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Translations and adaptations for the stage

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Julie tries to find comfort in a Jean's liquor and fails.
(Amy Caldwell as Julie)








Miss Julie and The Stronger, by August Strindberg

Adapted for the stage by Robert Bethune

Miss Julie and The Stronger is available on DVD and as a printed book.

A full video production based on the world premiere of this adaptation is available on DVD through Amazon.com.

The translation is also available as a printed book which may be ordered directly from Amazon.com.

The play and the playwright as seen by the adaptor

What about Miss Julie?

There is no other playwright in the world who portrays the savagery of the human heart with such utter honesty and agony as does August Strindberg. When it comes to people acting from motives they themselves do not understand, people who lie to themselves and others, people who want one thing, and want the exact opposite of that thing, at one and the same time; people who suffer from the profound and inevitable ambiguity of the human soul--Strindberg is the master.

For me, Miss Julie is the master's finest work. There simply is no other portrait of two people who love and hate themselves and each other in such an intense crucible of event and emotion. However, for me, there has always been one flaw in the play: what happens in the bedroom. Strindberg draws a curtain across those key events in these lives and these relationships and gives us a frolicking chorus of villagers and farmers instead. Why? I believe that in his own late 19th century Sweden, there was no way his play could ever have come to the stage with such a scene in it. He had to work by indirection, allowing the action of the second half of the plaly to reveal the effects, though not the cause, of the abrupt and complete change in their relationship.

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Julie begs for Jean's sympathy as Kristin looks on
(Rachel Toon, Amy Caldwell, Rob Roy)

Therefore, the challenge of this play for me has been to go where Strindberg could not go, and answer the question: what happened in the bedroom? The middle of this play addresses that question, and I hope the answer will be both surprising and convincing.

My other argument with Strindberg has to do with style. For Strindberg, his play was naturalism; for Strindberg, naturalism was the cutting-edge esthetic, the way to break out of the mold of routine theater of his day and do something strikingly new. For us, his play is expressionism; naturalism is an old-hat strategy, sometimes a useful tool in the toolbox but certainly nothing to get excited over or write prefaces about. The profound and intricate emotional dance for three partners enacted in this play call for something better than superficial imitation of physical realities. We must find a way into their souls. For this reason, I have eliminated those aspects of Strindberg's play that take away from our focus on interior reality. The stove is gone; the bitch in heat is gone; the plate of food and a beer is gone; and Kristin does not go off to sleep, but rather goes off into a separate area of consciousness, in which she knows and hears everything.

And what about The Stronger?

Here we have Strindberg working in miniature, and even in a comedic, if not satiric mode. What is there to say about a woman who is apparently unable to let herself realize that her best friend is her husband's lover? Only that the truth will out, and can emerge both in the noise of nonstop, air-filling words, and in the deathly silence of no words at all.

My thanks to Anna Enflo, who patiently and generously shared her understanding of her native Swedish and of this play with me. Any faults in my text are, of course, my own.

Miss Julie

Kristin is waiting for Jean to come home from taking the Count to the station and take her to the Midsummer Eve dance. When he arrives, he's full of talk about Julie; and Julie indeed does not take long to appear, looking for Jean. She wants him; she wants him to dance with her, and she really doesn't care what Kristin thinks about it, though she takes pains to seem to be nice. After Julie sweeps Jean off to the dance, Kristin goes into his room and finds his razor on the bed; as she tidies up, she drops it in her pocket. As she looks at the bed and thinks about what's going on, she wonders. And wonders again.

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Miss Julie faces the end, razor in hand
(Amy Caldwell as Julie)

When Jean comes back, he is even more full of Julie than before. Julie puzzles him, repels him, attracts him and disgusts him, all at the same time. When Julie comes back again after Jean, Kristin slips slowly away, into another kind of space, from which she watches, and waits, and learns. It is a very painful kind of learning that she does, there by herself, in the silence and the dark, but it leads her to the truth--one place that Jean will never lead her.

Julie and Jean play out an elaborate dance of advance and retreat, seduce and repel, dominate and submit, reveal and conceal. Suddenly, things come to a head: the people from the estate have started going around the grounds and buildings, carrying their revels throughout the property. Soon they will come here, and find the Count's daugher alone with his valet. Jean pounces on the opportunity. Julie suddenly finds herself in over her head and in doubt. Jean works on her, on her sense of shame, her fear of the very people she wants to believe all love her. She follows Jean's lead--into the bedroom.

Once there, the balance of power shifts dramatically. Julie is now completely beyond anything she has experienced to date. She is alone with a man and she is not in control; there is no whip she can crack that will make Jean jump to her bidding. The scene is available as a download from this site; see the link at the end of the page.

Once they emerge, the dance resumes; but it is now a dance of death. They are now tangled up not just in each other, but in what their society and their world expect of them; in particular, what the Count expects of Julie, and what Kristin expects of Jean. Each fantasy of escape is successively exploded; each attempt to swiim out of the maelstrom only drives the swimmer down deeper. Julie is enacting her innermost reality: to fall, to fall as far as a human being in society can fall, down to what she sees as the bottom of the pit.

Eventually Kristin returns, to take a hand--an executioner's hand. Jean still has pity for Julie; Kristin has none. She provides the final push that sends Kristin off, razor in hand, into the same intermediate space in which Kristin has been; a space from which Julie will never return.

The Stronger

A woman headed home from Christmas shopping spots her friend sitting alone in a cafe on Christmas Eve. She stops by to talk--pretty much whether she's wanted or not--and talks. And talks. And talks. And the more she talks, the more telling her friend's silence becomes. And also, the more she talks, the more a strange thing happens: some truths begin to emerge. Unwelcome truths. Truths she would rather ignore. Truths about the relationship between her husband and this woman, a relationship that has been going on under her nose and in her bed for a long, long time.

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The silent woman waits for the truth to sink in.
(Amy Caldwell)

From the end of the play:

And did you teach me how to dress? So much the better—now I dress better then you do. My husband likes me so much better now! So I've won and you’ve lost. From what I can see, you’ve even lost him! I’m sure you wanted me to leave him, just as you did, and you’re sorry now you did it. But I won’t leave him now. I most assuredly won’t! I hate to be petty, but why should I only take whatever someone else doesn’t want?

All things considered, right now, I’m stronger than you are. You never took anything away from me, but I got quite a bit from you! I’m the thief, and you wake up and suddenly I have what you’ve lost!

And look at you—everything you touch turns to dust! All your desires and all your tulips weren’t enough to keep a man in love with you—but I kept him in love with me. Your books couldn’t teach you how to live, but I learned all about it. And you haven’t had a son—even if my son has your father’s name!

Now you’re quiet, quiet, so quiet! Why? Oh, yes, you, the strong, silent type. Now I see—it’s because you have nothing to say! Not a thought in your head worth talking about!

I’m going home now. I’m taking your tulips with me. Your tulips! You can’t manage to learn from others. You can’t bend, you can’t humble yourself, so you broke like a dry twig, but I survived!

Thank you, Emily. Thank you very, very much, for everything you’ve taught me! And thank you for teaching my husband how to love! I’m going home now—to love him!

Files available for download

A video clip from Miss Julie--when she tells Jean about her dream of being trapped on a pillar. Julie is played by Amy Caldwell, Jean by Rob Roy.

A PDF file the bedroom scene from my adaptation of Miss Julie. This is the scene that Strindberg would have written, had he dared.

A PDF file of a short excerpt from The Stronger.

A form you may use to request a royalty quotation.

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All text and images on this page are copyright 2005 Robert Bethune.

Photographs are from a production done by MCRT at Riverside Arts Center, Ypsilanti, Michigan.