Writing means killing, killing darlings. My latest journal article – on the afterlives of the naval hero Peter Wessel Tordenskjold – is no exception to this gruesome rule. The article has many a deleted scene. One of the more enjoyable ones is related to Henrik Hertz’s play Tordenskjold i Dynekilen from 1844 (see pages 33-37 of the article – it is an Open Access publication so please do read it). The play deals with the young and brave hero’s famous victory in the Battle of Dynekilen (1716), where he captured or destroyed most of a Swedish transport fleet. This loss of supply dealt a meaningful blow to Sweden’s war effort in Norway.
As you can read in the article, Hertz’s piece was highly patriotic in tone. He not only presented the Norwegian-born Tordenskjold as an all-Danish hero, but he also made laughable caricatures of the Swedish characters. This was somewhat uncharacteristic for Hertz, who was otherwise sympathetic to the Scandinavist movement for instance. The mounting tensions in the 1840s in Schleswig and Holstein – the two German-speaking duchies that then still formed part of the Danish realm and that wanted to break away – might offer a possible explanation for this opportunistic display of patriotism, which chimed well with the generally heated atmosphere in Denmark at the time.
Yet, what might have been even more important is that Hertz was not very motivated, to say the least, when he worked on this play. It was not out of free will that he had taken up this subject. The Royal Theater in Copenhagen had commissioned him to adapt the original German(!) manuscript that had been written by a now completely forgotten playwright named J.L. Lyser. Hertz was strongly reluctant but accepted under the condition that he was free to change the original manuscript – which he deemed “completely useless” – as he pleased. He for example felt forced to rewrite all the original dialogues, leaving, as he remarked, only one original line intact, namely Tordenskjold’s response to the question whether he would like to have something to eat: “Yes, please.”
In a letter to his sister in law, he further complained that “working on this piece has taken up as much time as writing two completely new plays, and has not been as enjoyable as that at all – not to mention that I probably won’t have any success with it.” With that last remark he was not completely correct. Despite the frustrations of the script writer, Tordenskjold i Dynekilen would run for 3 seasons and a total of 7 performances. Not impressive (Hertz’s more inspired works would approach 200 performances), but not bad either. It goes to show, once again, that Tordenskjold was a fan favourite. Few historical figures from Scandinavia can lean on an afterlife as rich as that of the legendary Vice-Admiral.
Tim van Gerven, ‘Whose Tordenskjold? The Fluctuating Identities of an Eighteenth-Century Naval Hero in Nineteenth-Century Cultural Nationalisms’, Romantik 7:1 (2018), pp. 17-46.
Henrik Hertz, Samlede skrifter: Dramatiske værker. Sextende bind (København: C.A. Reitzels Forlag, 1867).
Henrik Hertz, Breve fra og til Henrik Hertz (København: Gyldendal, 1895).
Works with the same motif
Knud Lyne Rahbek, Tordenskjold i Marstrand (1813)
Adam Oehlenschläger, Tordenskjold (1833)
Hans Ørn Blom, Tordenskjold (1844)
Theodor Vilhelm Rumohr, Peter Tordenskjold (1844)
Carit Etlar, I Dynekilen (1862)
Carit Etlar, Tordenskjold i Marstrand (1872)
Holger Drachmann, Peder Tordenskjold (1880)
Jacob Breda Bull, Tordenskjold (play, 1901)
Jacob Breda Bull, Tordenskjold (novel, 1905)
Ragnar Pihlstrand, Tordenskjolds spikklubba (1905)
Niels Simonsen, Tordenskjolds hukkert i kamp med en svensk fregatt (1848)
Otto Henrik Fladager, Tordenskjold (1857)
Theobald Stein, Tordenskjold (statue, 1862)
Vilhelm Rosenstand, Tordenskjold ved Carlsten Festning (1867)
Carl Christian Andersen, Tordenskjold fremstiller fanger for Fr. IV (1874)\
Otto Bache, Admiral Tordenskjold meets Commandant Danckwardt during the Siege of Marstrand of 1719 (1875)
H.W. Bissen, Tordenskjold (statue, 2 copies, Trondheim (1876) and Copenhagen (1878))
Vilhelm Rosenstand, The Danish-Norwegian naval hero ‘Tordenskjold’ disguised as a fisherman to trick the Swedes (1885)
Carl Neumann, Tordenskjold i Dynekilen (featured picture, 1892)
Vilhelm Rosenstand, Tordenskjolds Kammertjener Kold ved sin faldne Herres Lig (1894)
Axel Ender, Tordenskjold (statue, Oslo, 1901)