Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’ Essay
Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’
Strindberg’s Miss Julie is a play that was written far ahead of it’s time and has the substance to entertain and question the views of audiences to this day. It explores the themes of class differences and the place of women in society. We decided to explore this play after much deliberation as we felt that it not only has the capability to challenge us as actors but that it is still relevant to modern society.
Miss Julie is set in the kitchen of a Count’s estate and tells of the lust between the Count’s daughter, Julie, and the Count’s manservant, Jean. Throughout the play the stories of both Jean and Julie’s childhood’s are recounted and their longing for a different social status is expressed.
To begin our exploration we chose a series of scenes which we felt to be particularly important and created still images to accompany them. Samiha, Layla, Peter and I created a still image of the first scene in the play where Jean describes the way Miss Julie danced with him to Christine. I felt that although this was an important scene as it was the opening to the play there was not enough visual content to create an effective still image so I decided that it would be best to show not only the Jean describing it but what was being described. Samiha role playing Christine, and I, Jean, stood on a block to show that we were what was real and looked down on the scene of Peter, Jean, and Layla, Julie, which would have been part of my memory. Samiha and I used text from the script to formulate our thought tracks which not only portrayed what was going through our minds but served as very good narration to the scene taking place below us. I felt that this was an effective piece drama but there was quite a bit of confusion when transitioning from one still image to another which could have been eliminated by communicating more efficiently.
Alia and Hussein were the next group to perform. They performed a scene described in the play where Julie is “training” her fiancï¿½. She is in fact whipping him like a dog. This description provided one of the first insights into Julie’s personality. Hussein playing the fiancï¿½ knelt down on a block while Alia stood and whipped him while Hannah provided the scripted narration. Alia and Hussein created a stop-motion animation with their still images where they would go through the still images freezing for only a second between each one. Their first attempt was a little sloppy due to a lack of co-ordination between them however once they established a rhythm the effect was staggering. The single second between image was all that was needed to analyse the scene and the pauses provided a different feel to conventional movement. One outstanding element throughout the scene was the glint in Alia’s eye which I felt was the perfect insight into Miss Julie’s character and the madness surrounding her.
Omar, Hannah and Maryam were the third group to perform, they did a piece on rank which showed the way power went from Miss Julie to Jean throughout the play. They created a makeshift staircase and in each consecutive still image Jean played by Omar moved up while Julie, Hannah, moved down. Maryam provided the narration. The technique was very effective and we used it during the development phase. I felt, however, that this scene could have been a lot more effective had it been explored later on in our exploration due to the increased insight we would have had into the way rank appears to change throughout the play. I also felt that still images, due to no fault of the actors, were not able to do this subject justice.
We then reorganised the groups and created a second set of still images. Alia and I looked at two relatively simple scenes to perform, one where Jean is forced to kiss Julie’s shoe and the descriptions of both dreams. These scenes were developed on in the development phase so we took them at face value during the response phase.
Omar and Maryam created the next still image which depicted the relationship between Jean played by Omar and the Count who was represented by a pair of boots. The boots were placed on a pedestal out of Omar’s reach. Maryam read the corresponding text from of stage. It was visually stimulating, however, I felt that Omar should not have been reaching out to the boots as the script used the word “grovel”. I feel that by reaching out to the boots they were not true to the relationship between Jean and the Count which is described in the script but took the boots to represent a symbol of status.
Hussein, Layla and Hannah created a still image based on an extract from the script:
Julie: Servants are servants.
Jean: And whores are whores.
Hannah provided Layla’s thought track which created an interesting mix showing their different views, Layla through her position and facial expression and Hannah through the words she said and the way in which she delivered them. The next still image was delivered by Samiha and Peter showing the scene in the play where Julie is begging at Jean’s feet for him to kick her.
Hussein Samiha and Layla felt that Julie’s history was a topic we had not yet covered and that it was the events of Julie’s past which effected her personality, one of the plays focal points. They decided to recreate a scene briefly described by Julie in one of her monologues. The scene was one where Julie and her family were living in a carriage and her father was reduced to begging in order to live. They created a carriage out of a couple of blocks placed a couple of meters apart. Hussein, the Count, sat on the outside at the front end looking back at Layla, Julie’s mother, and Samiha, Julie, with a look of sadness to represent the idea that he felt he had let them down. He was holding one penny to symbolise the situation they were in. He also touched the carriage with one hand to represent the troubled relationship he had with his family. Layla was looking at Hussein with a look of sadness and shame. Samiha lying in Layla’s arms was looking at Layla with a look of naivety to show the way Julie grew up to follow her mother’s views.
Hannah and I then created a scene showing the killing of Julie’s bird. I played Jean and turned my back to the audience to show I was killing the bird. Hannah knelt and faced away as if trying not to look. This scene is very symbolic as it shows the different characters priorities. Jean has very clear cut priorities from the start, he want to climb up the social ladder and has very few, if any, sentimental connections with anything. Julie’s character is more multi-faceted, there are moments in the script where she is in control and she enjoys it while at other moments she is desperate for an authority figure, in this case it was the latter.
Peter, Omar, Maryam, Hannah and Alia created the next still image to represent the different character’s views on religion, a subject which is treated in a different way by each one. Peter and Hannah represented a crucifix; they stood back to back, Hannah representing the cross and peter Jesus. Christine played by Maryam knelt down in front of them, head to the ground to represent her blind, unquestioning devotion. Jean played by Omar stood level with Peter to show that he respects and believes in religion but did not take it at face value. Julie played by Alia stood on a block which allowed her to look down on Peter and Hannah; this represented her contempt with religion.
We created the final still image as a group. We took abstract images from the last page of the script and created a set of images depicting Julie at the gates of heaven. We based our three images on the lines “tell me the first may also receive the gift of grace”, “I belong to the very last, I am the last.” and “And the first shall be the last”.
The next step was to hot-seat the main characters in a way that expressed their personality. Layla came up with the idea recreating the scene in the barn and having Julie dance with different people as they questioned her. We created a semicircle of blocks around Julie who was being played by Layla. The remaining eight of us paired up, stood on the blocks and froze in dancing positions. Layla would randomly tear one of us down to her level, strike a pose and pause long enough for us to have our question answered before throwing us back and dragging someone else in. I felt that this method was particularly effective because it was Layla who was in control as Miss Julie is and the randomness of who was chosen represented her wild side.
I felt that a conscience tunnel would be particularly effective in Jean’s hot seating as it would allow questions to be fired at him from all directions which represent the dilemma he was in, I also felt it would contrast well with his unexcitable facade. I role played Jean while the others stood on blocks and created a tunnel over me by linking hands. As I walked through the tunnel the first time, each person made a statement which I built upon or a question which I answered. At the end of the tunnel were a pair of boots representing high society which I kicked down to represent my anger that I was not a part of it. The second time I walked through everyone questioned me at the same time getting increasingly louder, they then began shaking their arms, overwhelming me. This represented the fact that by the end of the play Jean had not achieved his goals and was still a manservant, the system had kept him down.
I feel that we were able to properly explore the main aspects of Miss Julie in the response phase and I feel that we built a series of solid ideas on which we could develop.
To begin our development phase we split into groups and chose short scenes to act out. Hannah, Layla and I acted out the scene where Julie drags Jean away from Christine and tells him to dance with her. Hannah played Christine and Layla, Julie. I feel that this is an important scene in the play as it is one of the few times where all three characters are on stage, this allows Christine’s view on the whims of her master’s to come out, she tells Jean if Miss Julie asks him to dance he should dance. I feel that this was a simplistic scene but we stayed true to the play.
Maryam and Omar chose a scene which was brimming with subtext. The scene where Jean is ordered by Miss Julie to kiss her shoe. Omar put a lot of effort into trying to properly portray Jean’s character but was having trouble with the overall feel of the scene. We decided to use forum theatre to try to take the scene to another level. I took Omar’s place and acted the scene out with Maryam, there were still some issues in the scene because I was not particularly sure of the emotions I was trying to convey. Samiha then took Maryam’s place and we acted the scene out once more. I feel that that time I was able to properly convey the uncertainty which was going through Jean’s mind without being uncertain of my acting. Samiha played a very commanding Julie lifting her foot up very quickly when she asked Jean to kiss it, this rapidity of movement reaffirmed her authority. Peter and Alia then acted out the scene where Jean and Julie have finally decided to leave for Switzerland. I replaced Peter in the second acting of the scene.
There is a lot of subtext in the script before Jean and Julie’s lust is consummated but very little afterwards since they tended to be more open with each other. Understanding this subtext is vital to understanding the relationship between the characters so we decided to choose a couple of scenes from the play and actually speak the subtext we felt was present. We split into two groups to explore the use of subtext. Hannah, Maryam, Hussein and I decided to look at the “kiss my shoe” scene once again because we felt that there was a lot in that scene which was implied but not said directly. Hussein and Hannah played the real characters while Maryam and I Provided the subtext and moved to show how our real characters were actually feeling. We took it over the top moving to different levels, at one point Maryam was standing on the table to show how empowered Julie was feeling. Julie’s subtext reflected her wild personality, Jean’s on the other hand was slightly more reserved but he was prepared to let the situation play itself out. Hannah and Hussein were both totally composed and were acting the scene out as the play suggested. At the end of the scene Maryam and I took up the positions next to our real characters to reaffirm the link between the thoughts and the people but still spoke the subtext.
Alia then directed Samiha, Layla, Omar and Peter in creating the scene where Julie and Jean go outside the kitchen for a walk. Omar and Layla played the real characters while Samiha and Peter provided the subtext. Throughout the whole scene Peter stayed glued to Omar’s back to represent Jean’s reserved attitude. Samiha was, in common with the previous scene, running haphazardly to represent Miss Julie’s wild side. I felt that the the scene had potential to grow but that Omar and Layla’s roles fell short due to the lack of movement which caused the scene to stagnate slightly.
We decided to create a piece of theatre as a group to show the different sides of Miss Julie and Jean’s personalities. After some discussion we decided that the way to do it would be to choose different sections of the play and act them out in a round. We placed Hussein and Layla in the Middle on a raised square platform and formed a circle around them. Each of us chose a personality or ideal which we felt our characters had and wore a scarf matching that aspect:
Samiha – Wild – YELLOW
Alia – Vanity – PINK
Hannah – Desperate – PURPLE
Maryam – Lust – RED
Peter – Gentleman – BROWN
Omar – Ambitious – GOLD
Me- Above his station – ROYAL BLUE
Me – Poor – GREY
The way we wore the scarf depended on the emotion we had chosen and the position we were in was dictated by how powerful our character felt at that moment in time. We chose scenes in the play which insured we covered a good spread of emotions. For each scene we did the person we felt whose color best described the emotions in the script read while the others covered their faces with masks. Layla and Hussein acted out the scene in the center. Both played the roles being spoken effectively and Layla lip-synced well. This was interesting to watch but not very interesting to perform since there was quite a bit of time where you would have been frozen in one position. I feel that it would have been far more productive had this been done in smaller groups.
To end our exploration we created a piece of abstract theatre based on the dreams which Jean and Julie described. We created an ascending curved staircase using blocks. I lay below the highest block and said my monologue talking about how I would like to reach the top of this metaphorical tree and plunder the golden eggs, to look at the world from the top. Julie role played by Alia then said her monologue from the top block looking down saying how she is longing to fall down to the ground and then fall even further, how she cannot get down from this pillar she is on top of. All the while Samiha role playing Christine sat on the lowest block and faced her back away to represent the loss of interest in her by both Jean and Julie. Meanwhile Hannah and Maryam were turning around the scene holding red scarves to represent the lust that the play was so full of. We then froze at which point Peter, Hussein and Omar enter singing drunkenly to show that Jean and Julie had had sex as this is the way it was represented in the play. Hannah then wrapped her scarf around Alia keeping her from moving down the ladder while I was kept from moving up by Maryam. We did this to show that at the end of the play no characters dream was fulfilled and it is quite possible that Miss Julie ended up committing suicide.