Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger’s choice of subject matter for his plays was very much in line with the philosophy of the time. To him, as well as to other writers of the epoch, the national spirit was to be found in indigenous folklore. This view stimulated enormous research into folk songs and medieval tales, resulting in a rediscovery of the old sagas. Oehlenschläger stated that mythology was the product of a nation’s characters and way of thinking. Thus, one must look at his literary production as the point of departure for a new Danish national literary tradition. This fact is one of the prime reasons for his success with audiences.
Midsummer Night’s Play
Midsummer Night’s Play, a lyric drama, appeared in the collection Digte in 1803. This is the only play by Oehlenschläger that is set in contemporary Denmark, and the author uses the local setting as backdrop for a Romantic polemic against the rationalist philosophy of life and its expression in the arts.
The plot line of Midsummer Night’s Play is very thin and is subordinate to the polemicizing of the proponents of the various viewpoints. Maria has been farmed out and hidden with another family by her mother because she has fallen in love with Ludvig, a man above her in social standing. Ludvig loves Maria also, and they meet surreptitiously at a picnic at the popular Bakken, an amusement park for Copenhageners then and now. Within this framework, Oehlenschläger takes a mildly satiric look at the bourgeoisie and the state of the arts in Denmark. His vehicle is the whole plethora of Pierrots, harlequins, conjurers, minstrels, marionettes, and beggars, together with “art critics” from the general crowd of listeners. The play ends on a happy note when the Goddess of Love takes pity on the unhappy lovers and escorts them to a faraway place where they can live their lives in idyllic harmony.
Midsummer Night’s Play is composed of a series of pictures that represents a bourgeois idyll. Oehlenschläger displays a contrapuntal array of figures, images, and ideas that contrast both in form and in content. The bold artists and the philistines, the irreverence of the ideals of the Enlightenment and the sensual representation of the primitive antiquity, the joy at the sight of the full picnic basket and the semireligious reverence of nature—these elements are all present in this youthful, playful drama. Most of the themes are presented in their own style, and lyric and epic episodes interchange freely in Oehlenschläger’s first dramatic attempt at universal poetry.
Aladdin was the main work appearing in Oehlenschläger’s collection Poetiske skrifter. The source for the play was a 1758 Danish translation from the French of The Thousand and One Nights, and the author followed his source very closely, deviating only when dramatic exigency demanded it.
Aladdin is divided into five “actions,” rather than the traditional acts. In this way, Oehlenschläger broke with dramatic conventions, immediately establishing the critical stance of Romanticism: nonconformity, challenge, and negation of classicism and rationalism.
Aladdin is the story of a young, handsome idler who wins a princess and a crown. Aladdin meets Nureddin, who, unknown to him, is a magician and is searching for the Magic Lamp. Nureddin tries to kill Aladdin when the latter has retrieved the Magic Lamp for him but is unsuccessful. The young man returns home to his mother, Morgana, with the aid of the Spirit of the Lamp and proceeds to fall in love with the sultan’s daughter, Gulnare, after having spied on her when she was on the way to her bath. He convinces his mother to go to Soliman, the sultan, to ask for the hand of his daughter. Helped by the Spirit of the Lamp, he comes up with the outrageous bridal price that Soliman demands: forty black slaves, each carrying one gold vessel filled with jewels, followed by forty white slaves. In addition, his magic servants build a white marble palace overnight as a wedding gift to Gulnare.
Nureddin, however, has realized that Aladdin is alive and in possession of the Magic Lamp. He appears in the town, disguised, and while Aladdin is away hunting, he acquires the lamp through cunning. When the hunting party returns, there is neither palace nor Gulnare. Consequently, the sultan loses his confidence in his son-in-law and condemns him to death, but the people plead for Aladdin’s life, and he goes free on the condition that he return the princess and the palace within forty days.
Aladdin locates and kills Nureddin at the last moment and regains the favor of Soliman. Yet Nureddin’s brother, Hindbad, is driven by greed toward possession of the Magic Lamp. He kills...
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