THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS ***
Produced by Nicole Apostola
THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
ENGLISH VERSION BY GRAHAM RAWSON
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY GUNNAR OLLÉN
INTRODUCTION PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE
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 terrifying realities.
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 changeful life.
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.