Heiberg, Johan Ludvig

Heiberg, Johan Ludvig
   A Danish poet and dramatist, Heiberg was an influential arbiter oftaste and the most important Danish man of letters of his generation. As a young man he lived in Paris for several years, where he became acquainted with the plays of Eugene Scribe (1791-1861) and was intrigued by his vaudevilles. He also met Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and was much taken with his dialectical thinking. Back in Denmark, Heiberg introduced Hegelianism to his countrymen and based his own theory of literature on it. He saw drama as a synthesis of lyric poetry and the epic, and he regarded the vaudeville as a synthesis of poetry and music. He explained his ideas in Om Vaudevillen (1826; On Vaudeville) and in numerous essays.
   Heiberg wrote several vaudevilles, the first being Kong Salomon og Jørgen Hattemager (1825; King Salomon and George Hatter), which combines a story of mistaken identity with a convoluted love story. Recensenten og Dyret (1826; The Critic and the Animal) satirizes critics who write just for money without any real knowledge of their subject. He also wrote more traditional dramas, for example, the romantic folklore plays Elverhøi (1828; The Elves' Hill) and Alferne (1835; The Elves). The elves are portrayed as superior to the skeptics and materialists of Heiberg's own time. The lovers in Syvsoverdag (1840; Late Sleepers Day) find their happiness in poetry, the antithesis of middle-class strivings.
   One of the leading intellectual lights in Heiberg's Copenhagen was the theologian Hans L. Martensen (1808-1884), under whose influence Heiberg gradually turned toward Christianity. Martensen's influence is visible in Heiberg's Nye Digte (1841; New Poems), which consists of several parts and includes the comedy En Sjæl efter Døden (tr. A Soul after Death, 1991). Its protagonist is a lower-middle-class man who, after his death, is able to get into neither heaven nor the classical Elysium; he feels perfectly comfortable in hell, however. Another section of Nye Digte, "Gudstjeneste" (Sunday Service) extols Christian love over romantic nature worship.
   After a long career as a freelance intellectual, toward the end of his life Heiberg spent several years as the director of Copenhagen's Royal Theater, where his wife Johanne Luise was the leading actress.
   See also Theater.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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