Theater

   During the Middle Ages, Scandinavian theater followed practices common in Europe at the time, with mystery and morality plays being performed in churchyards and marketplaces, and in connection with religious festivals. After the Reformation, school dramas took the place of the earlier performances, and classical tragedies and comedies provided patterns for vernacular plays. The purpose of the school dramas was to teach good manners and morals, and although the players were students and their teacher the director, the audience was often townspeople. The scripts used were both translations and native dramas, often with Old Testament subjects.
   The next stage in the development of Scandinavian theater was performances at the courts of the kings Frederik II (r. 1559-1588), Christian IV (r. 1588-1648), and Frederik III (r. 1648-1670) of Denmark, and Queen Christina of Sweden (r. 1632-1654). These performances consisted of regal processions and ballets de cour,in which their royal sponsors were celebrated in music, recitation, theatrical sketches, and a closing dance. Prevalent were also courtly masquerades in which the participants moved about in pastoral surroundings while dressed as shepherds, shepherdesses, soldiers, and other characters of the time. Such forms of theater continued under both Christian V of Denmark (r. 1670-1699) and Charles XI of Sweden (r. 1660-1697).
   Traveling theater companies from England, France, Germany, and Holland also strongly influenced the development of the native Scandinavian theater. Charles XII of Sweden (r. 1697-1718) engaged a permanent French company for his court, as did Frederik IV of Denmark (r. 1699-1730). Frederik IV was also an enthusiastic supporter of Scandinavia's first permanent playhouse, located in Lille Grønnegade in Copenhagen. This was the theater, established in 1722, for which Ludvig Holberg wrote his comedies, and which produced 15 of his plays during the first 18 months of its existence.
   Holberg is Scandinavia's first major playwright, and his comedies are staples of the repertoire, particularly in Denmark and Norway. Some representative plays are Den Politiske Kandestøber (tr. The Political Tinker, 1915), which satirizes common people who want to get involved in political life; Jeppe paa Bierget (1722; tr. Jeppe ofthe Hill, 1915), which presents the miserable life of a drunken peasant; and Erasmus Montanus (1731, tr. 1915), a satire on learning for its own sake. Although mostly types, Holberg's characters are anchored in a realistically portrayed social and economic environment.
   The first permanent Swedish stage was established in 1737, and the Danish Royal Theater, located on Kongens Nytorv in Copenhagen, opened in 1748, after the death of the pietistic King Christian VI in 1746. The Swedish queen Lovisa Ulrika, the mother of Gustav III, made the summer castle Drottningholm a theatrical center. After the first theater located there burned, a new and larger one was built on the castle grounds by the architect Carl Frederik Adelcrantz. This playhouse opened in 1766 and has been restored to its original appearance, including the original stage machinery.
   During the reign of Gustav III, Sweden experienced a great cultural flowering centered in Stockholm. The king collaborated with Johan Henric Kellgren on several librettos and wrote other scripts. After the assassination of Gustav III in 1792, Copenhagen assumed the leadership in Scandinavian theater.
   One of the best-known plays in Danish from this period was a parody of French tragedy entitled Kierlighed uden Strømper (1772; Love without Stockings), written by the Norwegian Johan Herman Wessel. Adhering closely to the unities of time, place, and action, Wessel's play exhibits the formal perfection of neoclassical tragedy, but there is a complete mismatch between the drama's high style and its utterly quotidian reality. A far more productive dramatist was Johannes Ewald, whose dramatic debut was a play about the Fall entitled Adam og Ewa eller Den ulykkelige Prøve (1769; Adam and Eve, or, The Unlucky Test). It was followed by Rolf Krage (1770), an action drama with the subject taken from the Danish history written by the 13th-century historian Saxo Grammaticus; Balders Død (1774; tr. The Death of Balder, 1889), which inspired Adam Oehlenschlager; and Fiskerne (1779; The Fishermen), the story of a dramatic rescue at sea. Oehlenschlager was primarily a poet and is remembered as a dramatist chiefly for his five-act drama Aladdin (tr. 1857, 1968), in which good and evil are contrasted and where Aladdin, the representative of the forces of goodness, can triumph only after having been chastened and tested in adversity. As the romantic era came to an end in Denmark, Johan Ludvig Heiberg introduced the vaudeville, the first one being Kong Salomon og Jørgen Hattemager (1825; King Salomon and George Hatter). Heiberg also wrote more traditional dramas, for example, the romantic folklore plays Elverhøi (1828; The Elves' Hill) and Alferne (1835; The Elves), in which the elves are portrayed as being superior to the skeptics and materialists of Heiberg's own time.
   Although a group of enthusiastic amateurs had established the Comedy House in Bergen as early as the year 1800, theater came into its own in Norway with the founding of Christiania Theater in 1827, for which the poet Henrik Wergeland wrote a number of now largely forgotten plays. A new building was erected at Bankplassen in Christiania in 1837. Henrik Ibsen was briefly associated with Christiania Theater in the 1850s, but he was to acquire his expertise in stagecraft at the violinist Ole Bull's Norwegian Theater in Bergen, which was founded in 1849 and operated at the old Comedy House. Closing in 1863, this theater reopened as the National Stage in 1876.
   Ibsen's significance to both Scandinavian and world theater cannot be overemphasized. Although his earliest plays have been largely forgotten, such dramas as the historical tragedy Fru Inger til Østeraad (1855; tr. Lady Inger of Østmt, 1890) and Hærmændene paa Helgeland (1858; tr. The Vikings at Helgeland, 1890) deserve to be remembered. Peer Gynt (1867) is considered Norway's national drama. Ibsen's place in world drama, however, was secured by such titles as Samfundets støtter (1877; tr. The Pillars ofSociety, 1888), which concludes that the spirit of truth and freedom are the real pillars of society, and Et dukkehjem (1879; tr. A Doll's House, 1880), which explores the role of women in the home and in society. Gengangere (1881; Ghosts, 1885) scandalized theatergoers because Ibsen discussed such delicate matters as syphilis and euthanasia. En folkefiende (1882; tr. An Enemy of the People, 1888) dramatizes the conflict between an exceptional intellect and the community in which he lives, while Vildanden (1884; tr. The Wild Duck, 1890) radically questions the correspondence between illusion and truth. Rosmers-holm (1886; tr. 1891) and Fruen fra havet (1888; tr. The Lady from the Sea, 1890) probe relationships between men and women, while the eponymous protagonist in Hedda Gabler (1890; tr. 1891) quite dramatically bores herself to death. The demands of art are discussed in Bygmester Solness (1892; The Master Builder, 1893), while Lille Eyolf (1894; tr. Little Eyolf, 1895) presents a man who has used his work as an excuse for neglecting his wife. John Gabriel Borkman (1896; tr. 1897) is another example of what can happen when work consumes life, while Når vi døde vagner (1899; tr. When We Dead Awaken, 1900) shows that an excessive commitment to art can be equally destructive.
   Ibsen's Norwegian contemporary Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson contributed historical dramas such as Halte-Hulda (1858), Kong Sverre (1861; King Sverre), and Sigurd Slembe (1862; tr. 1888), and modern plays such as De Nygifte (1865; tr. A Lesson in Marriage, 1911), En fallit (1875; tr. The Bankrupt, 1914), Redaktøren (1875; tr. The Editor, 1914), and Kongen (1877; tr. The King, 1914). En handske (1883; tr. A Gauntlet, 1886) was central to the morality debate of the Modern Breakthrough, while Bjørnson's dramatic masterpiece Over ævne I (1883; tr. Pastor Sang, 1893) probes the psychology of faith.
   Next to Ibsen the greatest innovator in Scandinavian drama is the Swede August Strindberg, who established the famed Intimate Theater in Stockholm (1907-1910), at which his chamber plays were performed. Strindberg's career got its start with two historical plays, however, Hermione (1869) and Den fredlose (1871; tr. The Outlaw, 1969), which were performed at the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm. His first modern dramas were the realist Fadren (1887; tr. The Father, 1899) and the naturalist play Fröken Julie (1888; tr. Miss Julie, 1912). His most experimental works were Till Damaskus (1898-1904; tr. To Damascus, 1913), Dodsdansen (1901; tr. The Dance of Death, 1912), and Ett dromspel (1902; tr. A Dream Play, 1929), as well as such chamber plays as Ovader (1906; tr. Storm Weather, 1962), Spoksonaten (1907; tr. The Ghost Sonata, 1962), and Pelikanen (1908; tr. The Pelican).
   Most Scandinavian playwrights of the 20th century have lacked the international stature of Ibsen and Strindberg but have influenced their respective national traditions. In Denmark Kjeld Abell's first play, Melodien der blev væk (1935; tr. The Melody That Got Lost, 1939), criticized Danish middle-class life in the 1930s, while Anna Sophie Hedvig (1939; tr. 1944) warned against the threat of Nazism. Dronningen gaar igen (1943, but published 1955; tr. The Queen on Tour, 1955), written during World War II, contained a hidden call to resistance against the Germans. In Han sidder ved Smeltediglen (1938; tr. He Sits at the Melting Pot, 1953) Kaj Munk criticized Nazi ideology. The Swede Par Lagerkvist argued in favor of expressionism in drama in his essay Modern teater (1918; tr. Modern Theatre, 1961) and wrote a series of plays in which he attempted to put his ideas into practice: Sista manniskan (1917; tr. The Last Man, 1988), Den svara stunden (1918; tr. The Difficult Hour, 1961) and Himlens hemlighet (1919; tr. The Secret ofHeaven, 1966). Stig Dagerman wrote six dramas, among them Den dodsdomde (1947; tr. The Condemned, 1951), Ingen gar fri (1949; Nobody Goes Free), and Den yttersta dagen (1952; The Day of Judgment). In Finland Walentin Chorell wrote such plays as Systrarna (1955; tr. The Sisters, 1971) and Kattorna (1963; tr. The Cats, 1978). The National Theater of Iceland was founded in 1950, and among those who have written for the stage in Iceland is Halldor Kiljan Laxness. Influenced by the ideas of Bertolt Brecht, the Norwegian novelist and dramatist Jens Bjørneboe made a valiant attempt to overcome Ibsen's influence on Norwegian drama through such plays as Til lykke med dagen (1965; Many Happy Returns) and Fugleelskerne (1966; tr. The Bird Lovers, 1993), his greatest dramatic success. Semmelweis (1968; tr. 1996) and Amputasjon (1971; tr. Amputation, 2003) are both strongly anti-authoritarian.
   The foremost contemporary Scandinavian dramatist is arguably Jon Fosse, who has published a large number of plays, starting with Og aldri skal vi skiljast (1994; And Never Shall We Be Separated), which focuses on the limitations of language. Communication is also the theme of Namnet (1995; tr. The Name 2002) and Nokon kjem til aå komme (1996; tr. Someone Is Going to Come, 2002), in which a marriage breaks down after the arrival of a third person. The failure to communicate returns in Natta syng sine songar (1998; tr. Night-songs, 2002), Ein sommars dag (1998; A Day in Summer), Draum om hausten (1999; Autumn Dream), Besøk (2000; Visit), Vinter (2000; Winter), and Ettermiddag (2000; Afternoon). Dødsvariasjo-nar (2002; Variations on Death) discusses suicide, while Suzannah (2004) is a dramatic presentation of the life of Suzannah Thoresen, the wife of Henrik Ibsen. The Swede Lars Noren is also well known internationally. His first play to be staged was Fursteslickaren (The Prince Licker, produced at the Royal Dramatic Theater, Stockholm, in 1973). Noren's dramas written during the late 1970s exhibit a higher degree of realism in their form, and since 1980 he has written several dozen plays. Like his Norwegian colleague Jon Fosse, he often writes about difficulties in communication. A paradigmatic example is a play about Eugene O'Neill, Och ge oss skuggorna (1991; And Give Us the Shadows), which deals with O'Neill's family life and uses Long Day's Journey into Night (1956) as intertext.
   See also Aasen, Ivar; Ahlin, Lars; Almqvist, Carl Jonas Love; Andersen, Benny; Andersen, Hans Christian; Atterbom, Per Daniel Amadeus; Bang, Herman; Bergman, Hjalmar; Borgen, Johan; Branner, Hans Christian; Brøgger, Suzanne; Canth, Minna; Christensen, Lars Saabye; Delblanc, Sven; Enckell, Rabbe; Enquist, Per Olov; Faldbakken, Knut; Forssell, Lars; Frostenson, Katarina; Garborg, Arne; Gress, Elsa; Grieg, Nordahl; Gunnarsson, Gunnar; Hamsun, Knut; Heiberg, Gunnar; Henningsen, Agnes; Hoem, Edvard; Jakobsdottir, Svava; Jakobsson, Jokull; Jensen, Thit; Kallas, Aino Julia Maria; Kielland, Alexander; Kivi, Aleksis; Kjær, Nils; Krog, Helge; Kyrklund, Willy; Leino, Eino; Lidman, Sara; Lugn, Kristina; Løveid, Cecilie; Madsen, Svend Age; Manner, Eeva-Liisa; Martinson, Harry; Michael, Ib; Moberg, Vilhelm; Myrdal, Jan; Paludan-Muller, Frederik; Pleijel, Agneta; Olsson, Hagar; Panduro, Leif; Rifbjerg, Klaus; Runeberg, Johan Ludvig; Schildt, Runar; Skram, Amalie; Söderberg, Hjalmar; Solstad, Dag; Sønderby, Knud; Svendsen, Hanne Marie; Tafdrup, Pia; Thorup, Kirsten; Topelius, Zacharias; Vesaas, Tarjei; Vik, Bjørg; Waltari, Mika Toimi; Wassmo, Herbjørg; Willumsen, Dorrit.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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