Jeanette Lee Atkinson on Karl Ragnar Gierow (1980) page 11
A sceptic´s way
While the dramas are most often discussed in terms of ideas and form, Gierow is skilled in creating atmosphere and character. The gloomy medieval castle in Rovdjuret, the semi-pagan Viking world of Helgonsaga, the fantastic folkloristic setting of Färjestället and the power-hungry, amoral air of the Renaissance in Cembalo are all vital to the dramas’ action. Gierow is capable of sketching believable characters with only a few deft strokes. Especially the minor figures enliven and enrich the scenes. Unfortunately, Gierow’s astute sketches remain just that, for he subordinates character to the abstract superstructure of the plays. Too often the action is propelled by the ideas the characters represent rather than by interaction of the characters themselves. The fact that Gierow’s characters do stand out as credible individuals attests to their vigor.
Reaction to Gierow’s dramas has always been mixed. His formal dexterity is unquestionable, and his blank verse can be both sonorous and graceful. The question arises whether he does not overburden it with involuted, abstract rhetoric. The theatricality of the plays has been called into question. More recent criticism of Gierow’s drama reflects in part the politicization of Swedish literature which occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. Critics have lost patience with abstract issues and demand concrete depictions of actual historical and social phenomena. That Den fjärde vise mannen received predominantly negative reviews and was judged incomprehensible and indistinct may reflect a change in general attitudes as much as the merits or demerits of the play itself.