The work of a playwright is customarily evaluated in terms of the interaction between the elements of literature such as setting, character, theme, plot, and style. Scenography, which deals with the physical materiality of a production, is probably the farthest away from the literal and abstract contents of a drama – elements which have traditionally gained the most attention and appreciation from audiences and critics alike. It is an aspect often undermined upon reading a play, despite its importance in enhancing dramatic effect and capacity to generate and convey ideological ideas to the audience.
Both Strindberg and Ibsen wrote carefully visualized, highly charged mise-en-scene into their plays that serves a double role – on one hand, it is a functional construction assisting the actor’s work, while on the other hand, it is aimed at concretizing the psychological states and spiritual conditions of the characters. The arrangement of space and visual environment around the characters, as well as the use of props in both A Doll’s House and Miss Julie can be seen as metaphoric parallels into Nora’s, Miss Julie’s and Jean’s emotional struggles.
Miss Julie takes place over a very short time interval in the kitchen of the Count’s country house. Although the kitchen is the only room visible on stage, there are numerous references to the Count’s rooms on the upper floor that allude to the social order ruling over the life of the inhabitants of the household. Thus, Strindberg’s choice of the kitchen as the set of the play may be understood in terms of the hierarchy of social class found in society at the time. Having Julie placed in this context symbolizes her repudiation of the upper-class aristocracy to which she belongs.
The kitchen is the place for lower class women – Kristin, and it belongs to the house under an invisible masculine rule – the Count. Julie is trapped in the kitchen because she cannot accept her place in society. The situation in the play creates a trap from which Julie can make no honorable exit once she has degraded herself by sleeping with Jean. This is due to the fact that Julie cannot exist as herself in either of the two worlds – she is caught in between. She cannot cast aside her honor, the principles she has been taught to respect and around which she has built her life, nor can she conform to society’s expectations.
Near the end of the play, after the Count calls for his coffee and boots, Julie realizes the impossibility of her situation, and she begs Jean to order her to act: “… -Oh, I’m so tired; I can’t bring myself to do anything, I can’t repent, can’t run away, can’t stay, can’t live – can’t die! Help me, now! Order me, and I’ll obey like a dog! Do me this last service, save my honor, save his name!… “1 It is evident from the manner of speech and the broken phrases that Julie finds herself on the brim of hysteria and effectively, lacks the power to commit suicide.
Words like “help, can’t act” reflect her incapability to think or act; to a certain extent, it seems as if Julie carries the ‘prison’ in which she finds herself, in her personality. This idea is also symbolized by the birdcage, which she cannot leave behind. The privileged position Julie benefits from is valid only as long as she remains in her ‘golden cage’, in accordance with the societal norms of the time. She cannot adapt to a new environment outside of her world, just as her siskin, Serena, cannot be removed from her cage and must be slaughtered.