, from the start, been among the most frequently played and most enthusiastically received of Strindberg's later dramas. At Stockholm it was first taken up by the Royal Dramatic Theatre, and was later seen on the tiny stage of the Intimate Theatre, then devoted exclusively to Strindberg's works. It was one of the earliest plays staged by Reinhardt while he was still experimenting with his Little Theatre at Berlin, and it has also been given in numerous German cities, as well as in Vienna.

Concerning my own version of the play I wish to add a word of explanation. Strindberg has laid the scene in Paris. Not only the scenery, but the people and the circumstances are French. Yet he has made no attempt whatever to make the dialogue reflect French manners of speaking or ways of thinking. As he has given it to us, the play is French only in its most superficial aspect, in its setting--and this setting he has chosen simply because he needed a certain machinery offered him by the Catholic, but not by the Protestant, churches. The rest of the play is purely human in its note and wholly universal in its spirit. For this reason I have retained the French names and titles, but have otherwise striven to bring everything as close as possible to our own modes of expression. Should apparent incongruities result from this manner of treatment, I think they will disappear if only the reader will try to remember that the characters of the play move in an existence cunningly woven by the author out of scraps of ephemeral reality in order that he may show us the mirage of a more enduring one.


There are Crimes and Crimes - 1/18

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