Johan Ludvig Heiberg wrote prolifically in all the various literary forms. He wrote nonfiction both as a journalist and as a scholar. His journalism spans the spectrum from politics to theatrical criticism. His scientific works reflect his multitude of interests. Heiberg wrote on Nordic mythology, on philosophy, and on linguistics; he also published both poetry and short stories.
Johan Ludvig Heiberg managed, in his own lifetime, to go from being considered an inferior dramatist whose works were in bad taste, empty, and silly to being the arbiter of taste and his country’s most highly regarded and popular dramatist. He single-handedly introduced the vaudeville as a dramatic form in Denmark, by way of the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. After finishing his doctoral dissertation, Heiberg spent several years in France, where he first saw vaudeville on the stage. The French vaudeville can be described as lighthearted comedy spiced with popular tunes. He was enchanted, and when he returned to Copenhagen, he began to write his own vaudevilles. At first they were met with a dual response, unadulterated enthusiasm from the audience—Copenhagen saw its first ticket scalpers as a result of the popularity of Heiberg’s vaudevilles—and icy contempt from critics and the intelligentsia.
Heiberg met his critics head-on. After repeatedly having read how empty and distasteful his plays were, how they were a menace to the tastes of unsuspecting and intellectually unsophisticated audiences, he answered in the form of a long article, “Om vaudevillen,” in which he declared his program and denounced his critics as amateurs. The article was so well argued and convincing that the criticism virtually stopped. Heiberg had won.
Soon after Heiberg’s first vaudevilles had appeared, and after he had successfully argued the merits...