The Dance of Death
18 January 2023
The Dance of Death is a play about a married couple united not by love but – oh, how paradoxical – by hate. Hate is the only bond between Edgar and Alice: he is a retired captain commanding a naval artillery and she is a former actress. They have lived together for 25 years in a tower that used to be a prison. The tower is now their oval lounge which is nothing but a cage where they wage their marital war. The play is a portrayal of a tyrannical captain, his manipulative wife and his »innocent« cousin Kurt, the director of the quarantine, who declares, as soon as he enters their home that it smells of sickening toxic wallpaper as if there was a corpse lying under the floorboard, and describes their home as a place where hatred reigns so strong that one can hardly breathe.
Why does the couple persevere in such a toxic marriage at all? The answer is simple. They have nothing else but their hatred. Hatred has become their meaning of life. Their hatred is so contagious that it is transmitted to their daughter. Judith, still young, builds a relationship with her suitors very similar to that of her parents. The future is assured. It is called hate.
Strindberg’s play shows a world of callous captains – the »soldiers« – and manipulative and evil seductresses – the »actresses« – who deliberately enter marital relationships. In the living room of the feuding spouses, we recognise the absurdity of human condition and the phenomenology of all conflicts. Every disease of society is human. And what is more, every disease of nature is also human. Both are caused by a metastasised spirit.
The view from the oval lounge hides a dramatic ineffability of the outside world. Outside, it is a gloomy autumn evening. The door of the lounge is open, and the view opens onto an artillery guard: a soldier, wearing a helmet and holding a sabre, glimmering in the red reflection of the setting sun now and then. The sea is also visible. Dark, deep and calm (for now).
The tension of the outside world surrounding the tower feeds off the tension of the oval lounge – and vice versa. There is an ominous feeling in the air, a kind of calm before the storm or a lull before the big bang. Perhaps everything is waiting for a giant tsunami, for the moment when the sea will drag everything into its dark depths and free the prisoners of the tower. Edgar, Alice, Kurt, Judith, Allan, the Lieutenant and Jenny are so dramatic in their entrapment that they can only make us laugh. Their former absurdist natures are now perfectly ordinary, normal. These pretentiously stubborn individuals are driven by the familiar mechanics of egoism. We recognise them even when they are at the piano, the sewing machine, the telegraph, at the desk or in the deckchair.
Whatever their position in life – danse macabre unites them all. The dance of death symbolises life as a bad dream, and death becomes liberation from the horrors of life.