History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Scandinavian Pre-WWII
- 1 August Strindberg
- 2 Hjalmar Bergman
- 3 Hjalmar Söderberg
- 4 Kjeld Abell
- 5 Hjalmar Bergstrøm
- 6 Johann Sigurjonsson
- 7 Hans Wiers-Jenssen
- 8 Kaj Munk
In addition to plays from the late 19th century, major August Strindberg's plays in the 20th century include "Påsk" (Easter, 1901), "Dödsdansen" (The dance of death, parts 1 and 2, 1905), and "Spöksonaten" (The ghost sonata, 1908).
Lewisohn (1922) reviewed "The dance of death 1" in the following manner. "The captain and his wife in "The dance of death" have seen each other so long and so closely that they no longer see each other at all. They try, like all people, to find moral tags in the name of which they can justify their mutual hatred. It is a profoundly true circumstance that Alice does this more continually than her husband, who yields quite unreflectively to his vindictive impulses. The woman is more passionate, yet more desirous of justifying her hatred. Hence she is eager to prove to him the qualities that explain it. She has, no doubt, chances enough. Again and again she convinces her friend and kinsman, Curt. But in the end all hatred breaks down because all isolation of moral qualities becomes impossible. We know least those whom we know best, because we see them no longer analytically but concretely. We have no clues, because every clue becomes coarse and misleading when brought to the test of a reality so intricate and obscure. This husband and this wife feign, at times with passion and terror, to despise and hate each other. Yet they are unable to break their galling chains because, having passed beyond the perception of mere evil qualities in each other and seeing each other as concrete psychical organisms, they cannot hold either contempt or hatred long enough. They shift and waver and know too much to rise to the point of willing and they die in the inextricable bonds in which they are caught." Of the two main characters, Gassner (1954) wrote: "This egotist and sadist dies fully convinced that he is righteous and has much to forgive his wife. She, who is also far from guiltless because she has provoked and betrayed him, strikes him and pulls his beard when his condition leaves him helpless. Hatred has bound them together as strongly as if they had loved each other, and their perverse relationship produces two of the most demonic characters of all literature." (pp 391-392)
Time: 1900s. Place: Sweden.
Elis and Kristina intend to marry in the fall and, after passing through a rough winter, are looking forward to summer. One year has passed since his father was imprisoned for debt, the principal creditor being Lindkvist. Soon after, Elis' sister, Eleonora, went insane and was sent to an asylum. On Maundy Thursday, Kristina is surprised to learn that Elis wants to attend a dinner given by an ungrateful student of his, Peter, who stole some of his ideas in his doctoral thesis. They receive an anonymous package containing a birch rod, which Elis, instead of taking the presumed threat badly, places in water. A grief-stricken Benjamin, a pupil living in the same house, informs them that he has just failed his Latin examination. Looking out the window, Elis notices Lindkvist, who may soon decide to take away their furniture, but the man merely nods, smiles, and passes by. Left alone, Benjamin is surprised to find a stranger entering. It is Eleonora, escaped from the asylum to join her family. She informs Benjamin that her father was arrested because he took the blame when she embezzled some funds. She suffers for his sake and all her family. "Will you be one of my flock, so that I can suffer for you, too?" she asks. She hears the telephone wires hum, caused by the cruel words people say to each other. She also tells him that she just entered a florist's shop and took away an Easter lily, which she places on the table. Elis learns his father's case has been sent to the court of appeals, so that he must read the court transcripts to find a loophole in the procedure. He notices the Easter lily. "Poor Eleonora," he exclaims, "so unhappy herself yet bringing joy to others!" On Good Friday, Elis is unable to discover any loophole. He and Kristana find comfort in looking at Benjamin and Eleonora's love grow, who push the lamp towards each other so that they can read more easily. Elis' mother, Mrs Heyst, informs them that Lindkvist is about to come over, a thing which greatly worries them. She also tells them a burglary was committed at a florist's shop. They anxiously behold Lindkvist's shadow on the curtains, enlarging to a giant-like size, but he goes away. "Think of it as a trial, Elis," Kristina advises. When the rest go, Benjamin suggests to Eleonora to call the florist' shop and explain the mistake. "No, I have committed a wrong and I must be punished by my conscience," she answers. "Everyone must suffer on Good Friday, to be reminded of Christ's suffering on the cross." On Easter eve, Elis worries that Kristina has left him. He learns from his mother that the Easter lily was stolen, at which Benjamin blames himself until Eleanor admits her mistake. Then Mrs Heyst says she spoke to the florist, who finally found a coin Eleanor put there. Lindkvist finally arrives. "I ask neither charity not favors, only justice," Elis proudly declares. Lindkvist accedes to this point of view, demanding him to pay back all that he owes and warning him that, unless he begs the governor's help, he will arrange to have his mother arraigned as well. Elis is forced to accept all his conditions. Lindkvist next informs Elis that he must thank Peter for interceding on his mother's behalf to the governor, which he declines to accept. To "squeeze his pride", Lindkvist next demands the crushed man to empty his bank account and give over the entire sum to him. But then the apparent monster reveals he once knew a man who long ago saved him from prison, when he was falsely blamed for breaking a window-pane: Elis' father, and so, for his sake, he cancels all his claims. A stunned Elis watches Eleanora tear the leaves out of the calendar and exclaim: "April, May, June, and the sun shining on them all!" as Kristina walks back in to join her husband.
"The dance of death, part 1"
Time: 1900s. Place: Sweden.
In a fortress tower of a military camp, Edgar and Alice are near their silver wedding anniversary. Because of Alice's coldness and brusque manner, a servant, Jenny, quickly leaves them. Instead of supplying his usual remark to her usual remark, Edgar yawns. "What else is there for me to do?" he asks. Another servant, Kristin, is hired but may follow the other one. "So now I am the domestic again," an upset Alice complains. The unhappily married pair receives the visit of Kurt, her cousin and the new master at the quarantine station. Edgar and Alice agree on one point at least: they dislike everyone on the island. "I have had nothing but enemies all my life, and instead of being a hindrance, they have been a help to me," Edgar rejoices in saying. Suddenly, Edgar becomes motionless, the victim of a stroke. Yet almost immediately after his fit, he goes out to inspect the guard. Left alone together, Alice informs Kurt that her husband incited their children against her, as she did. She bemoans the state of her hands because of domestic duties, resenting having lost a career as an actress following her marriage. Edgar returns but almost as soon collapses under the throes of a second stroke. After learning he is still alive, Alice sighs with sadness, but sobs after learning Kristin has abandoned as the previous servant. Alice and Kurt learn by telegraph that none of the doctors can come to help Edgar. "That's what you get for treating your doctors so contemptuously and always ignoring their bills," she accuses Edgar. He denies this. While the captain stares emptily into space, Kurt informs Alice that a doctor said he may die at any moment without warning. She is heartily glad about that piece of news. But, after a night of rest, he recovers. Alice tells Kurt that it is thanks to Edgar that Kurt's wife obtained custody of his children. According to Alice, it is Edgar's vampire nature that expresses itself when he tells Kurt that his son, a cadet officer, will be transferred to the island, which Kurt disapproves of. Edgar next tears up the will in his wife's favor and declares he has filed for divorce. Alice is glad of this. She accuses him of once trying to drown her but without witnesses, the captain notes, except for their daughter, Judith, a daughter whom he taught to lie, Alice accuses. "I didn't have to," he remarks. Free at last from the marriage bond, Alice begins to flirt with her cousin and playfully bites his neck. In anger at the sudden pain, he raises his hand to her, but she forces him to kiss her shoe. They eventually discover that Edgar heard no word about Kurt's son's transfer and never filed for divorce. Although Alice is willing to follow Kurt wherever he goes, he pulls away from her, so that the unhappily married couple are back together again but beg Kurt to remain. Throughout it all, the captain has one piece of philosophy which never fails to sustain him: "Erase, and keep going."
"The dance of death, part 2"
Time: 1900s. Place: Sweden.
Kurt has noticed that some of his supposed friends have grown colder towards him, a sign, according to Alice, that Edgar has been stealing these friends from him. Edgar accuses Kurt of ingratitude in view of the 6% profit he gained while investing in a soda water company on the basis of his advice. In love with Judith, daughter to Edgar and Alice, Kurt's son, Allan, a cadet officer, is reduced to tears, tormented by her indifference towards him. Alice advises Allan to compare notes on her with his rival, a lieutenant, because the real objective of her ambition is neither of them but a colonel, despite his sixty years of age. Later, Edgar informs Kurt that the soda water company he invested in is now out of business. Without informing his wife's cousin, Edgar sold his stock before the crash. As a result, Kurt loses his savings and is forced to sell his house and furniture. Edgar advises him to send his son away to a cheaper school, since he, too, wishes Judith to marry the colonel. Moreover, he takes over Kurt's house and furnishings and tells Allan he is transferred to another training course. When Allan discloses to Judith he will be away for a year, she says she will wait for him. When Edgar informs Kurt about the transfer, paid for by a group of military men, Kurt is crushed, for this amounts to charity, which ends his hopes of being elected in parliament. Edgar is surprised Kurt ever considered this, especially on considering that he intends to run for the same office. "This indicates that you underrate me," Edgar accuses him. Has he anything to reproach him with? No. "You say this with a resignation I should like to call cynical," Edgar comments. However, Edgar's marriage plan concerning Judith is thwarted when he learns in a telegram from the colonel that she recently insulted him and so he is no longer interested, after which Edgar suffers another stroke. "Look after my children," he pathetically cries out to Kurt. "This is precious," Kurt remarks, "he wants me to look after his children after stealing mine." On seeing Edgar's prostrate state, Alice gloats. "Where is that strength of yours- your own strength- now?" she asks with irony. Pushed to the limit, he spits on her face. In turn, she slaps his and pulls at his beard. Distressed, Kurt and the lieutenant charitably carry him to bed. The latter soon returns to reveal to Alice that her husband is dead. "I have a feeling my own life is now at an end, that I'm on the road to decay and dissolution," she wrily comments.
"The ghost sonata"
Time: 1900s. Place: Sweden.
Arkenholz, a student, wanders in a street after being up all night to help save people from a house fire. Because his eyes are inflamed and his hands are possibly infected, he asks a milkmaid to put a damp cloth on them. Director Hummel, an old rich man bound in a wheelchair, asks Arkenholz to whom he has been speaking and is startled to hear of the milkmaid's existence, whom he does not see, a woman he once had sexual relations with and then abandoned. They discover that Hummel knew Arkenholz' father. According to the father, Hummel once cheated him in business dealings, but the latter denies it. On the contrary, Hummel helped him to such an extent that the father grew to dislike his benefactor. Nevertheless, to help along Arkenholz's career, Hummel proposes to give him a ticket at the opera where he is to meet influential people, notably the colonel and his daughter, to which the student agrees. The student described how he saved a child from a burning death last night, but as he was about to take hold of him, the child disappeared. As they speak, a dead counselor in his shroud appears in the doorway of a house and goes away, then is seen a second time by the student but not by Hummel. In the colonel's apartment, Bengtsson, his servant, describes to Johansson, Hummel's servant, the forthcoming evening as a "supper of specters", when the colonel either talks to himself alone or the others repeat over and over again the same matters. He presents the colonel's wife, Amalia, surnamed "The Mummy", demented, it appears, living in a wardrobe and imitating a parrot's voice. When Hummel arrives, he is startled to see her, a woman with whom he had adulterous relations and the undivulged father of her daughter. For unknown reasons relating to an unhappy marriage, Amalia is only pretending to be demented. Hummel confronts the colonel by telling him he has bought the bills of all his debts. Hummel also reveals that the colonel's aristocratic title is false and that the colonel's daughter is his. In addition, he wants the colonel to turn out Bengtsson, his intention being to reveal the crimes of others. But the mummy reveals Hummel's own crimes, calling him a "man-robber", how he cheated her with false promises, hounded the counselor to death with debts, manipulated Arkenholz under the pretense that his father owed him money, and cheated Bengtsson while living off him for two years. Assailed thus, Hummel is reduced to squawking like a parrot and then quickly dies. After Hummel's funeral, Arkenholz and the colonel's daughter discuss her house affairs. She reveals her servitude to her own servants, how the cook sucks the marrow of the food she prepares, how she is forced to work at tasks her housemaid refuses to do. But when Arkenholz wants to take her away from this unhealthy environment, she recognizes the futility of this expedient, specifying that she is "struck at the very source of life". As if her body agrees with what she said, she quickly sickens and appears to be dying. Suddenly, the room vanishes and Böcklin's picture of the "Isle of the dead" appears.
Also of note among Swedish dramatists is Hjalmar Bergman (1883-1931) with "Swedenhielms" (The Swedenhielms, 1925) detailing in the relation between a writer and his family.
Time: 1920s. Place: Sweden.
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Rolf Swedenhielms junior, an engineer, and his brother Bo, a lieutenant in the army, reveal to their sister, Julia, that, according to newspaper accounts and despite his accomplishments, their father is unlikely to win the Nobel prize in physics. Unaware of those rumors, a newspaper reporter, Pederson, shows up to interview Rolf senior but is greeted instead by Rolf junior. The family worry after receiving a letter from their father, Julia even thinking that a turn of phrase of his may mean he intends to commit suicide. However, despite financial troubles, Swedenhielm shows up with a countenance full of careless defiance. Uncomfortable because of a lack of funds, Bo wishes to discontinue his amorous relation with Astrid, a rich woman who loves him and does not mind to pay his way. Swedenhielm attempts to intervene. "You do not place a high value on his honor," he points out to her. "Then I'll marry you instead," responds the teasing Astrid, sitting on his knee. Unexpectedly, Swedenhielm wins the Nobel prize after all. He receives the visit of his foster-brother, Eriksson, a money lender who forty years ago was convicted to a two-year jail sentence for robbery. Marta, Swedenhielm's sister-in-law by his dead wife, reveals to Astrid that Eriksson has bought all the promissory notes of other money lenders on the debts incurred by the two extravagant sons. With his financial situation improved because of the prize, Bo approaches Astrid with renewed confidence, but now she turns away from him. Armed with the promissory notes, Eriksson revisits Swedenhielm to reveal his story of long ago, how he begged Swedenhielm's father, mayor of the town, to hush the matter up. Eriksson's mother also begged the mayor's wife to intervene, all to no avail. Eriksson shows Swedenhielm that on one of the debt papers he carries, the upper edge containing the lieutenant's monogram was cut off and on another that the signature appeared simply as Rolf Swedenhielm, not Rolf Swedenhielm junior, meaning that either son may be accused of fraud. Nevertheless, Swedenhielm accepts to pay his sons' debts. On the night of the Nobel prize, Swedenhielm appears glum. Exasperated by Bo's talk, Swedenhielm strikes his face and asks him whether he indeed forged his name. Though thinking it is his brother's work, Bo says yes. Marta intervenes to say she is responsible, not his sons, for without her borrowing, the entire household would have crumbled. After all that time, Swedenhielm at last thanks her.
Another Swedish dramatist of interest is Hjalmar Söderberg (1869-1941), author of "Gertrud" (1906).
Time: 1900s. Place: Stockholm, Sweden.
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After six years of marriage, Gertrud wants to divorce Gustav, a lawyer in line to become a minister in the next government. She wants to take up her singing career again. When Gustav assures her he still loves her, Gertrud is convinced he does. "Just like you love your Havana cigars," she adds. He suspects she has a lover, but she refuses to reveal who it is. It is Erland, a little-known but young classical music composer. Frustrated that they have not yet slept together, Erland says he wants to break off their relation and spend the night with Constance, a courtesan. After announcing her intention to divorce, Gertrud proposes that they go to his apartment. The following day, at a party given in honor of a famous but disillusioned and cynical dramatist, Gabriel, Gertrud's former lover before her marriage, Gustav discovers she has recently slept with another man and begins to resist more actively to the matter of her divorce. "Gertrud, this night you will belong to me one last time," he says. "Afterwards, you may go wherever you wish, to sink in mud and shame, since you want to sink." She leaves him without a word and meets Gabriel, who reveals he met Erland the previous night at Constance's house, drunk and boasting amid the whores about his latest female conquest. When Gabriel asks her why she left him, she remains silent. As Gabriel wanders away, she accepts Erland's invitation to accompany her singing at the piano. She starts to sing Schumann's "Love and a woman's life" then faints. The next day, when Gertrud meets Erland in a public park, he mentions he does not see the necessity of her divorcing, but she nevertheless wishes to leave the city with him. He says he has no money. She counters that they may use hers at first and then together make money with their music. His pride will not permit that. Without imagining to give offense, he casually mentions going to Constance's house after having some trouble sleeping. He then reveals he cannot leave because of a secret engagement to a woman whom he does not love but cannot abandon while she is pregnant, one, moreover, who once helped him financially. Returning home, she meets Gabriel, who proposes that they go off together, but she declines. She left him years ago because love to him was an obstacle to writing, gaining fame, and making money. Now she wants to live alone.
Danish drama is capably represented by Kjeld Abell (1901-1961), who wrote "Melodien der blev væk" (The melody that got lost, 1935) and "Anna Sophie Hedvig" (1939).
"The melody that got lost"
Time: Place: Denmark.
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"Anna Sophie Hedvig"
Time: Place: Denmark.
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Anna Sophie has taken a leave of absence from her teacher's position at a girls' school and been invited at her cousin's house. Anna Sophie explains that her colleague, Mrs Möller, was to have been the principal of the school but was accidently killed and replaced by Miss Smith. Later in the day, the cousin's daughter, Esther, tells her brother, John, that the family dog has slipped its leash and cannot be found. Shortly after, the family receives the following telegram: "Has been found, all well, Esther". John laughs at the cryptic message, explaining that his sister has found the dog, but when Esther returns, she says she did not send that message. The message was meant for Anna Sophie, who explains that Esther refers to one of her pupils. The master of the house invites directors Hoff and Karmach for dinner when conversation turns on the subject of murder. "Is there any among us who could kill?" Hoff queries. To everyone's surprise, Anna Sophie confesses she not only could but did. She admits to having killed Mrs Möller so that Miss Smith may become the new principal. That night, the janitor of the school, Victor, was conversing with his wife when they heard a scream. He discovered Mrs Möller dead at the bottom of the slippery stairs he has just washed and concluded she must have stumbled. However, the police officer, Birk, suspects murder. He found the outside key in the victim's hand though she had rung the bell. He also discovers Miss Smith's handbag with her own key in it and so concludes that the murderer used Mrs Möller's key to enter the building. Moreover, the dead woman has black gloves next to her though she always wore grey ones. When the officer leaves with the couple, Anna Sophie returns to remove her gloves inadvertently left on the scene. Unexpectedly, Esther enters. Her teacher explains that she knows about the letter the student sent to Mrs Möller concerning her bohemian behaviors. "She showed it to me," Anna Sophie says. "She wanted to strike at you but foremost at Miss Smith." Anna Sophie knew that an indulgent Miss Smith would defend Esther and so lose her chance at being principal. And so Anna Sophie stole Mrs Möller's key, murdered her, and now wants to give herself up to the authorities. A shocked Esther encourages her rather to save herself. At the dinner party, Anna Sophie explains that the telegram refers to finding Esther's letter. The family is aghast at her deed, but John defends it and attacks Hoff after heated words are exchanged. The lights suddenly go off in the room and the entire group moves outside. Karmach explains to John that his fight with Hoff has seriously harmed his father, who needed Hoff to relieve his financial difficulties. Not taking this into account, John accuses his father of neglecting his upbringing. "You gave me slackness, indifference, softness..." he specifies, at which the irate father throws him out of the house. Stunned at these events, his wife leaves him to follow her son while Anna Sophie is led to prison to be executed.
Another Danish play of interest is “Lynggaard & Co” (1905) by Hjalmar Bergstrøm (1868-1914).
"Lynggaard & Co"
Time: 1900s. Place: Denmark.
Lacking confidence in Jacob, his son and heir, Peter Lynggaard intends to transform his distillery into a stock company with the help of his manager, George Hymann. But Peter’s devout wife, Harriet, resents George’s presence for refusing to take back one of the lead workers, Olsen, after their defeat in a strike ten years ago. She informs her father, Mikkelsen, that she has called back Jacob from Italy to prevent her husband’s plan of forming the stock company for being against the workers’ interest. Through the years, she has also been helping out Olsen’s widow with money. Mrs Olsen announces that her son, Edward, has finished serving a two-year sentence for counterfeiting. Taking the part of his son-in-law, Mikkelsen reveals to George the imminent arrival of Jacob. George announces to Peter that they must meet the under-secretary in charge of forming the stock company on this very day at 4:30 after meeting the workers to prevent a strike for higher wages. Jacob’s talk with Mikkelsen confirms his mother’s viewpoint: he wants to reorganize his father’s company more to the workers’ advantage. Jacob meets Edward, his old school-chum, who informs him that George refused him a position in the company. Feeling guilty about the past, Jacob promises him one, although the latter swears to avenge his father and adumbrates farfetched plans of toppling capitalism by making gold. Peter tells Mikkelsen that George has suggested their accepting the workers’ demands, thereby preventing the matter from interfering with the plan to form the stock company. Their rivals, Consolidated Distilleries, has been overproducing in view of fomenting the strike. Jacob confronts his father by requesting that everything remains as they are until he has formed his own plan for the company. But Peter dismisses his son by saying the company will be organized in his fashion this very afternoon. A distraught Jacob challenges his father by offering him to choose between George or him. “I’ll rather go childless to my grave,” Peter retorts, “than witness the destruction of the business inherited by my ancestors.” Meanwhile, Edward has changed his mind about his position. He now wants to refuse it because of bigger though unformed plans in the works. Since Harriet sides with her son by threatening to leave him, Peter confers with his father-in-law about what to do. Rather than put the company at risk, Mikkelsen advises him to let his daughter go for the moment along with his granddaughter, Estrid, secretly suspecting that the girl loves George and may further complicate matters. Indeed, she and George secretly become engaged to be married. Harriet brings the business matter to a head by demanding that the planned protocol be burnt. At last Peter yields. A disappointed George quits, in view of having received an offer from Consolidated Distilleries for a manager’s position without revealing his agreement to Estrid. The strike being imminent, Jacob meets with the workers but to his great disappointment is hissed at and repulsed. Aware of Astrid’s feelings for George, Mikkelsen proposes that she ask him to come back. She refuses but admits to be engaged to him. “Now, children, you see how you have misjudged him,” Mikkelsen declares, the mananger not having used his position as a future son-in-law in his business dealings. Peter agrees and Harriet sends for him.
Of Icelandic origin, Jóhann Sigurjónsson (1880-1911) reached dramatic heights with "Fjalla-Eyvind" (Eyvind of the hills, 1911).
"Eyvind of the hills"
Time: 1910s. Place: Iceland.
Bjorn the bailiff announces to Halla, a widow and formerly his sister-in-law, that her overseer, Kari, has been identified by two men as an escaped convict. Halla does not believe it, but asks Kari whether it is true. At first Kari denies it, but when she asks him to marry her, he says he cannot and admits he is Evynd of the hills, a fugitive of the law. They kiss and become lovers. Their idyll is interrupted by Bjorn with news that he has received an official confirmation by letter of Evynd's true identity. Yet he is willing to ignore the law should Halla decide to become his wife. Halla refuses. Evynd overpowers Bjorn and breaks his leg. The couple flee to the hills. Four years later, the couple are joined by Arnes, a migrant laborer, who attempts to seduce Halla, but she rejects him. Bitter over this experience, Arnes leaves the couple, but rapidly returns to announce he has detected law-officers closing in on them. To facilitate their escape, Halla murders her three-year old daughter. When Bjorn seizes Halla, Eyvind stabs him in the heart and the two escape while Arnes gives himself up to the other officers. For twelve years, Evynd and Halla live under difficult circumstances amid the frozen mountains. In the winter-time, sunlight is minimal. Forced to stay inside their small hut for seven days because of a snow-storm, they become famished and desperate. Evynd decides to brave the storm. "When you go out of that door," Halla warns, "you need not think of me anymore." "You ought to thank me for going out in such weather," an affronted Evynd replies. Halla considers it best to wait out the storm. "We can dig up roots to still the worst hunger, and go to the lake for fish," she proposes. Nevertheless, hoping to return in two days, Evynd opens the door and leaves, though unable to see his hand before his eyes. Halla soon follows him. When Evynd quickly returns with firewood, he is stunned to find her gone and with anguish rushes out. A cloud of snow whirls inside the empty hut.
Among Norwegian dramatists, Hans Wiers-Jenssen (1866-1925) wrote a historical drama of worth, "Anne Pedersdotter" (1908). Of this play, Trewin (1951) wrote: "Doctrinally most sound, as the bigoted Master Klaus would be the first to explain. Wiers-Jenssen’s drama is founded on this belief in Satanic possession and the evil wrought by secret, black, and midnight hags. It opens with a witch-hunt in the home — one of the dubious amenities of domestic life in the sixteenth century — and ends with another in the cathedral itself. Has young Anne Pedersdotter, daughter of a reputed witch, inherited her mother’s dark power? Does she use these gifts to entrap Martin, her husband’s son by a first wife, and to strike Absolon her husband dead? The boy comes to her; the father dies. Anne’s guilt remains undefined, even though, at the last, broken beside Absolon’s coffin, she confesses wildly to witchcraft before her vengeful mother-in-law, and Bishop, clergy, and people in the cathedral of Bergen. The tragedy, with its sparely-wrought dialogue, its suggestion of the supernatural, and its climbing terror, can hardly be regarded as an anodyne, but it is exceptionally strong theatre." (p 104)
Time: 1570s. Place: Bergen, Norway.
The town council sends guards to arrest a presumed witch, Herlofs-Marte, who tries to escape by hiding in the house of Absalon Beyer, rector and castle chaplain. Anne, his wife, reluctantly agrees to hide her. On the same day, Absalon's son from his first wife, Martin, arrives from Denmark and Germany after receiving a master's degree in theology. He initiates friendly relations with his stepmother, almost of the same age as he is, Absalon having been Anne's father's great friend. "I'll lighten your path all I can," Martin promises. The guards trace the accused witch to his house soon after Absalon's arrival. Though Anne denies having seen Herlofs-Marte, the guards search the house and find her in the loft. She is condemned and burnt alive as a witch. Laurentius, a fellow minister, blames Absalon for failing to torture her so that she could name her accomplices. To Anne and Martin, Absalon confesses he has been harboring a guilty conscience for many years, because Herlofs-Marte and Anne's mother had been living as two widows and confessed to him they had "kept themselves by Satan's help". He had not denounced them because of his love for Anne. Alone with her husband, Anne takes him in her arms, but the old man cannot respond to her love. Instead, she looks towards her stepson and they develop a mutual passion for each other. Absalon's mother, Merete, notices how close they have become and does her best to prevent their remaining alone together. "Martin, you ought to be looking out for a good wife," she advises him. "You're at an age when it isn't good for a man to be alone. A good wife, and children. The marriage state is well pleasing both to God and man. Marriage drives out Satan, and keeps a man's heart at home." While Anne refuses to think of the future, Martin is tormented by it. "Some day our sin will burst out and cry to heaven," he warns. "If I could burn you in such a flame of passion that you would be blind and forget- forget all, except that we belonged to each other, body and soul, blood and mind!" Alone with his wife, Absalon feels discouraged by his thankless tasks and thinks his lack of passion has done his wife great harm. After his mentioning that he heard her and Martin laugh together, she admits the truth of this. "You robbed me of joy...To wither away, to dry-rot: that was the fate you marked out for me," she confesses. "I have wished you dead and I've wished it most since your son has come home." After also admitting that she and her stepson have lain together as lovers, he has a heart attack and dies. "You've murdered him, Anne Pedersdotter," Merete sputters, "for you....and he...you two..." After his father's death, Martin finds in himself only terror and remorse. He wonders whether Anne is like Herlofs-Marte, laden with the power to kill him. "I shall be burnt if you fail me, Martin," she cries out in terror. During the funeral, Merete accuses Anne of murder and witchcraft. Although Martin starts to defend her, he wonders again to Anne's despair about the matter of witchcraft. When the bishop asks Anne to touch her dead husband as proof of guilt or innocence, she confesses herself guilty of both accusations.
Another Norwegian dramatic artist, Kaj Munk (1898-1944), achieved a work of merit with "Ordet" (The word, 1932).
Time: 1930s. Place: Jutland, Denmark.
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Anders Borgen wishes to marry Anne Skraedder, but his father disapproves because she and her father, Peter, belong to a different religious sect of the Protestant faith. Old Borgen grumbles against the idea all the more vehemently because his youngest son is easily influenced, while his second son, Johannes, is insane to the point of believing himself to represent the second incarnation of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, ever since his girl-friend lost her life by saving his, while the eldest son, Mikkel, is an atheist, which leaves no one to carry on the tradition as head of the farm. But after learning that Peter refuses Anders as a son-in-law for the same religious reason, Borgen is incensed and instantly changes his mind. "You are the best father I have ever had," exclaims a joyful Anders. Borgen encounters a stubborn Peter who seeks to convert him. Failing in that, Peter anticipates trials for him, a prophecy which seems confirmed by a telephone call from Mikkel informing them that his wife, Inger, is in failing health while delivering her baby. Peter hopes that this will open his eyes. Hearing that Peter would rather have her die than the conversion fail, Borgen hits him on his way out. As Borgen returns to his house, Johannes announces he has seen the master with his scythe and hourglass. When Borgen dismisses him, Johannes comments: "There were no works in his native village because of their disbelief." (Matthiew 13:58) Mikkel discloses that the baby has died. In grief and fear, Borgen asks Maren, Mikkel's 7-year-old daughter, to pray for her mother's life. Johannes reveals that Inger will die but he will bring the dead back to life should the family believe in him. After seeing Borgen will not, he cries out: "Woe to you who choke the glory of God in the cadaverous stink of your faith." Then he pleads: "Just one word, it will cost you but one word." But Borgen does not hear. In an apparent fit of inspiration, Johannes sees a great light, to Borgen only the headlights of the doctor's retreating car. Soon Inger dies. From the adjoining room, the two brothers carry in Johannes. "Dead?" Borgen half-hopefully asks. No, he has merely fainted after crying out his dead girl-friend's name. At Inger's funeral, Borgen is surprised to find Peter, who announces he has changed his mind and now consents to the marriage of Anders and Anne so that his daughter may in some sort replace Inger. As they get ready to take away the coffin to the cemetery, Johannes suddenly appears after being missing for five days in the surrounding fields. He now seems to acknowledge Borgen as his father, as the doctor predicted, the dead Inger jarring back the memory of his dead friend. Yet he has not abandoned his belief in bringing Inger back to life. Though Maren is the only one who believes, that is enough, because, to the amazement of the rest of the company, Inger rises from her coffin.