Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Nicole Apostola
THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
ENGLISH VERSION BY GRAHAM RAWSON
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY GUNNAR OLLEN
Strindberg's great trilogy _The Road to Damascus_ presents many
mysteries to the uninitiated. Its peculiar changes of mood, its
gallery of half unreal characters, its bizarre episodes combine to
make it a bewilderingly rich but rather 'difficult' work. It cannot
be recommended to the lover of light drama or the seeker of
momentary distraction. _The Road to Damascus_ does not deal with
the superficial strata of human life, but probes into those depths
where the problems of God, and death, and eternity become
Many authors have, of course, dealt with the profoundest problems
of humanity without, on that account, having been able to evoke our
interest. There may have been too much philosophy and too little
art in the presentation of the subject, too little reality and too
much soaring into the heights. That is not so with Strindberg's
drama. It is a trenchant settling of accounts between a complex and
fascinating individual--the author--and his past, and the realistic
scenes have often been transplanted in detail from his own
In order fully to understand _The Road to Damascus_ it is therefore
essential to know at least the most important features of that
background of real life, out of which the drama has grown.
Parts I and II of the trilogy were written in 1898, while Part III
was added somewhat later, in the years 1900-1901. In 1898
Strindberg had only half emerged from what was by far the severest
of the many crises through which in his troubled life he had to
pass. He had overcome the worst period of terror, which had brought
him dangerously near the borders of sanity, and he felt as if he
could again open his eyes and breathe freely. He was not free from
that nervous pressure under which he had been working, but the
worst of the inner tension had relaxed and he felt the need of
taking a survey of what had happened, of summarising and trying to
fathom what could have been underlying his apparently unaccountable
experiences. The literary outcome of this settling of accounts with
the past was _The Road to Damascus_.
_The Road to Damascus_ might be termed a marriage drama, a mystery
drama, or a drama of penance and conversion, according as
preponderance is given to one or other of its characteristics. The
question then arises: what was it in the drama which was of deepest
significance to the author himself? The answer is to be found in
the title, with its allusion to the narrative in the Acts of the
Apostles of the journey of Saul, the persecutor, the scoffer, who,
on his way to Damascus, had an awe-inspiring vision, which
converted Saul, the hater of Christ, into Paul, the apostle of the
Gentiles. Strindberg's drama describes the progress of the author
right up to his conversion, shows how stage by stage he
relinquishes worldly things, scientific renown, and above all
woman, and finally, when nothing more binds him to this world,
takes the vows of a monk and enters a monastery where no dogmas or
theology, but only broadminded humanity and resignation hold sway.
What, however, in an inner sense, distinguishes Strindberg's drama
from the Bible narrative is that the conversion itself--although
what leads up to it is convincingly described, both logically and
psychologically--does not bear the character of a final and
irrevocable decision, but on the contrary is depicted with a
certain hesitancy and uncertainty. THE STRANGER'S entry into the
monastery consequently gives the impression of being a piece of
logical construction; the author's heart is not wholly in it. From
Strindberg's later works it also becomes evident that his severe
crisis had undoubtedly led to a complete reformation in that it
definitely caused him to turn from worldly things, of which indeed
he had tasted to the full, towards matters divine. But this did not
mean that then and there he accepted some specific religion,
whether Christian or other. One would undoubtedly come nearest to
the author's own interpretation in this respect by characterising
_The Road to Damascus_ not as a drama of conversion, but as a drama
of struggle, the story of a restless, arduous pilgrimage through
the chimeras of the world towards the border beyond which eternity
stretches in solemn peace, symbolised in the drama by a mountain,
the peaks of which reach high above the clouds.
In this final settling of accounts one subject is of dominating
importance, recurring again and again throughout the trilogy; it is
that of woman. Strindberg him, of course, become famous as a writer
about women; he has ruthlessly described the hatreds of love, the
hell that marriage can be, he is the creator of _Le Plaidoyer d'un
Fou_ and _The Dance of Death_, he had three divorces, yet was just
as much a worshipper of woman--and at the same time a diabolical
hater of her seducing qualities under which he suffered defeat
after defeat. Each time he fell in love afresh he would compare
himself to Hercules, the Titan, whose strength was vanquished by
Queen Omphale, who clothed herself in his lion's skin, while he had
to sit at the spinning wheel dressed in women's clothes. It can be
readily understood that to a man of Strindberg's self-conceit the
problem of his relations with women must become a vital issue on
the solution of which the whole Damascus pilgrimage depended.
In 1898, when Parts I and II of the trilogy were written,
Strindberg had been married twice; both marriages had ended
unhappily. In the year 1901, when the wedding scenes of Part III
were written, Strindberg had recently experienced the rapture of a
new love which, however, was soon to be clouded. It must not be
forgotten that in his entire emotional life Strindberg was an
artist and as such a man of impulse, with the spontaneity and
naivity and intensity of a child. For him love had nothing to do
with respectability and worldly calculations; he liked to think of
it as a thunderbolt striking mortals with a destructive force like
the lightning hurled by the almighty Zeus. It is easy to understand
that a man of such temperament would not be particularly suited for
married life, where self-sacrifice and strong-minded patience may
be severely tested. In addition his three wives were themselves
artists, one an authoress, the other two actresses, all of them
pronounced characters, endowed with a degree of will and
self-assertion, which, although it could not be matched against
Strindberg's, yet would have been capable of producing friction
with rather more pliant natures than that of the Swedish dramatist.
In the trilogy Strindberg's first wife, Siri von Essen, his
marriage to whom was happiest and lasted longest (1877-1891), and
more especially his second wife, the Austrian authoress Frida Uhl
(married to him 1893-1897) have supplied the subject matter for his
picture of THE LADY. In the happy marriage scenes of Part III we
recognise reminiscences from the wedding of Strindberg, then
fifty-two, and the twenty-three-year-old actress Harriet Bosse,
whose marriage to him lasted from 1901 until 1904.
The character of THE LADY in Parts I and II is chiefly drawn from
recollections--fairly recent when the drama was written--of Frida
Uhl and his life with her. From the very beginning her marriage to
Strindberg had been most troublous. In the autumn of 1892
Strindberg moved from the Stockholm skerries to Berlin, where he
lived a rather hectic Bohemian life among the artists collecting in
the little tavern 'Zum Schwarzen Ferkel.' He made the acquaintance
of Frida Uhl in the beginning of the year 1893, and after a good
many difficulties was able to arrange for a marriage on the 2nd May
on Heligoland Island, where English marriage laws, less rigorous
than the German, applied. Strindberg's nervous temperament would
not tolerate a quiet and peaceful honeymoon; quite soon the couple
departed to Gravesend via Hamburg. Strindberg was too restless to
stay there and moved on to London. There he left his wife to try to
negotiate for the production of his plays, and journeyed alone to
Sellin, on the island of Ruegen, after having first been compelled
to stop in Hamburg owing to lack of money. Strindberg stayed on
Ruegen during the month of July, and then left for the home of his
parents-in-law at Mondsee, near Salzburg in Austria, where he was
to meet his wife. But when she was delayed a few days on the
journey from London, Strindberg impatiently departed for Berlin,
where Frida Uhl followed shortly after. About the same time an
action was brought for the suppression of the German version of _Le
Plaidoyer d'un Fou_ as being immoral. This book gives an
undisguised, intensely personal picture of Strindberg's first
marriage, and was intended by him for publication only after his
death as a defence against accusations directed against him for
his behaviour towards Siri von Essen. Strindberg was acquitted
after a time, but before that his easily fired imagination had
given him a thorough shake-up, which could only hasten the crisis
which seemed to be approaching. After a trip to Bruenn, where
Strindberg wrote his scientific work _Antibarbarus_, the couple
arrived in November at the home of Frida Uhl's grandparents in the
little village of Dornach, by the Upper Danube; here the wanderings
of 1893 at last came to an end. For a few months comparative peace
reigned in the artists' little home, but the birth of a daughter,
Kerstin, in May, brought this tranquillity to a sudden end.
Strindberg, who had lived in a state of nervous depression since
the 1880's, felt himself put on one side by the child, and felt ill
at ease in an environment of, as he put it in the autobiographical
_The Quarantine Master_, 'articles of food, excrements, wet-nurses
treated like milch-cows, cooks and decaying vegetables.' He longed
for cleanliness and peace, and in letters to an artist friend he
spoke of entering a monastery. He even thought of founding one
himself in the Ardennes and drew up detailed schemes for rules,
dress, and food. The longing to get away and common interests with
his Parisian friend (a musician named Leopold Littmansson)
attracted Strindberg to Paris, where he settled down in the
beginning of the autumn 1894. His wife joined him, but left again
at the close of the autumn. In reality Strindberg was at this time
almost impossible to live with. Persecution mania and hallucinations
took possession of him and his morbid suspicions knew no bounds. In
spite of this he was half conscious that there was something wrong
with his mental faculties, and in the beginning of 1895, assisted
by the Swedish Minister, he went by his own consent to the St.
Louis Hospital in Paris. During his chemical experiments, in which
among other things he tried to produce gold, he had burnt his hands,
so that he had to seek medical attention on that account also. He
wrote about this in a letter:
'I am going to hospital because I am ill, because my doctor has
sent me there, and because I need to be looked after like a child,
because I am ruined. ... And it torments me and grieves me, my
nervous system is rotten, paralytic, hysterical. ...'
Never before had Strindberg lived in such distress as at this
period, both physically and mentally. With shattered nerves,
sometimes over the verge of insanity, without any means of
existence other than what friends managed to scrape together,
separated from his second wife, who had opened proceedings for
divorce, far from his native land and without any prospects for the
future, he was brought to a profound religious crisis. With almost
incredible fortitude he succeeded in fighting his way through this
difficult period, with the remarkable result that the former Bohemian,
atheist, and scoffer was gradually able to emerge with the firm
assurance of a prophet, and even enter a new creative period, perhaps
mightier than before. One cannot help reflecting that a man capable of
overcoming a crisis of such a formidable character and of several years'
duration, as this one of Strindberg's had been, with reason intact and
even with increased creative power, in reality, in spite of his
hypersensitive nervous system, must have been an unusually strong man
both physically and mentally.
Upon trying to define more closely what actual relation the play
has to those events of Strindberg's restless life, of which we have
given a rough outline, we find that for the most part the author
has undoubtedly made use of his own experiences, but has adapted,
combined and added to them still more, so that the result is a
mixture of real experience and imagination, all moulded into a
carefully worked out artistic form.
If to begin with, we dwell for a while on Part I it is evident that
the hurried wanderings of THE STRANGER and THE LADY between the
street corner, the room in the hotel, the sea and the Rose Room
with the mother-in-law, have their foundation--often in detail--in
Strindberg's rovings with Frida Uhl. I will give a few examples. In
a book by Frida Uhl about her marriage to the Swedish genius
(splendid in parts but not very reliable) she recalls that the
month before her marriage she took rooms at Neustaedtische
Kirchstrasse 1, in Berlin, facing a Gothic church in Dorotheenstrasse,
situated at the cross-roads between the post office in Dorotheenstrasse
and the cafe 'Zum Schwarzen Ferkel' in Wilhelmstrasse. This Berlin
environment appears to be almost exactly reproduced in the
introductory scene of Part I, where THE STRANGER and THE LADY meet
outside a little Gothic church with a post office and cafe adjoining.
The happy scenes by the sea are, of course, pleasant recollections
from Heligoland, and the many discussions about money matters in
the midst of the honeymoon are quite explicable when we know how
the dramatist was continually haunted by money troubles, even if
occasionally he received a big fee, and that this very financial
insecurity was one of the chief reasons why Frida Uhl's father
opposed the marriage. Again, the country scenes which follow in
Part I, shift to the hilly country round the Danube, with their
Catholic Calvaries and expiation chapels, where Strindberg lived
with his parents-in-law in Mondsee and with his wife's grandparents
in Dornach and the neighbouring village Klam, with its mill, its
smithy, and its gloomy ravine. The Rose Room was the name he gave
to the room in which he lived during his stay with his mother-in-law
and his daughter Kerstin in Klam in the autumn of 1896, as he has
himself related in one of his autobiographical books _Inferno_.
In this way we could go on, showing how the localities which are
to be met with in the drama often correspond in detail to the
places Strindberg had visited in the course of his pilgrimage
during the years 1893-1898. Space prevents us, however, from
entering on a more detailed analysis in this respect.
That THE STRANGER represents Strindberg's _alter ego_ is evident in
many ways, even apart from the fact that THE STRANGER'S wanderings
from place to place, as we have already seen, bear a direct
relation to those of Strindberg himself. THE STRANGER is an author,
like Strindberg; his childhood of hate is Strindberg's own; other
details--such as for instance that THE STRANGER has refused to
attend his father's funeral, that the Parish Council has wanted to
take his child away from him, that on account of his writings he
has suffered lawsuits, illness, poverty, exile, divorce; that in
the police description he is characterised as a person without a
permanent situation, with uncertain income; married, but had
deserted his wife and left his children; known as entertaining
subversive opinions on social questions (by _The Red Room_, _The
New Realm_ and other works Strindberg became the great standard-bearer
of the Swedish Radicals in their campaign against conventionalism
and bureaucracy); that he gives the impression of not being in full
possession of his senses; that he is sought by his children's
guardian because of unpaid maintenance allowance--everything
corresponds to the experiences of the unfortunate Strindberg
himself, with all his bitter defeats in life and his triumphs in
the world of letters.
Those scenes where THE STRANGER is uncertain whether the people he
sees before him are real or not--he catches hold of THE BEGGAR'S
arm to feel whether he is a real, live person--or those occasions
when he appears as a visionary or thought-reader--he describes the
kitchen in his wife's parental home without ever having seen it,
and knows her thoughts before she has expressed them--have their
deep foundation in Strindberg's mental make-up, especially as it
was during the period of tension in the middle of the 1890's,
termed the Inferno period, because at that time Strindberg thought
that he lived in hell. Our most prominent student of Strindberg,
Professor Martin Lamm, wrote about this in his work on Strindberg's
'In order to understand the first part of _The Road to Damascus_ we
must take into consideration that the author had not yet shaken off
his terrifying visions and persecutionary hallucinations. He can
play with them artistically, sometimes he feels tempted to make a
joke of them, but they still retain for him their "terrifying
semi-reality." It is this which makes the drama so bewildering,
but at the same time so vigorous and affecting. Later, when
depicting dream states, he creates an artful blend of reality and
poetry. He produces more exquisite works of art, but he no longer
gives the same anguished impression of a soul striving to free
itself from the meshes of his _idees fixes_.'
With his hypersensitive nervous system Strindberg, like THE
STRANGER, really gives the impression of having been a visionary.
For instance, his author friend Albert Engstroem, has told how one
evening during a stay far out in the Stockholm skerries, far from
all civilisation, Strindberg suddenly had a feeling that his little
daughter was ill, and wanted to return to town at once. True
enough, it turned out that the girl had fallen ill just at the time
when Strindberg had felt the warning. As regards thought-reading,
it appears that at the slightest change in expression and often for
no perceptible reason at all, Strindberg would draw the most
definite conclusions, as definite as from an uttered word or an
action. This we have to keep in mind, for instance, when judging
Strindberg's accusations against his wife in _Le Plaidoyer d'un
Fou_, the book which THE LADY in _The Road to Damascus_ is tempted
to read, in spite of having been forbidden by THE STRANGER, with
tragic results. In Part III of the drama Strindberg lets THE
STRANGER discuss this thought-reading problem with his first wife.
THE STRANGER says:
'We made a mistake when we were living together, because we accused
each other of wicked thoughts before they'd become actions; and
lived in mental reservations instead of realities. For instance, I
once noticed how you enjoyed the defiling gaze of a strange man,
and I accused you of unfaithfulness';
to which THE LADY, to Strindberg's satisfaction, has to reply:
'You were wrong to do it, and right. Because my thoughts were
As regards the other figures in the gallery of characters in Part
I, we have already shown THE LADY as the identical counterpart in
all essentials of Strindberg's second wife, Frida Uhl. Like the
latter THE LADY is a Catholic, has a grandfather, Dr. Cornelius
Reisch--called THE OLD MAN in the drama--whose passion is shooting;
and a mother, Maria Uhl, with a predilection for religious
discourses in Strindberg's own style; another detail, the fact that
she was eighteen years old before she crossed to the other shore to
see what had shimmered dimly in the distant haze, corresponds with
Frida Uhl's statement that she had been confined in a convent until
she was eighteen and a half years old. On the other hand, the chief
female character of the drama does not correspond to her real life
counterpart in that she is supposed to have been married to a
doctor before eloping with THE STRANGER, Strindberg. Here
reminiscences from Strindberg's first marriage play a part. Siri
von Essen, Strindberg's first wife, was married to an officer,
Baron Wrangel, and both the Wrangels received Strindberg kindly in
their home as a friend. Love quickly flared up between Siri von
Essen-Wrangel and Strlndberg. She obtained a divorce from her
husband and married Strindberg. Baron von Wrangel shortly
afterwards married again, a cousin of Siri von Essen. Knowing these
matrimonial complications we understand how Strindberg must have
felt when, on the point of leaving for Heligoland to marry Frida
Uhl, he met his former wife's (Siri von Essen) first husband, Baron
Wrangel, on Lehrter Station in Berlin, and found that, like
Strindberg himself, he was on a lover's errand. Knowing all this we
need not be surprised at the extremely complicated matrimonial
relations in _The Road to Damascus_, where, for example, for the
sake of THE STRANGER, THE DOCTOR obtains a divorce from THE LADY in
order to marry THE STRANGER'S first wife. In addition to Baron
Wrangel a doctor in the town of Ystad, in the south of Sweden--Dr.
Eliasson who attended Strindberg during his most difficult period--
has stood as a model for THE DOCTOR. We note in particular that the
description of the doctor's house enclosing a courtyard on three
sides, tallies with a type of building which is characteristic of
the south of Sweden. When THE DOCTOR ruthlessly explains to THE
STRANGER that the asylum, 'The Good Help,' was not a hospital but a
lunatic asylum, he expresses Strindberg's own misgivings that the
St. Louis Hospital, of which, as mentioned above, Strindberg was
an inmate in the beginning of the year 1895, was really to be
regarded as a lunatic asylum.
Even minor characters, such as CAESAR and THE BEGGAR have their
counterparts in real life, even though in the main they are
fantastic creations of his imagination. The guardian of his
daughter, Kerstin, a relative of Frida Uhl's, was called Dr. Caesar
R. v. Weyr. Regarding THE BEGGAR it may be enough to quote
Strindberg's feelings when confronted with the collections made by
his Paris friends:
'I am a beggar who has no right to go to cafes. Beggar! That is the
right word; it rings in my ears and brings a burning blush to my
cheeks, the blush of shame, humiliation, and rage!
'To think that six weeks ago I sat at this table! My theatre
manager addressed me as Dear Master; journalists strove to
interview me, the photographer begged to be allowed to sell my
portrait. And now: a beggar, a branded man, an outcast from
After this we can understand why Strindberg in _The Road to
Damascus_ apparently in such surprising manner is seized by the
suspicion that he is himself the beggar.
We have thus seen that Part I of _The Road to Damascus_ is at the
same time a free creation of fantasy and a drama of portrayal. The
elements of realism are starkly manifest, but they are moulded and
hammered into a work of art by a force of combinative imagination
rising far above the task of mere descriptive realism. The scenes
unroll themselves in calculated sequence up to the central asylum
picture, from there to return in reverse order through the second
half of the drama, thus symbolising life's continuous repetition of
itself, Kierkegaard's _Gentagelse_. The first part of _The Road to
Damascus_ is the one most frequently produced on the stage. This is
understandable, having regard to its firm structure and the
consistency of its faith in a Providence directing the fortunes and
misfortunes of man, whether the individual rages in revolt or
submits in quiet resignation.
The second part of _The Road to Damascus_ is dominated by the
scenes of the great alchemist banquet which, in all its fantastic
oddity, is one of the most suggestive ever created on the ancient
theme of the fickleness of fortune. It was suggested above that
there were two factors beyond all others binding Strindberg to the
world and making him hesitate before the monastery; one was woman,
from whom he sets himself free in Part II, after the birth of a
child--precisely as in his marriage to Frida Uhl--the other was
scientific honour, in its highest phase equivalent, to Strindberg,
to the power to produce gold. Countless were the experiments for
this purpose made by Strindberg in his primitive laboratories, and
countless his failures. To the world-famous author, literary honour
meant little as opposed to the slightest prospect of being
acknowledged as a prominent scientist. Harriet Bosse has told me
that Strindberg seldom said anything about his literary work, never
was interested in what other people thought of them, or troubled to
read the reviews; but on the other hand he would often, with
sparkling eyes and childish pride, show her strips of paper,
stained at one end with some golden-brown substance. 'Look,' he
said, 'this is pure gold, and I have made it!' In face of the
stubborn scepticism of scientific experts Strindberg was, however,
driven to despair as to his ability, and felt his dreams of fortune
shattered, as did THE STRANGER at the macabre banquet given in his
honour--a banquet which was, as a matter of fact, planned by his
Paris friends, not, as Strindberg would have liked to believe, in
honour of the great scientist, but to the great author.
In Part I of _The Road to Damascus_, THE STRANGER replies with a
hesitating 'Perhaps' when THE LADY wants to lead him to the
protecting Church; and at the end of Part II he exclaims: 'Come,
priest, before I change my mind'; but in Part III his decision is
final, he enters the monastery. The reason is that not even THE
LADY in her third incarnation had shown herself capable of
reconciling him to life. The wedding day scenes just before,
between Harriet Bosse and the ageing author, form, however, the
climax of Part III and are among the most poetically moving that
Strindberg has ever written.
Besides having his belief in the rapture of love shattered, THE
STRANGER also suffers disappointment at seeing his child fall short
of expectations. The meeting between the daughter Sylvia and THE
STRANGER probably refers to an episode from the summer of 1899,
when Strindberg, after long years of suffering in foreign
countries, saw his beloved Swedish skerries again, and also his
favourite daughter Greta, who had come over from Finland to meet
him. Contrary to the version given in the drama, the reunion of
father and daughter seems to have been very happy and cordial.
However, it is typical of the fate-oppressed Strindberg that in his
work even the happiest summer memories become tinged with black.
Once and for all the dark colours on his palette were the most
The final entry into the monastery was more a symbol for the
struggling author's dream of peace and atonement than a real thing
in his life. It is true he visited the Benedictine monastery,
Maredsous, in Belgium in 1898, and its well stocked library came to
play a certain part In the drama, but already he realised, after
one night's sojourn there, that he had no call for the monastic
Seen as a whole the trilogy marks a turning point in Strindberg's
dramatic production. The logical, calculated concentration of his
naturalistic work of the 1880's has given way to a freer form of
composition, in which the atmosphere has come to mean more than the
dialogue, the musical and dreamlike qualities more than
conciseness. _The Road to Damascus_ abounds with details from real
life, reproduced in sharply naturalistic manner, but these are not,
as things were in his earlier works viewed by the author _a priori_
as reality but become wrapped in dreamlike mystery. Just as with
_Lady Julia_ and _The Father_ Strindberg ushered in the naturalistic
drama of the 1880's, so in the years around the turn of the century
he was, with his symbolist cycle _The Road to Damascus_, to break
new ground for European drama which had gradually become stuck in
fixed formulas. _The Road to Damascus_ became a landmark in world
literature both as a brilliant work of art and as bearer of new
AN OLD MAN
less important figures
SCENE I Street Corner SCENE XVII
SCENE II Doctor's House SCENE XVI
SCENE III Room in an Hotel SCENE XV
SCENE IV By the Sea SCENE XIV
SCENE V On the Road SCENE XIII
SCENE VI In a Ravine SCENE XII
SCENE VII In a Kitchen SCENE XI
SCENE VIII The 'Rose' Room SCENE X
SCENE IX Convent
THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
English Version by
First Performance in England by the Stage Society at the
Westminster Theatre, 2nd May 1937
THE STRANGER Francis James
THE LADY Wanda Rotha
THE BEGGAR Alexander Sarner
FIRST MOURNER George Cormack
SECOND MOURNER Kenneth Bell
THIRD MOURNER Peter Bennett
FOURTH MOURNER Bryan Sears
FIFTH MOURNER Michael Boyle
SIXTH MOURNER Stephen Patrick
THE LANDLORD Stephen Jack
THE DOCTOR Neil Porter
HIS SISTER Olga Martin
CAESAR Peter Land
A WAITER Peter Bennett
AN OLD MAN A. Corney Grain
A MOTHER Frances Waring
THE SMITH Norman Thomas
THE MILLER'S WIFE Julia Sandham
AN ABBESS Natalia Moya
A CONFESSOR Tristan Rawson
PRODUCER Carl H. Jaffe
ASSISTANT PRODUCER Ossia Trilling
[Street Corner with a seat under a tree; the side-door of a small
Gothic Church nearby; also a post office and a cafe with chairs
outside it. Both post office and cafe are shut. A funeral march is
heard off, growing louder sand then fainter. A STRANGER is standing
on the edge of the pavement and seems uncertain which way to go. A
church clock strikes: first the four quarters and then the hour. It
is three o'clock. A LADY enters and greets the STRANGER. She is
about to pass him, but stops.]
STRANGER. It's you! I almost knew you'd come.
LADY. You wanted me: I felt it. But why are you waiting here?
STRANGER. I don't know. I must wait somewhere.
LADY. Who are you waiting for?
STRANGER. I wish I could tell you! For forty years I've been
waiting for something: I believe they call it happiness; or the end
of unhappiness. (Pause.) There's that terrible music again. Listen!
But don't go, I beg you. I'll feel afraid, if you do.
LADY. We met yesterday for the first time; and talked for four
hours. You roused my sympathy, but you mustn't abuse my kindness on
STRANGER. I know that well enough. But I beg you not to leave me.
I'm a stranger here, without friends; and my few acquaintances seem
more like enemies.
LADY. You have enemies everywhere. You're lonely everywhere. Why
did you leave your wife and children?
STRANGER. I wish I knew. I wish I knew why I still live; why I'm
here now; where I should go and what I should do! Do you believe
that the living can be damned already?
STRANGER. Look at me.
LADY. Hasn't life brought you a single pleasure?
STRANGER. Not one! If at any time I thought so, it was merely a
trap to tempt me to prolong my miseries. If ripe fruit fell into my
hand, it was poisoned or rotten at the core.
LADY. What is your religion--if you'll forgive the question?
STRANGER. Only this: that when I can bear things no longer, I shall
STRANGER. Into annihilation. If I don't hold life in my hand, at
least I hold death. ... It gives me an amazing feeling of power.
LADY. You're playing with death!
STRANGER. As I've played with life. (Pause.) I was a writer. But in
spite of my melancholy temperament I've never been able to take
anything seriously--not even my worst troubles. Sometimes I even
doubt whether life itself has had any more reality than my books.
(A De Profundis is heard from the funeral procession.) They're
coming back. Why must they process up and down these streets?
LADY. Do you fear them?
STRANGER. They annoy me. The place might be bewitched. No, it's not
death I fear, but solitude; for then one's not alone. I don't know
who's there, I or another, but in solitude one's not alone. The air
grows heavy and seems to engender invisible beings, who have life
and whose presence can be felt.
LADY. You've noticed that?
STRANGER. For some time I've noticed a great deal; but not as I
used to. Once I merely saw objects and events, forms and colours,
whilst now I perceive ideas and meanings. Life, that once had no
meaning, has begun to have one. Now I discern intention where I
used to see nothing but chance. (Pause.) When I met you yesterday
it struck me you'd been sent across my path, either to save me, or
LADY. Why should I destroy you?
STRANGER. Because it may be your destiny.
LADY. No such idea ever crossed my mind; it was largely sympathy I
felt for you. ... Never, in all my life, have I met anyone like
you. I have only to look at you for the tears to start to my eyes.
Tell me, what have you on your conscience? Have you done something
wrong, that's never been discovered or punished?
STRANGER. You may well ask! No, I've no more sins on my conscience
than other free men. Except this: I determined that life should
never make a fool of me.
LADY. You must let yourself be fooled, more or less, to live at
STRANGER. That would seem a kind of duty; but one I wanted to get
out of. (Pause.) I've another secret. It's whispered in the family
that I'm a changeling.
LADY. What's that?
STRANGER. A child substituted by the elves for the baby that was
LADY. Do you believe in such things?
STRANGER. No. But, as a parable, there's something to be said for
it. (Pause.) As a child I was always crying and didn't seem to take
to life in this world. I hated my parents, as they hated me. I
brooked no constraint, no conventions, no laws, and my longing was
for the woods and the sea.
LADY. Did you ever see visions?
STRANGER. Never. But I've often thought that two beings were
guiding my destiny. One offers me all I desire; but the other's
ever at hand to bespatter the gifts with filth, so that they're
useless to me and I can't touch them. It's true that life has given
me all I asked of it--but everything's turned out worthless to me.
LADY. You've had everything and yet are not content?
STRANGER. That is the curse. ...
LADY. Don't say that! But why haven't you desired things that
transcend this life, that can never be sullied?
STRANGER. Because I doubt if there is a beyond.
LADY. But the elves?
STRANGER. Are merely a fairy story. (Pointing to a seat.) Shall we
LADY. Yes. Who are you waiting for?
STRANGER. Really, for the post office to open. There's a letter for
me--it's been forwarded on but hasn't reached me. (They sit down.)
But tell me something of yourself now. (The Lady takes up her
LADY. There's nothing to tell.
STRANGER. Strangely enough, I should prefer to think of you like
that. Impersonal, nameless--I only do know one of your names. I'd
like to christen you myself--let me see, what ought you to be
called? I've got it. Eve! (With a gesture towards the wings.)
Trumpets! (The funeral march is heard again.) There it is again!
Now I must invent your age, for I don't know how old you are. From
now on you are thirty-four--so you were born in sixty-four.
(Pause.) Now your character, for I don't know that either. I shall
give you a good character, your voice reminds me of my mother--I
mean the idea of a mother, for my mother never caressed me, though
I can remember her striking me. You see, I was brought up in hate!
An eye for an eye--a tooth for a tooth. You see this scar on my
forehead? That comes from a blow my brother gave me with an axe,
after I'd struck him with a stone. I never went to my father's
funeral, because he turned me out of the house when my sister
married. I was born out of wedlock, when my family were bankrupt
and in mourning for an uncle who had taken his life. Now you know
my family! That's the stock I come from. Once I narrowly escaped
fourteen years' hard labour--so I've every reason to thank the
elves, though I can't be altogether pleased with what they've done.
LADY. I like to hear you talk. But don't speak of the elves: it
makes me sad.
STRANGER. Frankly, I don't believe in them; yet they're always
making themselves felt. Are these elves the souls of the unhappy,
who still await redemption? If so, I am the child of an evil
spirit. Once I believed I was near redemption--through a woman.
But no mistake could have been greater: I was plunged into the
LADY. You must be unhappy. But this won't go on always.
STRANGER. Do you think church bells and Holy Water could comfort
me? I've tried them; they only made things worse. I felt like the
Devil when he sees the sign of the cross. (Pause.) Let's talk about
LADY. There's no need. (Pause.) Have you been blamed for misusing
STRANGER. I've been blamed for everything. In the town I lived in
no one was so hated as I. Lonely I came in and lonely I went out.
If I entered a public place people avoided me. If I wanted to rent
a room, it would be let. The priests laid a ban on me from the
pulpit, teachers from their desks and parents in their homes. The
church committee wanted to take my children from me. Then I
blasphemously shook my fist ... at heaven!
LADY. Why did they hate you so?
STRANGER. How should I know! Yet I do! I couldn't endure to see men
suffer. So I kept on saying, and writing, too: free yourselves, I
will help you. And to the poor I said: do not let the rich exploit
you. And to the women: do not allow yourselves to be enslaved by
the men. And--worst of all--to the children: do not obey your
parents, if they are unjust. What followed was impossible to
foresee. I found that everyone was against me: rich and poor, men
and women, parents and children. And then came sickness and
poverty, beggary and shame, divorce, law-suits, exile, solitude,
and now. ... Tell me, do you think me mad?
STRANGER. You must be the only one. But I'm all the more grateful.
LADY (rising). I must leave you now.
STRANGER. You, too?
LADY. And you mustn't stay here.
STRANGER. Where should I go?
LADY. Home. To your work.
STRANGER. But I'm no worker. I'm a writer.
LADY. I know. But I didn't want to hurt you. Creative power is
something given you, that can also taken away. See you don't
STRANGER. Where are you going?
LADY. Only to a shop.
STRANGER (after a pause). Tell me, are you a believer?
LADY. I am nothing.
STRANGER. All the better: you have a future. How I wish I were your
old blind father, whom you could lead to the market place to sing
for his bread. My tragedy is I cannot grow old that's what happens
to children of the elves, they have big heads and never only cry. I
wish I were someone's dog. I could follow him and never be alone
again. I'd get a meal sometimes, a kick now and then, a pat
perhaps, a blow often. ...
LADY. Now I must go. Good-bye. (She goes out.)
STRANGER (absent-mindedly). Good-bye. (He remains on the seat. He
takes off his hat and wipes his forehead. Then he draws on the
ground with his stick. A BEGGAR enters. He has a strange look and
is collecting objects from the gutter.) White are you picking up,
BEGGAR. Why call me that? I'm no beggar. Have I asked you for
STRANGER. I beg your pardon. It's so hard to judge men from
BEGGAR. That's true. For instance, can you guess who I am?
STRANGER. I don't intend to try. It doesn't interest me.
BEGGAR. No one can know that in advance. Interest commonly comes
afterwards--when it's too late. Virtus post nummos!
STRANGER. What? Do beggars know Latin?
BEGGAR. You see, you're interested already. Omne tulit punctum qui
miscuit utile dulci. I have always succeeded in everything I've
undertaken, because I've never attempted anything. I should like to
call myself Polycrates, who found the gold ring in the fish's
stomach. Life has given me all I asked of it. But I never asked
anything; I grew tired of success and threw the ring away. Yet, now
I've grown old I regret it. I search for it in the gutters; but as
the search takes time, in default of my gold ring I don't disdain a
few cigar stumps. ...
STRANGER. I don't know whether this beggar's cynical or mad.
BEGGAR. I don't know either.
STRANGER. Do you know who I am?
BEGGAR. No. And it doesn't interest me.
STRANGER. Well, interest commonly comes afterwards. ... You see you
tempt me to take the words out of your mouth. And that's the same
thing as picking up other people's cigars.
BEGGAR. So you won't follow my example?
STRANGER. What's that scar on your forehead?
BEGGAR. I got it from a near relation.
STRANGER. Now you frighten me! Are you real? May I touch you? (He
touches his arm.) There's no doubt of it. ... Would you deign to
accept a small coin in return for a promise to seek Polycrates'
ring in another part of the town? (He hands him a coin.) Post
nummos virtus. ... Another echo. You must go at once.
BEGGAR. I will. But you've given me far too much. I'll return
three-quarters of it. Now we owe one another nothing but
STRANGER. Friendship! Am I a friend of yours?
BEGGAR. Well, I am of yours. When one's alone in the world one
can't be particular.
STRANGER. Then let me tell you you forget yourself...
BEGGAR. Only too pleased! But when we meet again I'll have a word
of welcome for you. (Exit.)
STRANGER (sitting down again and drawing in the dust with his
stick). Sunday afternoon! A long, dank, sad time, after the usual
Sunday dinner of roast beef, cabbage and watery potatoes. Now the
older people are testing, the younger playing chess and smoking.
The servants have gone to church and the shops are shut. This
frightful afternoon, this day of rest, when there's nothing to
engage the soul, when it's as hard to meet a friend as to get into
a wine shop. (The LADY comes back again, she is noun wearing a
flower at her breast.) Strange! I can't speak without being
contradicted at once!
LADY. So you're still here?
STRANGER. Whether I sit here, or elsewhere, and write in the sand
doesn't seem to me to matter--as long so I write in the sand.
LADY. What are you writing? May I see?
STRANGER. I think you'll find: Eve 1864. ... No, don't step on it.
LADY. What happens then?
STRANGER. A disaster for you ... and for me.
LADY. You know that?
STRANGER. Yes, and more. That the Christmas rose you're wearing is
a mandragora. Its symbolical meaning is malice and calumny; but it
was once used in medicine for the healing of madness. Will you give
LADY (hesitating). As medicine?
STRANGER. Of course. (Pause.) Have you read my books?
LADY. You know I have. And that it's you I have to thank for giving
me freedom and a belief in human rights and human dignity.
STRANGER. Then you haven't read the recent ones?
LADY. No. And if they're not like the earlier ones I don't want to.
STRANGER. Then promise never to open another book of mine.
LADY. Let me think that over. Very well, I promise.
STRANGER. Good! But see you keep your promise. Remember what
happened to Bluebeard's wife when curiosity tempted her into the
forbidden chamber. ...
LADY. You see, already you make demands like those of a Bluebeard.
What you don't see, or have long since forgotten, is that I'm
married, and that my husband's a doctor, and that he admires your
work. So that his house is open to you, if you wish to be made
STRANGER. I've done all I can to forget it. I've expunged it from
my memory so that it no longer has any reality for me.
LADY. If that's so, will you come home with me to-night?
STRANGER. No. Will you come with me?
STRANGER. Anywhere! I have no home, only a trunk. Money I sometimes
have--though not often. It's the one thing life has capriciously
refused me, perhaps because I never desired it intensely enough.
(The LADY shakes her head.) Well? What are you thinking?
LADY. I'm surprised I'm not angry with you. But you're not serious.
STRANGER. Whether I am or not's all one to me. Ah! There's the
organ! It won't be long now before the drink shops open.
LADY. Is it true _you_ drink?
STRANGER. Yes. A great deal! Wine makes my soul from her prison, up
into the firmament, where she what has never yet been seen, and
hears what men never yet heard. ...
LADY. And the day after?
STRANGER. I have the most delightful scruples of conscience! I
experience the purifying emotions of guilt and repentance. I enjoy
the sufferings of the body, whilst my soul hovers like smoke about
my head. It is as if one were suspended between Life and Death,
when the spirit feels that she has already opened her pinions and
could fly aloft, if she would.
LADY. Come into the church for a moment. You'll hear no sermon,
only the beautiful music of vespers.
STRANGER. No. Not into church! It depresses me because I feel I
don't belong there. ... That I'm an unhappy soul and that it's as
impossible for me to re-enter as to become a child again.
LADY. You feel all that ... already?
STRANGER. Yes. I've got that far. I feel as if I lay hacked in
pieces and were being slowly melted in Medea's cauldron. Either I
shall be sent to the soap-boilers, or arise renewed from my own
dripping! It depends on Medea's skill!
LADY. That sounds like the word of an oracle. We must see if you
can't become a child again.
STRANGER. We should have to start with the cradle; and this time
with the right child.
LADY. Exactly! Wait here for me whilst I go into the church. If the
cafe were open I'd ask you please not to drink. But luckily it's
(The LADY exits. The STRANGER sits down again and draws in the
sand. Enter six funeral attendants in brown with some mourners. One
of them carries a banner with the insignia of the Carpenters,
draped in brown crepe; another a large axe decorated with spruce, a
third a cushion with a chairman's mallet. They stop outside the
cafe and wait.)
STRANGER. Excuse me, whose funeral have you been attending?
FIRST MOURNER. A house-breaker's. (He imitates the ticking of a
STRANGER. A real house-breaker? Or the insect sort, that lodges in
the woodwork and goes 'tick-tick'?
FIRST MOURNER. Both--but mainly the insect sort. What do they call
STRANGER (to himself). He wants to fool me into saying the
death-watch beetle. So I won't. You mean a burglar?
SECOND MOURNER. No. (The clock is again heard ticking.)
STRANGER. Are you trying to frighten me? Or does the dead man work
miracles? In that case I'd better explain that my nerves are good,
and that I don't believe in miracles. But I do find it strange that
the mourners wear brown. Why not black? It's cheap and suitable.
THIRD MOURNER. To us, in our simplicity, it looks black; but if
Your Honour wishes it, it shall look brown to you.
STRANGER. A queer company! They give me an uneasy feeling I'd like
to ascribe to the wine I drank yesterday. If I were to ask if that
were spruce, you'd probably say--well what?
FIRST MOURNER. Vine leaves.
STRANGER. I thought it would not be spruce! The cafe's opening, at
last! (The Cafe opens, the STRANGER sits at a table and is served
with wine. The MOURNERS sit at the other tables.) They must have
been glad to be rid of him, if the mourners start drinking as soon
as the funeral's over.
FIRST MOURNER. He was a good-for-nothing, who couldn't take life
STRANGER. And who probably drank?
SECOND MOURNER. Yes.
THIRD MOURNER. And let others support his wife and children.
STRANGER. He shouldn't have done so. Is that why his friends speak
so well of him now? Please don't shake my table when I'm drinking.
SECOND MOURNER. When I'm drinking, I don't mind.
STRANGER. Well, I do. There's a great difference between us! (The
MOURNERS whisper together. The BEGGAR comes back.) Here's the
BEGGAR (sitting down at a table). Wine. Moselle!
LANDLORD (consulting a police last). I can't serve you: you've not
paid your taxes. Here's your name, age and profession, and the
decision of the court.
BEGGAR. Omnia serviliter pro dominatione! I'm a free man with a
university education. I refused to pay taxes because I didn't want
to become a member of parliament. Moselle!
LANDLORD. You'll get free transport to the poor house, if you don't
STRANGER. Couldn't you gentlemen settle this somewhere else. You're
disturbing your patrons.
LANDLORD. You can witness I'm in the right.
STRANGER. No. The whole thing's too distressing. Even without
paying taxes he has the right to enjoy life's small pleasures.
LANDLORD. So you're the kind who'd absolve vagabonds from their
STRANGER. This is too much! I'd have you know that I'm a famous
man. (The LANDLORD and MOURNERS laugh.)
LANDLORD. Infamous, probably! Let me look at the police list, and
see if the description tallies: thirty-eight, brown hair,
moustache, blue eyes; no settled employment, means unknown;
married, but has deserted his wife and children; well known for
revolutionary views on social questions: gives impression he is not
in full possession of his faculties. ... It fits!
STRANGER (rising, pale and taken aback). What?
LANDLORD. Yes. It fits all right.
BEGGAR. Perhaps he's on the list. And not me!
LANDLORD. It looks like it. In any case, both of you had better
BEGGAR (to the STRANGER). Shall we?
STRANGER. We? This begins to look like a conspiracy.
(The church bells are heard. The sun comes out and illuminates the
coloured rose window above the church door, which is now opened,
disclosing the interior. The organ is heard and the choir singing
Ave Maris Stella.)
LADY (coming from the church). Where are you? What are you doing?
Why did you call me? Must you hang on a woman's skirts like a
STRANGER. I'm afraid now. Things are happening that have no natural
LADY. But you were afraid of nothing. Not even death!
STRANGER. Death ... no. But of something else, the unknown.
LADY. Listen. Give me your hand. You're ill, I'll take you to a
STRANGER. If you like. But tell me: is this carnival, or ... reality?
LADY. It's real enough.
STRANGER. This beggar must be a wretched fellow. Is it true he
LADY. He will, if you go on drinking. Now go to the post office and
get your letter. And then come with me.
STRANGER. No, I won't. It'll only be about lawsuits.
LADY. If not?
STRANGER. Malicious gossip.
LADY. Well, do as you wish. No one can escape his fate. At this
moment I feel a higher power is sitting in judgment on us and has
made a decision.
STRANGER. You feel that, too! I heard the hammer fall just now; and
the chairs being pushed back. The clerk's being sent to find me!
Oh, the suspense! No, I can't follow you.
LADY. Tell me, what have you done to me? In the church I found I
couldn't pray. A light on the altar was extinguished and an icy
wind blew in my face when I heard you call me.
STRANGER. I didn't call you. But I wanted you.
LADY. You're not as weak as you pretend. You have great strength;
and I'm afraid of you. ...
STRANGER. When I'm alone I've no strength at all; but if I can find
a single companion I grow strong. I shall be strong now; and so
I'll follow you.
LADY. Perhaps you can free me from the werewolf.
STRANGER. Who's he?
LADY. That's what I call him.
STRANGER. Count on me. Killing dragons, freeing princesses,
defeating werewolves--that is Life!
LADY. Then come, my liberator!
(She draws her veil over her face, kisses him on the mouth and
hurries out. The STRANGER stands where he is for a moment,
surprised and stunned. A loud chord sung by women's voices, rather
like a cry, is heard from the church. The rose window suddenly
grows dark and the tree above the seat is shaken by the wind. The
MOURNERS rise and look at the sky, as if they could see something
terrifying. The STRANGER hurries out after the LADY.)
[Courtyard enclosed on three sides by a single-storied house with a
tiled roof. Small windows in all three facades. Right, verandah
with glass doors. Left, climbing roses and bee-hives outside the
windows. In the middle of the courtyard a woodpile in the form of a
cupola. A well beside it. The top of a walnut tree is seen above
the central facade of the house. In the corner, right, a garden
gate. By the well a large tortoise. On right, entrance below to a
wine-cellar. An ice-chest and dust-bin. The DOCTOR'S SISTER enters
from the verandah with a telegram.]
SISTER. Now misfortune will fall on your house.
DOCTOR. When has it not, my dear sister?
SISTER. This time. ... Ingeborg's coming and bringing ... guess
DOCTOR. Wait! I know, because I've long foreseen this, even desired
it, for he's a writer I've always admired. I've learnt much from
him and often wished to meet him. Now he's coming, you say. Where
did Ingeborg meet him?
SISTER. In town, it seems. Probably in some literary _salon_.
DOCTOR. I've often wondered whether this man was the boy of the
same name who was my friend at school. I hope not; for he seemed
one that fortune would treat harshly. And in a life-time he'll have
given his unhappy tendencies full scope.
SISTER. Don't let him come here. Go out. Say you're engaged.
DOCTOR. No. One can't escape one's fate.
SISTER. But you've never bowed your head to anyone! Why crawl
before this spectre, and call him fate?
DOCTOR. Life has taught me to. I've wasted time and energy in
fighting the inevitable.
SISTER. But why allow your wife to behave like this? She'll
compromise you both.
DOCTOR. You think so? Because, when I made her break off her
engagement I held out false hopes to her of a life of freedom,
instead of the slavery she'd known. Besides, I could never love her
if I were in a position to give her orders.
SISTER. You'd be friends with your enemy?
DOCTOR. Oh ...!
SISTER. Will you let her bring someone into the house who'll
destroy you? If you only knew how I hate that man.
DOCTOR. I do. His last book's terrible; and shows a certain lack
of mental balance.
SISTER. They ought to shut him up.
DOCTOR. Many people have said so, but I don't think him bad enough.
SISTER. Because you're eccentric yourself, and live in daily
contact with a woman who's mad.
DOCTOR. I admit abnormality has always had a strong attraction for
me, and originality is at least not commonplace. (The syren of a
steamer is heard.) What was that?
SISTER. Your nerves are on edge. It's only the steamer. (Pause.)
Now, I implore you, go away!
DOCTOR. I ought to want to; but I'm held fast. (Pause.) From here I
can see his portrait in my study. The sunlight throws a shadow on
it that changes it completely. It makes him look like. ...
Horrible! You see what I mean?
HATER. The devil! Come away!
DOCTOR. I can't.
SISTER. Then at least defend yourself.
DOCTOR. I always do. But this time I feel a thunder storm
gathering. How often have I tried to fly, and not been able to.
It's as if the earth were iron and I a compass needle. If
misfortune comes, it's not of my fee choice. They've come in
at the door.
SISTER. I heard nothing.
DOCTOR. I did! Now I can see them, too! He _is_ the friend of my
boyhood. He got into trouble at school; but I was blamed and
punished. He was nick-named Caesar, I don't know why.
SISTER. And this man. ...
DOCTOR. That's what always happens. Caesar! (The LADY comes in.)
LADY. I've brought a visitor.
DOCTOR. I know, and he's welcome.
LADY. I left him in the house, to wash.
DOCTOR. Well, are you satisfied with your conquest?
LADY. I think he's the unhappiest man I ever met.
DOCTOR. That's saying a great deal.
LADY. Yes, there's enough unhappiness for all of us.
DOCTOR. There is! (To his SISTER.) Would you ask him to come out
here? (His SISTER goes out.) Have you had an interesting time?
LADY. Yes. I met a number of strange people. Have you had many
DOCTOR. No. The consulting room's empty this morning. I think the
practice is going down.
LADY (kindly). I'm sorry. Tell me, oughtn't that woodpile to be
taken into the house? It only draws the damp.
DOCTOR (without reproach). Yes, and the bees should be killed, too;
and the fruit in the garden picked. But I've no time to do it.
LADY. You're tired.
DOCTOR. Tired of everything.
LADY (without bitterness). And you've a wife who can't even help
DOCTOR (kindly). You mustn't say that, if I don't think so.
LADY (turning towards the verandah). Here he is!
(The STRANGER comes in through the verandah, dressed in a way that
makes him look younger than before. He has an air of forced
candour. He seems to recognise the doctor, and shrinks back, but
DOCTOR. You're very welcome.
STRANGER. It's kind of you.
DOCTOR. You bring good weather with you. And we need it; for it's
rained for six weeks.
STRANGER. Not for seven? It usually rains for seven if it rains on
St. Swithin's. But that's later on--how foolish of me!
DOCTOR. As you're used to town life I'm afraid you'll find the
STRANGER. Oh no. I'm no more at home there than here. Excuse me
asking, but haven't we met before--when we were boys?
(The LADY has sat down at the table and is crocheting.)
STRANGER. Are you sure?
DOCTOR. Perfectly. I've followed your literary career from the
first with great interest; as I know my wife has told you. So
that if we _had_ met I'd certainly have remembered your name.
(Pause.) Well, now you can see how a country doctor lives!
STRANGER. If you could guess what the life of a so-called
liberator's like, you wouldn't envy him.
DOCTOR. I can imagine it; for I've seen how men love their chains.
Perhaps that's as it should be.
STRANGER (listening). Strange. Who's playing in the village?
DOCTOR. I don't know. Do you, Ingeborg?
STRANGER. Mendelssohn's Funeral March! It pursues me. I never know
whether I've heard it or not.
DOCTOR. Do you suffer from hallucinations?
STRANGER. No. But I'm pursued by trivial incidents. Can't you hear
LADY. Someone _is_ playing. Mendelssohn.
DOCTOR. Not surprising.
STRANGER. No. But that it should be played precisely at the right
place, at the right time . ... (He gets up.)
DOCTOR. To reassure you, I'll ask my sister. (Exit through the
STRANGER (to the LADY). I'm stifling here. I can't pass a night
under this roof. Your husband looks like a werewolf and in his
presence you turn into a pillar of salt. Murder has been done in
this house; the place is haunted. I shall escape as soon as I can
find an excuse.
(The DOCTOR comes back.)
DOCTOR. It's the girl at the post office.
STRANGER (nervously). Good. That's all right. You've an original
house. That pile of wood, for instance.
DOCTOR. Yes. It's been struck by lightning twice.
STRANGER. Terrible! And you still keep it?
DOCTOR. That's why. I've made it higher out of defiance; and to
give shade in summer. It's like the prophet's gourd. But in the
autumn it must go into the wood shed.
STRANGER (looking round). Christmas roses, too! Where did you get
them? They're flowering in summer! Everything's upside down here.
DOCTOR. They were given me by a patient. He's not quite sane.
STRANGER. Is he staying in the house?
DOCTOR. Yes. He's a quiet soul, who ponders on the purposelessness
of nature. He thinks it foolish for hellebore to grow in the snow
and freeze; so he puts the plants in the cellar and beds them out
in the spring.
STRANGER. But a madman ... in the house. Most unpleasant!
DOCTOR. He's very harmless.
STRANGER. How did he lose his wits?
DOCTOR. Who can tell. It's a disease of the mind, not the body.
STRANGER. Tell me--is he here--now?
DOCTOR. Yes. He's free to wander in the garden and arrange
creation. But if his presence disquiets you, we can shut him up.
STRANGER. Why aren't such poor devils put out of--their misery?
DOCTOR. It's hard to know whether they're ripe. ...
STRANGER. What for?
DOCTOR. For what's to come.
STRANGER. There _is_ nothing. (Pause.)
DOCTOR. Who knows!
STRANGER. I feel strangely uneasy. Have you medical material ...
specimens ... dead bodies?
DOCTOR. Oh yes. In the ice-box--for the authorities, you know. (He
pulls out an arm and leg.) Look here.
STRANGER. No. Too much like Bluebeard!
DOCTOR (sharply). What do you mean by that? (Looking at the LADY.)
Do you think I kill my wives?
STRANGER. Oh no. It's clear you don't. Is this house haunted, too?
DOCTOR. Oh yes. Ask my wife.(He disappears behind the wood pile
where neither the STRANGER nor the LADY can see him.)
LADY. You needn't whisper, my husband's deaf. Though he can lip
STRANGER. Then let me say that I've never known a more painful
half-hour. We exchange the merest commonplaces, because none of us
has the courage to say what he thinks. I suffered so that the idea
came to me of opening my veins to get relief. But now I'd like to
tell him the truth and have done with it. Shall we say to his face
that we mean to go away, and that you've had enough of his
LADY. If you talk like that I'll begin to hate you. You must behave
under any circumstances.
STRANGER. How well brought up you are! (The DOCTOR now becomes
visible to the STRANGER and the LADY, who continue their
conversation.) Come away with me, before the sun goes down.
(Pause.) Tell me, why did you kiss me yesterday?
LADY. But. ...
STRANGER. Supposing he could hear what we say! I don't trust him.
DOCTOR. What shall we do to amuse our guest?
LADY. He doesn't care much for amusement. His life's not been
(The DOCTOR blows a whistle. The MADMAN comes into the garden. He
wears a laurel wreath and his clothes are curious.)
DOCTOR. Come here, Caesar.
STRANGER (displeased). What? Is he called Caesar?
DOCTOR. No. It's a nickname I gave him, to remind me of a boy I was
at school with.
STRANGER (disturbed). Oh?
DOCTOR. He was involved in a strange incident, and I got all the
LADY (to the STRANGER). You'd never believe a boy could have been
(The STRANGER looks distressed. The MADMAN comes nearer.)
DOCTOR. Caesar, come and make your bow to our famous writer.
CAESAR. Is this the great man?
LADY (to the DOCTOR). Why did you let him come, if it annoys our
DOCTOR. Caesar, you must behave. Or I shall have to whip you.
CAESAR. Yes. He is Caesar, but he's not great. He doesn't even know
which came first, the hen or the egg. But I do.
STRANGER (to the LADY). I shall go. Is this a trap? What am I to
think? In a minute he'll unloose his bees to amuse me.
LADY. Trust me ... whatever happens! And turn your face away when
STRANGER. This werewolf never leaves us.
DOCTOR (looking at his watch). You must excuse me for about an
hour. I've a patient to visit. I hope the time won't hang on your
STRANGER. I'm used to waiting, for what never comes. ...
DOCTOR (to the MADMAN). Come along, Caesar. I must lock you up in
the cellar. (He goes out with the MADMAN.)
STRANGER (to the LADY). What does that mean? Someone's pursuing me!
You told me your husband was well disposed towards me, and I
believed you. But he can't open his mouth without wounding me.
Every word pricks like a goad. Then this funeral march ... it's
really being played! And here, once more, Christmas roses! Why does
everything follow in an eternal round? Dead bodies, beggars,
madmen, human destinies and childhood memories? Come away. Let me
free you from this hell.
LADY. That's why I brought you here. Also that it could never be
said you'd stolen the wife of another. But one thing I must ask
you: can I put my trust in you?
STRANGER. You mean in my feelings?
LADY. I don't speak of them. We're taking them for granted. They'll
endure as long as they'll endure.
STRANGER. You mean in my position? Large sums are owed me. All I
have to do is to write or telegraph. ...
LADY. Then I will trust you. (Putting away her work.) Now go
straight out of that door. Follow the syringa hedge till you
find a gate. We'll meet in the next village.
STRANGER (hesitating). I don't like leaving the back way. I'd
rather have fought it out with him here.
STRANGER. Won't you come with me?
LADY. Yes. But then I must go first. (She turns and blows a kiss
towards the verandah.) My poor werewolf!
ROOM IN AN HOTEL
[The STRANGER enters followed by the LADY. A WAITER.]
STRANGER (who is carrying a suitcase). Is no other room free?
STRANGER. I don't want this one.
LADY. But it's the only one: the other hotels are all full.
STRANGER (to the WAITER). You can go. (The LADY sinks on to a chair
without taking off her hat and coat.) What is it you want?
LADY. I wish you'd kill me.
STRANGER. I don't wonder! Thrown out of hotels, because we're not
married, and pestered by the police, we're forced to come to this
place, the last I'd have wished. To this very room, number eight. ...
Someone must be against me!
LADY. Is this eight?
STRANGER. What? Have you been here before?
LADY. Have you?
LADY. Then let's get away. Onto the road, into the woods. It
doesn't matter where.
STRANGER. I should like to. But after this terrible time I'm as
tired as you are. I felt this was to be our journey's end. I
resisted, I tried to go in the opposite direction, but trains were
late, or we missed them, and we had to come here. To this room! The
devil's in it--at least what I call the devil. But I'll be even
with him yet.
LADY. It seems we'll never find peace on earth again.
STRANGER. Nothing's been changed. The dying Christmas roses.
(Looking at two pictures.) There he is again. And that's the Hotel
Breuer in Montreux. I've stayed there, too.
LADY. Did you go to the post office?
STRANGER. I thought you'd ask me that. I did. And as an answer to
five letters and three telegrams I found a telegram saying that my
publisher had gone away for a fortnight.
LADY. Then we're lost.
STRANGER. Very nearly.
LADY. The waiter will be back in five minutes and ask for our
passports. Then the landlord will come up and tell us to go.
STRANGER. Then only one course remains.
STRANGER. The second's impossible.
LADY. What is the second?
STRANGER. To go to your parents in the country.
LADY. You're beginning to read my thoughts.
STRANGER. We no longer have any secrets from one another.
LADY. Then the whole dream's at an end.
STRANGER. It maybe.
LADY. You must telegraph again.
STRANGER. I ought to, I know. But I can't stir from here. I no
longer believe that what I do can succeed. Someone's paralysed me.
LADY. And me! We decided never to speak of the past and yet we drag
it with us. Look at this carpet. Those flowers seem to form. ...
STRANGER. Him! It's him. He's everywhere. How many hundred times
has he. ... Yet I see someone else in the pattern of the table
cloth. No, it's an illusion! Any moment now I'll hear my funeral
march--then everything will be complete. (Listening.) There!
LADY. I hear nothing.
STRANGER. Am I ... am I. ...
LADY. Shall we go home?
STRANGER. The last place. The worst of all! To arrive like an
adventurer, a beggar. Impossible!
LADY. Yes, I know, but. ... No, it would be too much. To bring
shame, disgrace and sorrow to the old people, and to see you
humiliated, and you me! We could never respect one another again.
STRANGER. It would be worse than death. Yet I feel it's inevitable,
and I begin to long for it, to get it over quickly, if it must be.
LADY (taking out her work). But I don't want to be reviled in your
presence. We must find another way. If only we were married--and
divorce would be easy, because my former marriage isn't recognised
by the laws of the country in which it was contracted. ... All we
need do is to go away and be married by the same priest ... but
that would be wounding for you!
STRANGER. It would match the rest! For this honeymoon's becoming a
LADY. You're right! The landlord will be here in five minutes to
turn us out. There's only one way to end such humiliations. Of our
own free will we must accept the worst. ... I can hear footsteps!
STRANGER. I've foreseen this and am ready. Ready for everything. If
I can't overcome the unseen, I can show you how much I can endure. ...
You must pawn your jewellery. I can buy it back when my publisher
gets home, if he's not drowned bathing or killed in a railway
accident. A man as ambitious as I must be ready to sacrifice his
honour first of all.
LADY. As we're agreed, wouldn't it be better to give up this room?
Oh, God! He's coming now.
STRANGER. Let's go. We'll run the gauntlet of waiters, maids and
servants. Red with shame and pale with indignation. Animals have
their lairs to hide in, but we are forced to flaunt our shame.
(Pause.) Let down your veil.
LADY. So this is freedom!
STRANGER. And I ... am the liberator. (Exeunt.)
BY THE SEA
[A hut on a cliff by the sea. Outside it a table with chairs. The
STRANGER and the LADY are dressed in less sombre clothing and look
younger than in the previous scene. The LADY is doing crochet work.]
STRANGER. Three peaceful happy days at my wife's side, and anxiety
LADY. What do you fear?
STRANGER. That this will not last long.
LADY. Why do you think so?
STRANGER. I don't know. I believe it must end suddenly, terribly.
There's something deceptive even the sunshine and the stillness. I
feel that happiness if not part of my destiny.
LADY. But it's all over! My parents are resigned to what we've
done. My husband understands and has written a kind letter.
STRANGER. What does that matter? Fate spins the web; once more I
hear the mallet fall and the chairs being pushed back from the
table--judgment has been pronounced. Yet that must have happened
before I was born, because even in childhood I began to serve my
sentence. There's no moment in my life on which can look back with
LADY. Unfortunate man! Yet you've had everything you wished from
STRANGER. Everything. Unluckily I forgot to wish for money.
LADY. You're thinking of that again.
STRANGER. Are you surprised?
STRANGER. What is it you're always working at? You sit there like
one of the Fates and draw the threads through your fingers. But go
on. The most beautiful of sights is a woman bending over her work,
or over her child. What are you making?
LADY. Nothing. Crochet work.
STRANGER. It looks like a network of nerves and knots on which
you've fixed your thoughts. The brain must look like that--from
LADY. If only I thought of half the things you imagine. ... But I
think of nothing.
STRANGER. Perhaps that's why I feel so contented when I'm with you.
Why, I find you so perfect that I can no longer imagine life
without you! Now the clouds have blown away. Now the sky is clear!
The wind soft--feel how it caresses us! This is Life! Yes, now I
live. And I feel my spirit growing, spreading, becoming tenuous,
infinite. I am everywhere, in the ocean which is my blood, in the
rocks that are my bones, in the trees, in the flowers; and my head
reaches up to the heavens. I can survey the whole universe. I _am_
the universe. And I feel the power of the Creator within me, for I
am He! I wish I could grasp the all in my hand and refashion it
into something more perfect, more lasting, more beautiful. I want
all creation and created beings to be happy, to be born without
pain, live without suffering, and die in quiet content. Eve! Die
with me now! This moment, for the next will bring sorrow again.
LADY. I'm not ready to die.
STRANGER. Why not?
LADY. I believe there are things I've not yet done. Perhaps I've
not suffered enough.
STRANGER. Is that the purpose of life?
LADY. It seems to be. (Pause.) Now I want to ask one thing of you.
LADY. Don't blaspheme against heaven again, or compare yourself
with the Creator, for then you remind me of Caesar at home.
STRANGER (excitedly). Caesar! How can you say that ...?
LADY. I'm sorry if I've said anything I shouldn't. It was foolish
of me to say 'at home.' Forgive me.
STRANGER. You were thinking that Caesar and I resemble one another
in our blasphemies?
LADY. Of course not.
STRANGER. Strange. I believe you when you say you don't mean to
hurt me; yet you _do_ hurt me, as all the others do. Why?
LADY. Because you're over-sensitive.
STRANGER. You say that again! Do you think I've sensitive hidden
LADY. No. I didn't mean that. And now the spirits of suspicion and
discord are coming between us. Drive them away--at once.
STRANGER. You mustn't say I blaspheme if I use the well-known
words: See, we are like unto the gods.
LADY. But if that's so, why can't you help yourself, or us?
STRANGER. Can't I? Wait. As yet we've only seen the beginning.
LADY. If the end is like it, heaven help us!
STRANGER. I know what you fear; and I meant to hold back a pleasant
surprise. But now I won't torment you longer. (He takes out a
registered letter, not yet opened.) Look!
LADY. The money's come!
STRANGER. This morning. Who can destroy me now?
LADY. Don't speak like that. You know who could.
LADY. He who punishes the arrogance of men.
STRANGER. And their courage. That especially. This was my Achilles'
heel; I bore with everything, except this fearful lack of money.
LADY. May I ask how much they've sent?
STRANGER. I don't know. I've not opened the letter. But I do know
about how much to expect. I'd better look and see. (He opens the
letter.) What? Only an account showing I'm owed nothing! There's
something uncanny in this.
LADY. I begin to think so, too.
STRANGER. I know I'm damned. But I'm ready to hurl the curse back
at him who so nobly cursed me. ... (He throws up the letter.) With
a curse of my own.
LADY. Don't. You frighten me.
STRANGER. Fear me, so long as you don't despise me! The challenge
has been thrown down; now you shall see a conflict between two
great opponents. (He opens his coat and waistcoat and looks
threateningly aloft.) Strike me with your lightning if you dare!
Frighten me with your thunder if you can!
LADY. Don't speak like that.
STRANGER. I will. Who dares break in on my dream of love? Who tears
the cup from my lips; and the woman from my arms? Those who envy
me, be they gods or devils! Little bourgeois gods who parry sword
thrusts with pin-pricks from behind, who won't stand up to their
man, but strike at him with unpaid bills. A backstairs way of
discrediting a master before his servants. They never attack, never
draw, merely soil and decry! Powers, lords and masters! All are the
LADY. May heaven not punish you.
STRANGER. Heaven's blue and silent. The ocean's silent and stupid.
Listen, I can hear a poem--that's what I call it when an idea
begins to germinate in my mind. First the rhythm; this time like
the thunder of hooves and the jingle of spurs and accoutrements.
But there's a fluttering too, like a sail flapping. ... Banners!
LADY. No. It's the wind. Can't you hear it in the trees?
STRANGER. Quiet! They're riding over a bridge, a wooden bridge.
There's no water in the brook, only pebbles. Wait! Now I can hear
them, men and women, saying a rosary. The angels' greeting. Now I
can see--on what you're working--a large kitchen, with white-washed
walls, it has three small latticed windows, with flowers in them.
In the left-hand corner a hearth, on the right a table with wooden
seats. And above the table, in the corner, hangs a crucifix, with a
lamp burning below. The ceiling's of blackened beams, and dried
mistletoe hangs on the wall.
LADY (frightened). Where can you see all that?
STRANGER. On your work.
LADY. Can you see people there?
STRANGER. A very old man's sitting at the table, bent over a game
bag, his hands clasped in prayer. A woman, so longer young, kneels
on the floor. Now once more I hear the angels' greeting, as if far
away. But those two in the kitchen are as motionless as figures of
wax. A veil shrouds everything. ... No, that was no poem! (Waking.)
It was something else.
LADY. It was reality! The kitchen at home, where you've never set
foot. That old man was my grandfather, the forester, and the woman
my mother! They were praying for us! It was six o'clock and the
servants were saying a rosary outside, as they always do.
STRANGER. You make me uneasy. Is this the beginning of second
sight? Still, it was beautiful. A snow-white room, with flowers
and mistletoe. But why should they pray for us?
LADY. Why indeed! Have we done wrong?
STRANGER. What is wrong?
LADY. I've read there's no such thing. And yet ... I long to see my
mother; not my father, for he turned me out as he did her.
STRANGER. Why should he have turned your mother out?
LADY. Who can say? The children least of all. Let us go to my home.
I long to.
STRANGER. To the lion's den, the snake pit? One more or less makes
no matter. I'll do it for you, but not like the Prodigal Son. No,
you shall see that I can go through fire and water for your sake.
LADY. How do you know ...?
STRANGER. I can guess.
LADY. And can you guess that the path to where my parents live in
the mountains is too steep for carts to use?
STRANGER. It sounds extraordinary, but I read or dreamed something
of the kind.
LADY. You may have. But you'll see nothing that's not natural,
though perhaps unusual, for men and women are a strange race. Are
you ready to follow me?
STRANGER. I'm ready--for anything!
(The LADY kisses him on the forehead and makes the sign of the
cross simply, timidly and without gestures.)
LADY. Then come!