Biography of August Strindberg

August Strindberg was a Swedish writer, most famous for writing plays. Additionally, he wrote fiction and cultural criticism, and he also painted, working prolifically throughout his life. His work earned him a reputation as the most important figure in the development of modern Swedish literature. He is well-known for taking established forms and expanding on them in innovative and experimental ways.

Born in Stockholm to a maid and a shipping agent, Strindberg was raised in an impoverished and highly religious household, in which his intellectual precociousness was not valued or appreciated by his working parents. After studying chemistry at the Institute of Technology, Strindberg went to Uppsala University, where he began writing plays. His first major work was a historical play called Master Olof, about Olaus Petri, a major figure in the Protestant Reformation in Sweden. The New Theatre in Stockholm rejected the play, and Strindberg turned to other writing projects, publishing The Red Room, a novel, in 1879. The novel was a huge success, and Strindberg turned back to theater, writing The Secret of the Guild in 1880. At this time, Strindberg told people that his main interest in theater was writing material that his wife, the actress Siri von Essen, could act in.

In 1882, Strindberg published a collection of anti-establishment short stories called The New Kingdom. In 1884, he wrote a collection of short stories called Getting Married that got him in trouble with the Swedish government for its progressive depiction of gender equality. In 1888, he wrote Miss Julie, one of his most famous plays, basing the story of a capricious mistress and her psychosexual dynamic with a young irreverent servant on Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest. In 1889, he wrote The Stronger, but became disillusioned with the theater when his theater company, the Scandinavian Experimental Theatre, failed. Throughout this time, known as his "Inferno crisis," Strindberg faced some struggles with his mental health.

Strindberg attributed much of his later work's inspiration to his deteriorating mental health, which he thought of as mystical visions called "the Powers," sent to him to force him to atone for the moral wrongs of society. His plays written around the turn of the century include The Vasa Trilogy, and A Dream Play.

With the help of Austrian theater director Max Reinhardt, Strindberg is credited with originating the chamber play, three-act short plays that could be performed in small spaces with small casts and limited design. In 1907 he founded The Intimate Theater with August Falck, intending for it to be a space to stage his chamber plays. There, he wrote Thunder in the Air, The Burned Site, The Ghost Sonata, and The Pelican. Strindberg's very specific rules about The Intimate Theater included, "1. No liquor. 2. No Sunday performances. 3. Short performances without intermissions. 4. No calls. 5. Only 160 seats in the auditorium. 6. No prompter. No orchestra, only music on stage. 7. The text will be sold at the box office and in the lobby. 8. Summer performances." The theater ran for a while, but went bankrupt in 1910. It closed in 1912, when Strindberg died of pneumonia.

Study Guides on Works by August Strindberg

The Ghost Sonata (Swedish title: Spöksonaten) was written in 1907 and first performed on January 21st, 1908 at Strindberg’s Intimate Theater in Stockholm. The play was unpopular among theatrical critics of the time and only secured critical...

Miss Julie (Fröken Julie) is a play written by the Swedish playwright August Strindberg. He composed the play in a two-week period in late July and early August of 1888. Strindberg deemed it a “modern psychological drama” and a “tragedy,” and when...