Three Dramas HTML version

The three plays here presented were the outcome of a period when Björnson's views on
many topics were undergoing a drastic revision and he was abandoning much of his
previous orthodoxy in many directions. Two of them were written during, and one
immediately after, a three years' absence from Norway--years spent almost entirely in
southern Europe. [Note: Further details respecting Björnson's life will be found in the
Introduction to Three Comedies by Björnson, published in Everyman's Library in 1912.]
For nearly ten years previous to this voluntary exile, Björnson had been immersed in
theatrical management and political propagandism. His political activities (guided by a
more or less pronounced republican tendency) centred in an agitation for a truer equality
between the kingdoms of Sweden and Norway, his point of view being that Norway had
come to be regarded too much as a mere appanage of Sweden. Between that and his
manifold and distracting cares as theatrical director, he had let imaginative work slide for
the time being; but his years abroad had a recuperative effect, and, in addition, broadened
his mental outlook in a remarkable manner. Foreign travel, a wider acquaintance with
differing types of humanity, and, above all, a newly-won acquaintance with the
contemporary literature of other countries, made a deep impression upon Björnson's
vigorously receptive mind. He browsed voraciously upon the works of foreign writers.
Herbert Spencer, Darwin, John Stuart Mill, Taine, Max-Müller, formed a portion of his
mental pabulum at this time--and the result was a significant alteration of mental attitude
on a number of questions, and a determination to make the attempt to embody his
theories in dramatic form. He had gained all at once, as he wrote to Georg Brandes, the
eminent Danish critic, "eyes that saw and ears that heard." Up to this time the poet in him
had been predominant; now it was to be the social philosopher that held the reins. Just as
Ibsen did, so Björnson abandoned historical drama and artificial comedy for an attempt at
prose drama which should have at all events a serious thesis. In this he anticipated Ibsen;
for (unless we include the satirical political comedy, _The League of Youth_, which was
published in 1869, among Ibsen's "social dramas") Ibsen did not enter the field with
_Pillars of Society_ [Note: Published in _The Pretenders and Two Other Plays_, in
Everyman's Library, 1913.] until 1877, whereas Björnson's _The Editor_, _The
Bankrupt_, and _The King_ were all published between 1874 and 1877. Intellectual and
literary life in Denmark had been a good deal stirred and quickened in the early seventies,
and the influence of that awakening was inevitably felt by the more eager spirits in the
other Scandinavian countries. It is amusing to note, as one Norwegian writer has pointed
out, that this intellectual upheaval (which, in its turn, was a reflection of that taking place
in outer Europe) came at a time when the bulk of the Scandinavian folk "were
congratulating themselves that the doubt and ferment of unrest which were undermining
the foundations of the great communities abroad had not had the power to ruffle the
placid surface of our good, old-fashioned, Scandinavian orthodoxy." Björnson makes
several sly hits in these plays (as does Ibsen in _Pillars of Society_) at this distrust of the
opinions and manners of the larger communities outside of Scandinavia, notably
America, with which the Scandinavian countries were more particularly in touch through