History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Early Scandinavian 18th

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The major figure in Scandinavian theatre of the early 18th century is Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754), born in Norway but spending most his life in Denmark, where he wrote the following Danish comedies: "Den Politiske Kandestøber" (The political tinker, 1722), "Jeppe paa Bjerget eller den forvandlede Bonde" (Jeppe of the hill, 1722), reminiscent of the start of Shakespeare's "The taming of the shrew", "Den Stundesløse" (Scatterbrains, The fidget, more precisely The busybody with no business at hand, 1723), and "Hexerie eller Blind Allarm" (Witchcraft or false alarm, 1723). Even more so than Marivaux, Holberg's model is Molière, who exposes to ridicule the protagonist's failings and weaknesses.

Ludvig Holberg was the dominant figure in 18th century Scandinavian theatre. A print from a book by J.P. Trap, Famous Danish Men and Women, 1868.

"The political tinker"[edit]

"The political tinker". Time: 1720s. Place: Denmark.

"The political tinker" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5749

Antony wishes to marry Herman von Bremen's daughter, but he refuses him because of his lack of interest in politics. Herman no longer tends to his business of making metal dishes and plates, preferring instead to discuss politics with his cronies. Geske, his wife, is exasperated about this mania of his and fearful for their future. During a meeting of the "Collegium Politicum" where he presides, when European politics and economy are argued exhaustively, though the participants must consult a map to find out whether Paris has a coast-line, the exasperated Geske hits him. He does not retaliate. Two members of the Hamburg council hear of these meetings and are annoyed at them. They seek to trick Herman by making him believe he has been elected burgomaster and a member of the council. Herman believes them and starts reorganizing his household in keeping with his new exalted position. Henceforth, he wishes to be addressed as "Master Burgomaster von Bremenfeld". His wife entertains the wives of the two councillors, by keeping a dog on her lap and serving molasses in their coffee, which she considers fashionable. The ladies escape after drinking little. While in function, Master Burgomaster von Bremenfeld is assailed by many tasks he is unable to cope with: understanding lawyers' Latin, solving legal problems, and handling a huge pile of citizen complaints. At his wit's end, he finds a rope behind the oven and prepares to hang himself, until rescued by Antony. As a result of his experiences, Herman promises to return to his old position and accepts Antony as his son-in-law.

"Jeppe of the hill"[edit]

"Jeppe of the hill". Time: 1720s. Place: Denmark.

"Jeppe of the hill" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5749

Jeppe prefers to drink with a crony than work for a living. Copenhagen Theatre, 1918

"I cannot believe that in the entire canton there is a lazier knave than my husband; I can barely wake him when I pull him from his bed by the hair," his wife, Nille, declares. She asks him to buy two pounds-worth of black soap, but unfortunately he gets drunk along the way. Baron Nilus spots him sleeping on the ground and decides to follow his servant's suggestion of playing a trick on the lazy good-for-nothing. The dead-drunk Jeppe is carried by footmen to the baron's best bed and served on his awakening as if he were the baron. Jeppe is so naive that he is fooled by the servants and the baron into believing he really is a nobleman after suffering a loss in memory, reality being better than any dream. As a baron, he is convinced his servants rob him, and so he decides that half of them should hang, starting with the steward. The steward's wife rushes in to plead for her husband's life. Acting as he imagines all nobleman do, Jeppe immediately says: "You are pretty. Will you sleep with me tonight?" But before he has a chance to, he gets drunk again to a stupor, and the baron orders him back to his dunghill, where he recognizes everything as before, including his "cuckold's hat". When Nille arrives, he protests having spent his time in paradise. As a result, she beats him and promises that he will spend two entire days without eating or drinking. Foreigners then enter his house to take him to a tribunal, accused of taking the baron's place. Despite his protests, Jeppe is condemned to swallow poison and to be hanged on the gallows. Instead he swallows a narcotic and wakes up hanged below the arms. Believing her husband to be dead, Nille repents her cruelties, when, to her astonishment, the dead man begins to speak. Outraged because he wants to get drunk again, she whips him, until the judge chases her away and frees Jeppe, because "the tribunal that condemns to die can also condemn to live". He returns to the tavern, where a stranger laughingly describes Jeppe's story, and the butt of the joke sadly walks back home.

"The busybody with no business at hand"[edit]

"The busybody with no business at hand". Time: 1720s. Place: Denmark.

"The busybody with no business at hand" text at http://www.archive.org/details/threecomedies00holb

Shrill refuses to accept Leander as his son-in-law because he wishes to marry hos daughter, Leonora, to a bookkeeper, Peter Erichsen, more liable to help him in his affairs, requiring the help of four secretaries. Magdalen, an aging servant, also wishes to marry, but Shrill is unable to find time for her, having to keep track of household accounts, write letters, and feed chickens, never able to finish being shaved or eating a complete meal. Pernilla, a young servant, always helpful to her master, seeks to arrange matters so that the two couples may marry. She asks Oldfux, friend to Leander, to impersonate others to confound the master. Oldfux agrees. He tricks Shrill into believing Leander is Peter the bookkeeper. For her part, Pernille tricks Peter into believing Magdalen is Leonora. Oldfux next disguises himself as a lawyer, promising to help Shrill in response to a letter written by Leander, threatening with court proceedings for misleading him with false marriage promises. Instead of helping him, Oldfux confuses him Shrill with jargon. Next Oldfux enters as a highly educated German, ostensibly to help him, but in reality harassing him in different ways. The wedding preparations take shape: unknown to Shrill and Peter, the notary writes down marriage contracts in favor of Leander with Leonora and Peter with Magdalen. The worn-out father discovers the trick played on him, but finally accepts his new son-in-law, who promises to study bookkeeping. At first, Peter refuses Magdalen, but changes his mind on finding out she possesses the considerable dowry of 3,000 riksdales.

"Witchcraft or false alarm"[edit]

"Witchcraft or false alarm". Time: 1720s. Place: Denmark.

"Witchcraft or false alarm" text at ?

There are more false alarms than witchcraft in an early 18th century Danish play. Drawing of sorcerers and witches by Francisco de Goya (1746–1828)

Leander is an actor with a heavy dept of 50 riksdales hanging over him. While he rehearses a tragedy, a superstitious man overhears him and becomes convinced he is conjuring devils. Fearfully, he mentions this to a woman, who in turn reveals this information to another man, exaggerating what they hear each time, till many people hear of it. A crowd gathers to take him into custody, but the people are scared away, first by Leander's pistol shot, then by his fellow actor Heinrich's appearance as a conjurer. Leander next gets offers of money for conducting sorcery: to blind the eye of a robbing servant and to bewitch a man uninterested in a woman's love. A servant then asks him to discover who stole his mistress' ewer and spoons. Leander promises to discover the culprit. A young girl then asks him whether it is possible for her "to get her virginity back again", followed by a man who wishes his wife to be more amiable, then by a boy who wishes to become a doctor. All these people imagine they are receiving help, while Leander merely talks and pockets the money. The woman having lost her household stuff comes to Leander along with her servants. Leander commands the servants to kneel, to lift their right hand, then the left, then to cross hands, asking: "Has everyone crossed their hands?" "Yes," they answer in unison. "Even the one who stole the ewer?" "Yes," answers one man's voice. Thus, the culprit is discovered. The authorities, alarmed at these rumors, take Leander to a tribunal, where the judge accuses him of sorcery and writing a pact with the devil, but Leander misunderstands his meaning, thinking he is referring to the debt of 50 riksdales. Moreover, two fellow actors are threatened with torture for being suspected to be in league with Leander. In his defense, Leander interrogates the man who first accused him of being a sorcerer. It becomes clear, to the judge's disappointment, that the man mistook words in a play for real life.