The romantic theatre, with all its imaginative vigour and eagerness for experimentation, appeals to those who like total theatre – unabashed, unashamedly spectacular, unforgettably pathetic. Critics who take a purely literary approach the drama often neglect or malign the theatre of the nineteenth century. Yet even in terms of literary, influence it is a hazardous to ignore the debt the exponents of naturalism owed to the drama of the prenaturalistic period. Despite universal critical agreement about the significance of Ibsen and Strindberg as creators of modernism, no attempt has previously been made to describe and delineate the theatrical context from which these major Scandinavian playwrights emerged.
Hans Christian Andersen stands squarely astride the romantic period in Scandinavia. His plays, appearing from 1829 to 1865, span the important transition from the actor-dominated theatre to the naturalist theatre controlled by the director. Although recognized as a great artist in the genre with which his name has become synonymous, his extensive work as a dramatist, constituting a microcosm if important nineteenth-century genres and styles, is virtually unknown today. This book, the first to deal with Andersen as a man of the theatre, dispels the myth that he was a frustrated closet dramatist; a glance at the chronology listing his twenty-five original plays and libretti, produced for more than 1000 performances, illustrates the serious emphasis which he himself placed on this aspect of his writing. His sense of the practical theatre was keen, and the production history of his plays affords an unparalleled stage picture. Equally fascinating are his frequently incisive comments and observations made about the theatre and drama as travelled restlessly through Europe and visited the leading playhouses of his day.
The author has culled a unique body of theatrical sources from the archives of the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen and has collected a gallery of unpublished designs and ground plans to illustrate his story. This highly readable and fully documented account of nineteenth-century stage practices, as exemplified in Andersen’s plays, will stand as a lasting contribution to theatrical history.
About the author
Frederick J. Marker is Professor of English and Drama, University of Toronto.