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(i) Scandinavian Drama.


Still more distinctly, the dramatic literature of the Scandinavian peoples springs from foreign growths. In Denmark, where the beginnings of the drama in the plays of the schoolmaster Chr. Hansen recall the mixture of Denmark. religious and farcical elements in contemporary German efforts, the drama in the latter half of the 16th century remained essentially scholastic, and treated scriptural or classical subjects, chiefly in the Latin tongue. J. Ranch (1539-1607) and H. S. Sthen were authors of this type. But often in the course of the 17th century, German and French had become the tongues of Danish literature and of the Danish theatre; in the 18th Denmark could boast a comic dramatist of thorough originality and of a wholly national cast. L. Holberg, one of the most noteworthy comic poets of modern literature, not only marks an epoch in the dramatic literature of his native land, but he contributed to overthrow the trivialities of the German stage in its worst period, which he satirized with merciless humour,[1] and set an example, never surpassed, of a series of comedies[2] deriving their types from popular life and ridiculing with healthy directness those vices and follies which are the proper theme of the most widely effective species of the comic drama. Among his followers, P. A. Heiberg is specially noted. Under the influence of the Romantic school, whose influence has nowhere proved so long-lived as in the Scandinavian north, A. Ohlenschläger began a new era of Danish literature. His productivity, which belongs partly to his native and partly to German literary history, turned from foreign[3] to native themes; and other writers followed him in his endeavours to revive the figures of The modern Norwegian drama. Northern heroic legend. But these themes have in their turn given way in the Scandinavian theatre to subjects coming nearer home to the popular consciousness, and treated with a direct appeal to the common experience of human life, and with a searching insight into the actual motives of human action. The most remarkable movement to be noted in the history of the Scandinavian drama, and one of the most widely effective of those which mark the more recent history of the Western drama in general, had its origin in Norway. Two Norwegian dramatists, H. Ibsen and Björnsterne Björnson, standing as it were side by side, though by no means always judging eye to eye, have vitally influenced the whole course of modern dramatic literature in the direction of a fearlessly candid and close delineation of human nature. The lesser of the pair in inventive genius, and in the power of exhibiting with scornful defiance the conflict between soul and circumstance, but the stronger by virtue of the conviction of hope which lies at the root of achievement, is Björnson.[4] Ibsen’s long career as a dramatist exhibits a succession of many changes, but at no point any failure in the self-trust of his genius. His early masterpieces were dramatic only in form.[5] His world-drama of Emperor and Galilean was still unsuited to a stage rarely trodden to much purpose by idealists of Julian’s type. The beginnings of his real and revolutionary significance as a dramatist date from the production of his first plays of contemporary life, the admirable satirical comedy The Pillars of Society (1877), the subtle domestic drama A Doll’s House (1879), and the powerful but repellent Ghosts (1881),[6] which last, with the effects of its appearance, modern dramatic literature may even to this day be said to have failed altogether to assimilate. Ibsen’s later prose comedies—(verse, he writes, has immensely damaged the art of acting, and a tragedy in iambics belongs to the species Dodo)—for the most part written during an exile which accounts for the note of isolation so audible in many of them, succeeded one another at regular biennial intervals, growing more and more abrupt in form, cruel in method, and intense in elemental dramatic force. The prophet at last spoke to a listening world, but without the amplitude, the grace and the wholeheartedness which are necessary for subduing it. But it may be long before the art which he had chosen as the vehicle of his comments on human life and society altogether ceases to show the impress of his genius.


  1. Ulysses of Ithaca.
  2. The Politician-Tinman; Jean de France or Hans Franzen; The Lying-In, &c.
  3. Aladdin; Corregio.
  4. Maria Stuart; A Bankruptcy; Leonarda.
  5. Brand; Peer Gynt.
  6. Samfundets Stöttere; Et Dukkehjem; Gengangere.