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High melodrama : an English translation of Knut Hamsun's The game of life (Livets spil, 1896), with an extensive critical introduction Grabowski, Simon


The introduction to the present study of Knut Hamsun's The Game of Life (Livets spil, 1896) sums up the strange failure of this play, a remarkable work by a famous author, to gain any measurable recognition; a number of possible reasons are suggested, among them the membership of Livets spil in the so-called Kareno-trilogy, the other two plays of which are rather weak. Plots of all three plays are provided. - The introductory chapter is followed by a general survey of Hamsun’s dramatic production. Considerable space is given to a comparison between the last of his six plays, In the Grip of Life (Livet ivold, 1910) and Wedekind's Der Marquis von Keith (1900). - The remaining two long chapters - Part Three and Four - are devoted to an exhaustive examination of Livets spil. In Part Three, the method used is that of an interpretative investigation; the main characters and symbols/symbolic forces of the play are analyzed in depth and correlated. Special consideration is given to the character constellation Teresita-Jens Spir, as compared to the constellation Edvarda-Glahn in Hamsun's famous novel Pan (1894). Finally, the consistency of the play with the general story line of the trilogy is demonstrated. - The method followed in Part Four is that of a dramatic-aesthetic close-reading. The focus here is on general dramatic effectiveness, and on the many special elements in the play which go into the creation of a fantastic universe on stage. Part A discusses three aspects of dramatic technique basic to the restless style of Livets spil. Special attention is given to the principle of external intrusion, the subtle disturbance of the dialogue from a source outside of the immediate sphere of action. Part B demonstrates the intrinsically fantastic nature of a large number of the play's primary and secondary elements: The basic premises from which the action derives, character appearances and the nature and function of props, the symbolic suggestiveness of light and sound effects, and the suggestive uses and implications of spatial distance. - Finally, in the conclusion, the two basic methods of analysis followed are confronted with each other, and it is demonstrated how Hamsun realized in Livets spil some of the goals he had set himself five years earlier in his advocacy of a more psychologically oriented modern literature in Norway.

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