Master Olof: A Drama in Five Acts. by August Strindberg

Produced by Nicole Apostola INTRODUCTION The original prose version of Master Olof, which is here presented for the first time in English form, was written between June 8 and August 8, 1872, while Strindberg, then only twenty-three years old, was living with two friends on one of the numerous little islands that lie between Stockholm
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Produced by Nicole Apostola


The original prose version of Master Olof, which is here presented for the first time in English form, was written between June 8 and August 8, 1872, while Strindberg, then only twenty-three years old, was living with two friends on one of the numerous little islands that lie between Stockholm and the open sea.

Up to that time he had produced half-a-dozen plays, one of which had been performed at the Royal Theatre of Stockholm and had won him the good-will and financial support of King Carl XV. Thus he had been able to return to the University of Upsala, whence he had been driven a year earlier by poverty as well as by spiritual revolt. During his second term of study at the old university Strindberg wrote some plays that he subsequently destroyed. In the same period he not only conceived the idea later developed in Master Olof, but he also acquired the historical data underlying the play and actually began to put it into dialogue.

During that same winter of 1871-72 he read extensively, although his reading probably had slight reference to the university curriculum. The two works that seem to have taken the lion’s share of his attention were Goethe’s youthful drama Goetz von Berlichingen and Buckle’s History of Civilization in England. Both impressed him deeply, and both became in his mind logically connected with an external event which, perhaps, had touched his supersensitive soul more keenly than anything else: an event concerning which he says in the third volume of The Bondwoman’s Son, that “he had just discovered that the men of the Paris Commune merely put into action what Buckle preached.”

Such were the main influences at work on his mind when, early in 1872, his royal protector died, and Strindberg found himself once more dependent on his own resources. To continue at the university was out of the question, and he seems to have taken his final departure from it without the least feeling of regret. Unwise as he may have been in other respects, he was wise enough to realize that, whatever his goal, the road to it must be of his own making. Returning to Stockholm, he groped around for a while as he had done a year earlier, what he even tried to eke out a living as the editor of a trade journal. Yet the seeds sown within him during the previous winter were sprouting. An irresistible impulse urged him to continue the work of Buckle. History and philosophy were the ultimate ends tempting his mind, but first of all he was impelled to express himself in terms of concrete life, and the way had been shown him by Goethe. Moved by Goethe’s example, he felt himself obliged to break through the stifling forms of classical drama. “No verse, no eloquence, no unity of place,” was the resolution he formulated straightway. [Note: See again The Bondwoman’s Son, vol. iii: In the Red Room.]

Having armed himself with a liberal supply of writing-paper, he joined his two friends in the little island of Kymmendo. Of money he had so little that, but for the generosity of one of his friends, he would have had to leave the island in the autumn without settling the small debt he owed for board and lodging. Yet those months were happy indeed–above all because he felt himself moved by an inspiration more authentic than he had ever before experienced. Thus page was added to page, and act to act, until at last, in the surprisingly brief time of two months, the whole play was ready–mighty in bulk and spirit, as became the true firstling of a young Titan.

Strindberg had first meant to name his play “What Is Truth?” For a while he did call it “The Renegade,” but in the end he thought both titles smacked too much of tendency and decided instead, with reasoned conventionalism, to use the title of Master Olof after its central figure, the Luther of Sweden.

From a dramatic point of view it would have been hard to pick a more promising period than the one he had chosen as a setting for his play. The early reign of Gustaf Vasa, the founder of modern Sweden, was marked by three parallel conflicts of equal intensity and interest: between Swedish and Danish nationalism; between Catholicism and Protestantism; and, finally, between feudalism and a monarchism based more or less on the consent of the governed. Its background was the long struggle for independent national existence in which the country had become involved by its voluntary federation with Denmark and Norway about the end of the fourteenth century. That Struggle–made necessary by the insistence of one sovereign after another on regarding Sweden as a Danish province rather than as an autonomous part of a united Scandinavia–had reached a sort of climax, a final moment of utter blackness just before the dawn, when, at Stockholm in 1520, the Danish king, known ever afterward as Christian the Tyrant, commanded the arbitrary execution of about eighty of Sweden’s most representative men.

Until within a few months of that event, named by the horror- stricken people “the blood-bath of Stockholm,” the young Gustaf Eriksson Vasa had been a prisoner in Denmark, sent there as a hostage of Swedish loyalty. Having obtained his freedom by flight, he made his way to the inland province of Dalecarlia, where most of the previous movements on behalf of national liberty had originated, and having cleared the country of foreign invaders, chiefly by the help of an aroused peasantry that had never known the yoke of serfdom, he was elected king at a Riksdag held in the little city of Strangnas, not far from Stockholm, in 1523.

Strangnas was a cathedral city and had for several years previous been notorious for the Lutheran leanings of its clergy. After the death of its bishop as one of the victims of King; Christian, its temporary head had been the archdeacon, the ambitious and learned Lars Andersson–or Laurentius Andreae, as, in accordance with the Latinizing tendency of the time, he was more frequently named. One of its canons was Olof Pedersson–also known as Olaus Petri, and more commonly as Master Olof (Master being the vernacular for Magister, which was the equivalent of our modern Doctor)–who, during two years spent in studies at the University of Wittenberg, had been in personal contact with Luther, and who had become fired with an aspiration to carry the Reformation into his native country. By recent historians Master Olof has been described as of a “naively humble nature,” rather melancholy in temperament, but endowed with a gift for irony, and capable of fiery outbursts when deeply stirred. At Strangnas he had been preaching the new faith more openly and more effectively than any one else, and he had found a pupil as well as a protector in the temporary head of the diocese.

Immediately after his election, the new King called Lars Andersson from Strangnas to become his first chancellor. Later on, he pressed Olof, too, into his service, making him Secretary to the City Corporation of Stockholm–which meant that Olof practically became the chief civil administrator of the capital, having to act as both clerk and magistrate, while at the same time he was continuing his reformatory propaganda as one of the preachers in the city’s principal edifice, officially named after St. Nicolaus, but commonly spoken of as Greatchurch. As if this were not sufficient for one man, he plunged also into a feverish literary activity, doing most of the work on the Swedish translations of the New and Old Testaments, and paving the way for the new faith by a series of vigorous polemical writings, the style of which proclaims him the founder of modern Swedish prose. Centuries passed before the effective simplicity and homely picturesqueness of his style were surpassed. He became, furthermore, Sweden’s first dramatist. The Comedy of Tobit, from which Strindberg uses a few passages in slightly modernized form at the beginning of his play, is now generally recognized as an authentic product of Olof’s pen, although it was not written until a much later period.

Strindberg’s drama starts at Strangnas, at the very moment when Olof has been goaded into open revolt against the abuses of the Church, and when he is saved from the consequences of that revolt only by the unexpected arrival of King Gustaf and his own appointment as City Secretary. From the slightly strained, but not improbable, coincidence of that start to the striking climax of the last act, the play follows, on the whole, pretty closely the actual course of events recorded in history. To understand this course, with its gradually intensified conflict between the King and Olof, it is above all necessary to bear in mind that the former regarded the Reformation principally as a means toward that political reorganization and material upbuilding of the country which formed his main task; while to Olof the religious reconstruction assumed supreme importance. This fundamental divergence of purpose is clearly indicated and effectively used by Strindberg, and we have reason to believe that he has pictured not only Gustaf Vasa and Master Olof, but also the other historical characters, in close accordance with what history has to tell us about them. Among the chief figures there is only one –Gert the Printer–who is not known to history, and one–the wife of Olof–who is so little known that the playwright has been at liberty to create it almost wholly out of his own imagination.

At the juncture represented by the initial scenes of the play, Olof was in reality thirty-one years old, but he is made to appear still younger. The King should be, and is, about twenty- seven, while Lars Andersson is about fifty-four, and Bishop Brask about seventy. Gert must be thought a man of about sixty, while Christine must be about twenty. The action of the play lasts from 1524 to 1540, but Strindberg has contracted the general perspective, so to speak, giving us the impression that the entire action takes place within a couple of years. I have tried to work out a complete chronology, and think it fairly safe to date the several parts of the play as follows:

The first act takes place on Whitsun Eve, 1524, which means that the exact date must fall between May 10 and June 13 of that year, and probably about June 1.

The first scene of the second act occurs in the early evening of a Saturday in the summer–probably in June–of 1524. The second scene is fixed at midnight of the same day, and the third scene on the following morning, which, in view of the fact that Olof is to preach, we may assume to be a Sunday.

The first scene of the third act seems to take place four days later, but Olof was not married until February, 1525,–to “Christine, a maiden of good family,”–and it was only during the winter of 1526-27 that the Church reformers were given free rein by the King, and Olof himself was despatched to the University of Upsala for the purpose of challenging Peder Galle, the noted Catholic theologian, to a joint discussion. This was also the time when the first Swedish version of the New Testament was completed by Olof and Lars Andersson–an event referred to in the scene in question.

The exact date of the second scene of the third act is St. John’s Eve, or June 24, 1527, at which time occurred the important Riksdag at Vesteras, where the King broke the final resistance of the nobility and the Catholic clergy by threatening to abdicate. The debate between Olof and Peder Galle took place at the Riksdag, Galle having evaded it as long as he could.

The date of the fourth act is very uncertain, but it seems safe to place it in the summer of 1539, when Stockholm was ravaged by an epidemic of a virulent disease known as “the English sweat.”

The first scene of the fifth act is laid on New Year’s Eve, 1539, when Olof and Lars Andersson were arrested and charged with high treason for not having informed the proper authorities of a plot against the King’s life. This plot was an old story, having been exposed and punished in 1536. Their defence was that they had learned of it through secret confession, which they as ministers had no right to reveal. The trial took only two days, and on January 2, 1540, both were sentenced to death.

The second scene of the final act must be laid in the spring of 1540, as the ceremony of confirmation has generally taken place about Easter ever since the Swedish church became Lutheran.

While, in the main, Strindberg made the events of his play accord with what was accepted as historical fact when he wrote, there are anachronisms and inaccuracies to be noted, although to none of them can be attached much importance. When, in the first and second acts, he represents the Anabaptist leaders, Rink and Knipperdollink, as then in Stockholm and actually introduces one of them on the stage, he has merely availed himself of a legend which had been accepted as truth for centuries, and which has been exploded only by recent historical research. We know now that Rink and Knipperdollink could never have been in Sweden, but we know also that a German lay preacher named Melchior Hofman appeared at Stockholm about the time indicated in the play, and that, in 1529, another such preacher, named Tilemann, made Olof himself the object of his fierce invectives. These instances serve, in fact, to prove how skilfully Strindberg handled his historical material. He is never rigid as to fact, but as a rule he is accurate in spirit. Another instance of this kind is found in the references in the first act to the use of Swedish for purposes of worship. It is recorded–and by himself, I think– that Olof once asked his mother whether she really understood the Latin prayers, since she was so very fond of them. She answered: “No, I don’t understand them, but when I hear them I pray devoutly to God that they may please Him, which I don’t doubt they do.”

On the other hand, what maybe regarded as rather an awkward slip is found in the first scene of the fifth act, where Gert cries exultantly to Olof: “You don’t know that Thomas Munster has established a new spiritual kingdom at Muhlhausen.” The name of the great Anabaptist “prophet” was Thomas Munzer, and the place where he established his brief reign was Munster. Strindberg’s habit was to fill his head with the facts to be used, and then to rely on his memory. Marvellous as his memory was, it sometimes deceived him, and checking off names or dates seems to have been utterly beyond him. Thus it is quite probable that the passage in question represents an unconscious error. At the same time it is barely possible that the mistake may have been purposely laid in the mouth of a fanatic, from whom exactness of statement could hardly be expected. Thus, in the first act, Gert remarks that “Luther is dead.” We understand, of course, that this expression is metaphorical, signifying that Luther has done all that can be expected of him, but it is nevertheless characteristically ambiguous.

The second scene of the third act is apparently laid in Olof’s house at Stockholm, although the location of the building is not definitely indicated. We find him waiting for a messenger who is to announce the results of the Riksdag then in session. But the Riksdag was held at Vesteras, and we know that Olof was one of two delegates sent by the burghers and the peasants to the King, whom they implored “on their knees and with tears” to withdraw his abdication. The Courtier’s reference to Olof’s debate with Galle renders it still more uncertain whether we are in Stockholm or in Vesteras. The Courtier also informs Olof of his appointment as pastor of Greatchurch, the facts being that Olof was not ordained until 1539 and received his appointment a year after the events described in the last act of the play. In the metrical version, Strindberg makes his most radical departure from the historical course of events by letting Luther’s marriage precede and influence that of Olof, although in reality Olof’s anticipated that of Luther by several months.

The complaints of the Man from Smaland in the first scene of the second act could scarcely have been warranted in 1524, when that act takes place. The hold of the young King was far too precarious at that early date to permit any regulations of the kind referred to. The establishment of a maximum price on oxen does not seem to have occurred until 1532, and a prohibition against the shooting of deer by the peasants was actually issued in 1538, both measures helping to provoke the widespread uprising that broke out in Smaland in 1541. It was named the “Dacke feud” after its principal leader, the peasant-chieftain Nils Dacke, to whom the Sexton refers in the second scene of the last act–also a little prematurely.

Whether these be conscious or unconscious anachronisms, they matter very little when the general accuracy of the play is considered. From the moment the Danes had been driven out of the country, one of the most serious problems confronting the King was the financial chaos into which the country had fallen, and his efforts, first of all to raise enough means for ordinary administrative purposes, and secondly to reorganize trade and agriculture, brought him almost immediately into conflict with the peasants, who, during the long struggle for national independence, had become accustomed to do pretty much as they pleased. The utterances of the Man from Smaland are typical of the sentiments that prevailed among the peasants throughout the country, not least when he speaks of the King’s intention to “take away their priests and friars,” for the majority of the Swedish people were at that time still intensely Catholic, and remained so to a large extent long after the Reformation officially had placed Sweden among Protestant countries.

Much more serious than any liberties taken with dates or facts, I deem certain linguistic anachronisms, of which Strindberg not rarely becomes guilty. Thus, for instance, he makes the King ask Bishop Brask: “What kind of phenomenon is this?” The phrase is palpably out of place, and yet it has been used so deliberately that nothing was left for me to do but to translate it literally. The truth is that Strindberg was not striving to reproduce the actual language of the Period–a language of which we get a glimpse in the quotations from The Comedy of Tobit. Here and there he used archaic expressions (which I have sometimes reproduced and sometimes disregarded, as the exigencies of the new medium happened to require). At other times he did not hesitate to employ modern colloquialisms (most of which have been “toned down”). He did not regard local color or historical atmosphere as a supreme desideratum. He wanted to express certain ideas, and he wanted to bring home the essential humanity of historical figures which, through the operations of legendary history, had assumed a strange, unhuman aspect. The methods he employed for these purposes have since been made familiar to the English-speaking public by the historical plays of Bernard Shaw and the short stories and novels of Anatole France.

In his eagerness, however, to express what was burning for utterance in his own breast, the second purpose was sometimes lost sight of; and at such times Strindberg hesitated as little to pass the bounds imposed by an historical period as to break through the much more important limitations of class and personal antecedents. Thus, for example, the remarks of Olof’s mother are at one moment characterized by the simplicity to be expected from the aged widow of a small city tradesman in the early part of the sixteenth century, while in the next–under the pressure of the author’s passion for personal expression–they grow improbably sophisticated. Yet each figure, when seen in proper perspective, appears correctly drawn and strikingly consistent with the part assigned to it in the play. In his very indifference to minor accuracies, Strindberg sometimes approaches more closely to the larger truth than men more scrupulous in regard to details. How true he can be in his delineation of a given type is perhaps best shown by the figure of Gert. The world’s literature holds few portrayals of the anarchistic temperament that can vie with it in psychological exactness, and it is as true to-day as it was in 1524 or in 1872.

This verisimilitude on a universal rather than a specific plane assumes still greater significance if we consider it in the light of what Strindberg has told us about his purpose with the main characters of his first great play. As I have already said, those characters were meant to be both mouthpieces of the author and revived historical figures, but they were also meant–and primarily, I suspect–to be something else: embodiments of the contradictory phases of a single individual, namely the author himself.

“The author meant to hide his own self behind the historical characters,” Strindberg tells us, apropos of this very play. [Note: In one of his biographical novels, The Bondwoman’s Son, vol. iii: In the Red Room.] “As an idealist he was to be represented by Olof; as a realist by Gustaf; and as a communist by Gert.” Farther on in the same work, he continues his revelation as follows: “The King and his shadow, the shrewd Constable, represented himself [the author] as he wished to be; Gert, as he was in moments of aroused passion; and Olof, as, after years of self-scrutiny, he had come to know himself: ambitious and weak-willed; unscrupulous when something was at stake, and yielding at other times; possessed of great self-confidence, mixed with a deep melancholy; balanced and irrational; hard and gentle.”

Finally, he gives us this illuminating exposition of his own views on the moral validity of the main characters, thus disposing once for all of the one-sided interpretations made by persons anxious to use this or that aspect of the play in support of their own political or social idiosyncrasies: “All the chief characters are, relatively speaking, in the right. The Constable, from the standpoint of his own day, is right in asking Olof to keep calm and go on preaching; Olof is right in admitting that he had gone too far; the scholar, Vilhelm, is right when, in the name of youth, he demands the evolution of a new truth; and Gert is right in calling Olof a renegade. The individual must always become a renegade–forced by the necessity of natural laws; by fatigue; by inability to develop indefinitely, as the brain ceases to grow about the age of forty-five; and by the claims of actual life, which demand that even a reformer must live as man, mate, head of a family, and citizen. But those who crave that the individual continue his progress indefinitely are the shortsighted –particularly those who think that the cause must perish because the individual deserts it. … It is an open question, for that matter, whether Olof did not have a better chance to advance his cause from the pulpit of the reformed Greatchurch than he would have had in low-class taverns.”

These passages were written by Strindberg fourteen years after the completion of the play to which they refer. We have other evidence, however, that, while he might have seen things more clearly in retrospect, he had not been lured by the lapse of time into placing his characters in a light different from that in which they were conceived. On the list of characters forming part of the original handwritten manuscript of the first version of Master Olof, now preserved in the Public Library of Gothenburg, Sweden, the author has jotted down certain very significant notes opposite the more important names. Thus he has written opposite the name of the King: “To accomplish something in this world, one has to risk morality and conscience;” opposite the name of Olof: “He who strives to realize an idea develops greatness of personality–he accomplishes good by his personal example, but he is doomed to perish;” opposite that of Bishop Brask: “There is movement in whatever exists–whatever stands still must be crushed;” and opposite that of Gert: “He who wills more than his reason can grasp must go mad.”

Such was the play with which the young Strindberg returned to the Swedish capital in the fall of 1872; and let us remember in this connection, that up to the time in question no dramatic work of similar importance had ever been produced in Sweden. Its completion was more epoch-making for Sweden than that of Brand was for Norway in 1865–since the coming of Ibsen’s first really great play was heralded by earlier works leading up to it, while Master Olof appeared where nobody had any reason to expect it. This very fact militated against its success, of course; it was too unexpected, and also too startlingly original, both in spirit and in form.

At the time there was only one stage in Sweden where such a work could be produced–the Royal Theatre at Stockholm. To the officials of this state–supported institution Strindberg submitted his work–hopefully, as we know from his own statement. It was scornfully and ignominiously rejected, the main criticism being that a serious historical drama in prose was unthinkable. I shall make no comment whatever on that judgment, having in mind how several years later Edmund Gosse bewailed the failure of Ibsen to give a metrical form to his Emperor and Galilean.

Strindberg’s next effort concerned publication. In this respect he was equally unsuccessful, although as a rule it has never been very difficult in Sweden to find a publisher for any work of reasonable merit. But the play was not only too original, it was too dangerously radical for a country where a truly modern form of representative government had not been achieved until seven years earlier. Strindberg was at first stunned by this failure. He seriously contemplated giving up writing altogether. When he had recovered somewhat, he seems reluctantly to have faced the possibility that the fault might be found in the play and not in the public.

So he set about to re-write it–and he did so not only once but repeatedly, producing in all six versions that differ more or less from one another. At first he clung to the prose form. Gradually he began to introduce verse, until finally, in 1877 or 1878, he completed an almost new play, where the metrical form predominated without being used exclusively. This version was actually published in 1878. Originally, an epilogue was appended to it, but this was dropped from all but a small part of the first edition. It is supposed to take place a number of years later than the fifth act, and shows Olof with his two sons outside the city walls of Stockholm, where they witness a miracle-play introducing God as the principle of darkness and Lucifer as the overthrown but never conquered principle of light. The bitter generalizations of this afterthought explain Sufficiently why it was excluded. To the later Strindberg–the man who wrote Advent, for instance–it must have seemed one of his most unforgivable offences.

Although Strindberg’s main object in working over his play undoubtedly was to obtain its production, the metrical version was not put on the stage until 1890, when, however, it was performed at the Royal Theatre, toward which its author had looked so longingly and so vainly eighteen years earlier. The prose version, on the other hand, was produced as early as 1881, at the New Theatre in Stockholm, but was not published until the same year, when it appeared in book form grouped with a number of other writings from Strindberg’s earliest period.

Of the five unprinted versions connecting the original prose drama of 1872 with the final metrical form of 1878, more or less complete manuscripts have been preserved, and these are now being examined in detail by the Swedish literary historian, Professor Karl Warburg. A summary analysis by Dr. John Landquist is appended to the second volume of the definitive edition of Strindberg’s complete works (Albert Bonnier, Stockholm), where the epilogue to the metrical version is also reprinted after so many years of oblivion.

“Of all the manuscripts preceding the final metrical version,” says Dr. Landquist, “the original one, written when Strindberg was twenty-three, is the masterpiece. There everything is consistent; there the dialogue has a power and an incisiveness to which it does not attain in any of the unprinted manuscripts. On the contrary, these seem more youthful than the original, producing at times an impression of immaturity and uncertainty on the part of the author. Even when some isolated phrase strikes one as fortunate, it does not tend to strengthen the drama as a whole. The later versions lack that sense of inner unity and that audacious touch which lend fascination and power to the original manuscript.

“Not until we reach the first metrical version (of 1876) does the full power of the playwright begin to reassert itself in such fashion that out of his untiring labors at last springs a new work, the mood of which differs essentially from that of the first prose version. These two versions–the first and the final –are the results of diametrically opposed methods of work. The first was written with a certainty and swiftness of inspiration that raised the young poet far above the productive powers generally characteristic of his years. The subsequent modifications prove merely how futile are the efforts of reason to improve what intuition has inspired. But gradually it seems to have dawned on the poet that he was about to evolve a wholly new work–that what he had come to aim at was quite distinct from what he had been aiming at in the beginning, and from that moment his artistic reasoning carried him onward until at last a new inspiration brought the work to its completion.”

Concerning the final metrical version, I can give only a few outstanding and rather superficial facts, hoping that I may some time have the opportunity of presenting it entire to the American public. Like the prose version, it has five acts, but these are not subdivided into scenes. It is briefer, more concentrated both in spirit and in form, and may he said to display a greater unity of purpose. It is more human, too, and less titanic. The change shows itself strikingly in a figure like that of Marten, who in the metrical version has become softened into an unconscionable but rather lovable rapscallion. The last remark but one made by Marten when driven from Dame Christine’s deathbed by Olof is: “Talk to your mother, son–the two of you have so much to forgive each other.”

In strength and passion and daring, on the other hand, the final version falls far short of the original one, and the very fact that it is more logical, more carefully reasoned, tends at times to render it less psychologically true. Each version has its own merits and its own faults, and in their appeal they are so radically different that a choice between them must always remain meaningless except on temperamental grounds. At one point, however–and an important one at that–the metrical version seems to me the happier by far.

That cry of “renegade,” which, echoing from the dim recesses of the church, makes the prose version end on a note of perplexing irony, may be theatrically effective, but it can hardly be called logical. Gert has been disposed of. His sudden return out of the clutches of the soldiers is inexplicable and unwarranted. Worse still, he has only a short while previous been urging Olof to live on for his work. If Olof be a renegade, he is so upon the advice of Gert himself, and to call the concession made by Olof for the saving of his own life far-reaching enough to explain Gert’s sudden change of attitude approaches dangerously near to quibbling. In the metrical version, on the other hand, the same cry of “renegade” is quite logically and suitably wrung from the lips of Vilhelm, the scholar who is still dreaming of uncompromised ideals. But it is not the final word. This comes from Olof, and takes the form of a brief apostrophe to the fleeing Vilhelm, which I think ranks with the finest passages produced by Strindberg. Apologetically, I offer this English version of it as a fitting close to my Introduction:

Olof. Oh, what a word! But though it shook the air, These columns did not stir, nor fell the dome, And I stand calm upon this lonely shore, Where I was dropped by the receding waves– For, after all, I am ashore. And now
A last “good luck upon the road” I send To speed the daring sailor who will give No ear to one that just has come to grief. With sails hauled close, steer for the open sea And for the far-off goal your soul desires! Ere long you must fall off like all the rest, Although a star your guiding landmark be For in due time the stars themselves must fall!

MAY 15, 1915



OLOF PEDERSSON (Olaus Petri), generally known as MASTER OLOF. GERT THE PRINTER.
GUSTAF ERIKSSON VASA, King of Sweden. HANS BRASK, Bishop of Linkoping.
MANS SOMMAR, Bishop of Strangnas.
LARS SIGGESON, Lord High Constable. LARS ANDERSSON (Laurentius Andreae), Lord High Chancellor. LARS PEDERSSON (Laurentius Petri), brother of Master Olof. HANS WINDRANK, a Master Mariner.
A Man from Smaland.
A German.
A Dane.
MARTEN and NILS, Black Friars.
A Tavern-keeper.
A Burier.
First Scholar.
Second Scholar.
The Sexton at St. Nicolaus (or Greatchurch). A Servant of the Palace.
An Overseer.
A Townsman.
A Courtier.
DAME CHRISTINE, Olof’s mother.
CHRISTINE, daughter of Gert the Printer. A Harlot.
A Woman.
The Sexton’s Wife.
The Abbess of St. Clara.
Headsman, Townsfolk, Laborers, etc.

ACT I: At Strangnas.

ACTS II, III, IV, AND V: At Stockholm.


(A Cloister opening upon a Convent Close planted with groups of trees. The convent church forms the right side of the quadrangle. A brick wall runs along the rear. Fruit trees in blossom appear above the wall. Olof is seated on a stone bench. Before him stand two scholars, who are reading their respective parts out of “The Comedy of Tobit.”)

First Scholar.
Now have our enemies trapped us full well. Woe unto us, poor children of Israel!

Second Scholar.
Yea, brother, good cause you have to make such plaint! Now certes we have come upon days of great lament– Our land is taken away, and so’s our increase, And ne’er we may look for any help or surcease. It must be, as long I have both dreamt and said, That the promise to Abram has been long mislaid.

[Enter Lars Andersson.]

Lars Andersson. What are you doing?

Olof. I am playing.

Lars. Playing–you?

Olof. I am playing a little comedy about the children of Israel and the Babylonian captivity.

Lars. Have you nothing better to do? Bigger work is waiting for you.

Olof. I am too young.

Lars. Do not say you are too young.

Olof. No, for there are plenty of others who say it.

Lars (takes out a roll of paper, which he opens; for a while he stands looking at Olof; then he begins to read) “Then the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah: ‘Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.’

“Then said Jeremiah: ‘Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak, for I am a child.’

“But the Lord said: ‘Say not, I am a child; for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee,’ saith the Lord, ‘to deliver thee.'”

Olof (leaping to his feet). Did the Lord say that?

Lars. “Thou therefore gird up thy loins and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee.”

Olof. Why do not you go?

Lars. I am too old.

Olof. You are afraid!

Lars. I am, for I have not the strength; but you have–and now may the Lord give you the faith also.

Olof. Oh, once I did have the flame of faith, and it burned wondrously, but the monkish gang smothered it with their holy water when they were trying to read the devil out of my body.

Lars. That was a fire of straw which had to flicker out; but now the Lord will light you a fire of logs by which the offspring of the Philistines shall be consumed. Do you know your own will, Olof?

Olof. No, but I feel myself choking when I think of these poor people who yearn for salvation. They are crying for water–for living water–but there is no one who can give it to them.

Lars. Tear down the crumbling old house first, you can do that. Then the Lord Himself will build them a new one.

Olof. Then they will be without a roof over their heads for a time.

Lars. They will at least get fresh air.

Olof. But to rob a whole nation of its faith–they will despair.

Lars. Yes, they will despair.

Olof. But they will decry me, and revile me, and drag me before the elders.

Lars. Are you afraid?

Olof. No–but the offence–

Lars. You were born to give offence, Olof; you were born to smite. The Lord will heal.

Olof. I can feel the pull of the current; I am still clinging to the sluice-gate, but if I let go, I shall be swept away.

Lars. Let go! There are more than enough who hold back.

Olof. Reach out your hand to me, Lars, if I get too far into the whirlpool.

Lars. That is not in my power, and into the whirlpool you must go, even if it be to perish.

Olof. What storms you have raised in my soul! A moment ago I sat here and played in the shadow of the trees, and it was Whitsun Eve, and it was spring, and all was peace. And now–how can the trees be still, and why is there no darkness in the sky? Put your hand on my forehead, feel the blood surging! Do not abandon me, Lars! I see an angel coming towards me with a cup–she is walking across the evening sky–her path is blood-red, and in her hand she is carrying a cross–No, it is more than I avail! I will return to my peaceful valley. Let others fight; I will look on– No, I will follow in their wake and heal the wounded and whisper words of peace into the ears of the dying–Peace!–No, I want to fight with the rest, but in the last ranks–Why should I lead?

Lars. Because you are the boldest.

Olof. Not the strongest?

Lars. The strong will come after you: and the strongest of all is by your side; it is He who summons you to battle.

Olof. Help me, O Lord! I go.

Lars. Amen!

Olof. And will you come with me?

Lars. You must go alone–with God!

Olof. Why do you turn back?

Lars. I was not born to be a warrior: your armorer is all that I can be. Your weapon is the pure Word of God, and with that you must arm the people. For the doors to the popish armory have been broken open at last, and hereafter every one calling himself a man must fight for the freedom of his own spirit.

Olof. But where is the enemy? I am burning for battle, yet see no one to fight against.

Lars. No need to summon them; they will come! Farewell! You may begin whenever you are ready, and may God be with you!

Olof. Don’t go. I have much more to talk with you about.

Lars. Here comes the vanguard now–to arms!

[Exit Lars.]

(A crowd of townsmen with their women and children pass across the stage to the church door at the right. They stop in front of it, bare their heads, and make the sign of the cross.)

Gert the Printer (disguised as a townsman). It’s Whitsun Eve, and nobody has rung the vesper bell–that’s very strange.

A Townsman. The church door is closed. Maybe the priest is sick.

Gert. Or not yet out of bed.

Townsman. What do you mean?

Gert. Only that he might be sick abed.

Townsman. But there are a lot of acolytes, and one of them might be saying a mass for us in his place.

Gert. They are probably too busy.

Townsman. With what?

Gert. That’s hard to tell.

Townsman. Take care, my good man! You seem to have a leaning towards Lutherism. Bishop Hans of Linkoping is here, and so’s the King.

Gert. Is Brask in town?

Townsman. Indeed he is. But I suppose we had better try the church door to see if it be really closed.

Gert (runs up the steps and beats the church door with his fist).The house of God is closed this Whitsun Eve. The reverend clergy will grant no audience with the Lord to-day, and so the worshipful commonalty will have to go home and go to bed without any mass. Look here, good folk! Here you have a door–mere wood, of course, but that matters little, as it is lined with copper. Just take a look at this door! If I say that the Lord is living within–this being His house; and if I say that the bishop’s diaconus, or secretarius, or canonicus, or some other fellow ending in ‘us’–for it’s only these clerical gentlemen that end in ‘us’; and if I say that some fellow of that kind has the key hanging on a nail in his bedroom: then I don’t mean to say that he has locked up the Lord and put the key on a nail in his bedroom: but all I mean to say is that we can’t get in, and that there will be no divine service for its to-night–for us who have toiled six days making shoes and coats–who have spent the whole week brewing and baking and butchering for the reverend clergy in order that the said clergy might have strength enough on the seventh day to celebrate divine service for its. Of course, I am not at all saying this in reproach of the right reverend members of this Chapter; for they, too, are nothing but human beings, you know, and it was only the Lord who could stand working six days and be satisfied with resting on the seventh.

Townsman. You’re blaspheming God, master townsman!

Gert. Well, He can’t hear it when the door is closed.

A Woman. Jesu Maria! He’s an Antichrist!

Gert (beating at the door). Do you hear how hollow it sounds?–It is writ in the Bible that once upon a time the veil before the Holiest of Holies was rent in twain, and it must be true–but nothing is said in the Bible about the clerical gentlemen having sewed the veil together again, which, of course, is no reason why it shouldn’t have been done.

(The crowd makes a rush at Gert; the children begin to cry.)

Townsman. Out on you, Luther! For that’s what you are. We have sinned, and for that reason the Lord has closed His house. Can’t you hear that the very children cry out at the sight of you, unclean spirit that you are?

Gert. Naturally, when you step on their toes, my dear friends–

Woman. Don’t go near him! He has a devil!

Townsman. Down with him! Down with him!

Gert. Don’t touch me, for here I am under the protection of the Lord.

Townsman. The Lord will not protect the angel that was cast out.

Gert. If the Lord won’t, the Holy Church will, and I am now within her consecrated walls.

Townsman. Get him away from the church wall!

Gert. If you don’t fear God, you must at least fear the ban of the Holy Father.

Woman. Drag him away from that door! It is his unclean spirit that has cast a spell on the church.

Townsman. That’s it! The Lord won’t open His church to the Devil.

(The crowd is rushing at Gert again, when the Bishop’s Secretary enters, preceded by a verger, who calls upon the people to attend.)

Secretary (reading). “Whereas our cathedral city has failed in the payment of its tithes to this See, and whereas it continues refractory in regard to such payments, the Chapter has deemed it necessary, in accordance with its vested rights and the sanction granted by the Holy Curia, to close the doors of the church and to discontinue all masses and sacrifices until the aforesaid dereliction shall have been duly remedied; failure to observe which shall be at the risk of our displeasure. Datum vigilia assumptionis Mariae. Chapter of Strangnas.” [Exit.]

Gert. What do you say to that, good folk?

Townsman. No mass on Whitsun Eve? That’s a shame!

Gert. Take care! Say nothing evil of the priests; maybe they’re not to blame.

Townsman. Who is to blame, then?

Gert. The Church! That invisible and omnipotent something! It is the Church, you see, that has closed the church. (The crowd gives evidence of disapproval.)

Olof (who in the meantime has come forward, seizes a rope hanging from the bell tower, and begins to ring vespers). If your worship be seriously meant, I’ll say mass for you.

Townsman. Many thanks, Master Olof, but are you aware of what that may lead to?

Olof. Let us fear the Lord more than men! (The crowd kneels.) Dear friends! Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus! As we are now come together here–

Townsman. Master Olof–

Olof. What is it?

Townsman. We want a real mass, and not any new inventions of men.

Gert. It has to be in Latin, my dear Master Olof, or we can’t understand what you say.

Townsman. It has to be in the sacred tongue–or anybody might say mass.

Olof. And so you shall! Everyone for himself, with God!

Crowd. A Luther! A Luther! Antichrist!

Townsman. Well, well, Master Olof, have you, too, so young and zealous, become tainted by the German devil? I am an old man, who has seen much of the world, and I mean well by you–Turn back while you are still young!–Do as we ask you and give us the old mass.

Olof. No, there must be an end to that mummery. Ye shall pray in spirit and in truth, and not in words ye do not understand.

Townsman. Don’t you think, my young friend, that the Lord understands Latin?

Gert. But Swedish He doesn’t understand at all!

Townsman. Master Olof, are you going to let the people depart from you without a word to edify them? Can’t you see how they are yearning for their God? Make a sacrifice of your own sinful will, and don’t let the people go from you like sheep that have no shepherd.

Olof. You call my will sinful?

Townsman. You are a hard man!

Olof. Say not so! Do you know what the ringing of this bell will cost me?

Townsman. Your vanity.

Gert. And your peace! For it was the alarum bell that rang in the battle. Hey-ho, this is the start! Soon the bells of Stockholm will respond, and then the blood of Hus, and of Ziska, and of all the thousands of peasants will be on the heads of the princes and the papists.

Woman. Woe unto us! What is he raving about?

Townsman. Do you know this man, Master Olof?

Olof. No.

Gert. Yes, Olof, you know me. Deny me not! Are you afraid of these miserable creatures who do not want their own welfare–and who have never heard the word “freedom”?

Olof. What is your name?

Gert. If I told, you would all tremble. Yet you must tremble in order that you may wake out of your sleep. I am named the angel that was cast out and that is to come again ten thousand times; I am named the liberator that came too early; I am named Satan because I love you more than my own life; I have been named Luther; I have been named Hus. Now I am named Anabaptist!

Crowd (shrink back and begin to cross themselves). Anabaptist!

Gert (removing his disguise and revealing himself as much older than he had seemed). Do you know me now, Olof?

Olof. Father Gert!

Townsman. He calls him father!

Crowd (drawing back from Olof and Gert). Anabaptist! Anabaptist!

Woman. Don’t you see, it’s he who was put under the ban–

Townsman. Gert the Printer–the bishop’s printer–

Another Townsman. The man who printed Luther!

Woman. Woe unto us and to our city! Woe to our priests when they bear company with Antichrist!

Townsman. He denies the holy baptism!

Woman. He denies God. (The crowd disperses.)

Olof. That was dangerous talk, Father Gert.

Gert. You really think it was dangerous, Olof? Bless you for those words!

Olof. Dangerous for you, I mean.

Gert. Not for any one else?

Olof. Let us hope not.

Gert. You have known Luther?

Olof. Indeed, I have! And now I want to carry out his work in my own country.

Gert. Is that all?

Olof. What do you mean?

Gert. It is not enough! Luther is dead. He made a beginning, we have to go on.

Olof. Whither do you want to lead me?

Gert. Far, Olof, very far!

Olof. I am afraid of you, Father Gert.

Gert. Yes, and will be more so; for I shall take you up on a high mountain, and from there you shall overlook the whole world. You see, Olof, it is now Whitsuntide; it was at this time the Holy Ghost came down and filled the Apostles–nay, all humanity. The spirit of the Lord has descended upon me. I feel it, and for that reason they shut me up like one demented. But now I am free again, and now I shall speak the word; for now, Olof, we are standing on the mountain. Behold the people crawling on their knees before those two men seated on their thrones. The taller holds two keys in one hand and a thunderbolt in the other. That is the Pope. Now he hurls his thunderbolt, and a thousand souls pass into perdition, while the rest kiss his foot and sing Gloria Deo–but he who is seated on the throne turns about and smiles. Now behold his companion. He has a sword and at sceptre. Bow down before the sceptre, lest the sword smite you. When he knits his brows all the people tremble. (He turns toward the man on the other throne, and both smile.) They are two pillars of Baal. Then is heard a sound out of heaven as of a host muttering. “Who is grumbling?” exclaims the Pope, shaking his thunderbolt. “Who is muttering?”–and the Emperor shakes his sword. Nobody answers, but still there is grumbling in the air, and roaring, and a cry of “Think!” The Pope cowers, and the Emperor, turning pale, demands: “Who was it that cried ‘Think’? Bring him here, and I will take his life!” The Pope shouts: “Bring him here, and I will take his soul!” The cry came out of heaven, and was uttered by no one. But still the sound of it rises; a storm wind springs up; it sweeps over the Alps and goes roaring across Fichtelgebirge; it stirs up the Baltic and echoes from the shores, and the cry is repeated a thousand times all over the world: “Freedom, freedom!” The Pope throws his keys into the sea, and the Emperor sheathes his sword, for against that cry they avail nothing.–Oh, Olof, you wish to smite the Pope, but you forget the Emperor–the Emperor, who is killing his people without counting them because they dare to sigh when he tramples on their chests. You want to smite the Pope at Rome, but, like Luther, you want to give them a new pope in Holy Writ. Listen! Listen! Bind not the spirits with any fetters whatsoever! Forget not the great Whitsunday! Forget not your great goal: spiritual life and spiritual freedom! Listen not to the cry of death: “And behold, it is all good!” For then the millennium, the kingdom of liberty, will never arrive– and it is that which is now beginning. (Olof remains silent.) Does it make you dizzy?

0lof. You go too far, Gert.

Gert. The day shall come when they will call me papist. Aim at the sky, and you will hit the forest line ahead of you.

0lof. Turn back, Gert! You’ll bring disaster on yourself and on the realm. Can’t you see how the country is still shivering with the wound-fever caused by the last war? And you wish to sow the seeds of civil war. It is a godless deed!

Gert. No, the knife is in the flesh now. Cut away, and the body may be saved.

Olof. I’ll denounce you as a traitor to your country.

Gert. You had better not, seeing that to-day you have offended the Church beyond repair. Besides–

Olof. Speak out, Gert. Just now you look like Satan himself!

Gert. You shall have my secret: deal with it to suit yourself. The King leaves for Malmo to-day, and the day after to-morrow, perchance, Stockholm may be in open revolt.

Olof. What are you talking about?

Gert. Do you know Rink and Knipperdollink?

Olof (alarmed). The Anabaptists!

Gert. Yes. What’s so startling in that? They are nothing but a couple of lubberly tradesmen. A furrier and a grocer, who deny the use of baptizing unconscious children, and who are simple-minded enough to oppose the forcing of irrational creatures into deliberate perjury.

Olof. That is not all.

Gert. What is it, then?

Olof. They are possessed.

Gert. Of the spirit, yes. It is the storm wind that is crying through them. Beware, if you get into its path!

Olof. This must be stopped. I am going to the King.

Gert. We should be friends, Olof. Your mother is living in Stockholm, isn’t she?

Olof. You know it, then?

Gert. Do you know that my daughter Christine is with your mother?

Olof. Christine?

Gert. Yes, for the present. If we win, your mother will be protected for my daughter’s sake; and if the Catholics win, my daughter will be protected for your mother’s sake. You are a little concerned about Christine, are you not?

Olof. Gert, Gert, what made you so wise?

Gert. The madhouse.

Olof. Go away from me! You’ll lead me into disaster.

Gert. Yes, if you call it a disaster to be robbed of all earthly happiness, to be dragged into prison, to suffer poverty, to be scorned and reviled fur the sake of truth. If so, you are not worthy of such a splendid disaster. I thought you would understand me, I counted on your help, for in you the fire is still burning, but I see that the world is tempting you. Well, follow the stream and be happy!

Olof. How could a man make over the age in which he is living?

Gert. That’s what Luther has done.

Olof. How can one man check a stream?

Gert. Guide it, you fool–for we are the stream. The old are stagnant mudpools, you don’t need to check them, but don’t let them rot away or dry up; give them an outlet, and they’ll flow with the stream, too.

Olof. Yes, I understand you! You have bred a thought in my soul, but that thought must be strangled in its birth, or it will kill me.

Gert. Believe me, you will be a Daniel, and you will speak the truth unto princes, and they will conspire to take your life; but the Lord will protect you.–Now I can safely leave, for I see lightnings flash from your eyes and tongues of fire flickering over your head. (As he is leaving.) There comes the Lord of Flies: don’t let him defile your pure soul also.

Olof. Jesus help me!

[Enter Bishop Brask and Bishop Sommar. Sommar approaches Olof, while Brask remains behind, studying the surroundings.]

Sommar. Who rang vespers, Canonicus?

Olof (calmly but firmly). I did.

Sommar. Didn’t you know the order?

Olof. I was aware of the prohibition.

Sommar. And you dared to defy it?

Olof. Yes, when the people were let go like sheep without a shepherd, I wanted to keep them together.

Sommar. You seem to be finding fault with our actions. That’s impudence indeed.

Olof. Truth is always impudent.

Sommar. I believe, young man, that you want to play the part of an apostle of truth. It will bring you no thanks.

Olof. All I ask is ingratitude.

Sommar. Save your truths. They don’t retain their value in the market very long.

Olof (impetuously). That’s advice worthy of the Father of Lies!– (Mildly.) I ask your pardon!

Sommar. Do you know to whom you are talking?

Olof (heatedly). To servus servi servorum Mans Sommar!

Brask (stepping forward). Who is this man?

Sommar. One of the attendants in the church.

Brask. What’s his name?

Sommar. Olof Pedersson, alias Olaus Petri.

Brask (staring hard at Olof). So you are Master Olof? (Olof bows and looks fixedly at Brask.) I like you. Would you care to become my secretary?

Olof. Many thanks, Your Grace, but I have no recommendations.

Brask. What have you to say, Bishop Mans?

Sommar. He is said to have found much favor with Dr. Luther.

Brask. So I’ve heard. Nothing but youthful spirits. We’ll train him.

Olof. I fear it is too late!

Brask. A sapling can be bent.

Sommar. It is not wise to raise vipers, Your Grace. Our canonicus here has strong leanings toward heresy, and to-day he has dared to defy our orders.

Brask. Is that so?

Sommar. On fully legal grounds we have proclaimed an interdict, and this man has ventured to say mass–worse than that, he has said a Lutheran mass, and thus stirred up the people.

Brask. Take care, young man! Don’t you know that the ban will fall on anybody who proclaims Luther?

Olof. I know it, but I fear no other god than God.

Brask. Consider your words. I mean well by you, and you repel me.

Olof. You want to purchase my ability for the doctoring of your sick cause, and I am shameless enough not to sell myself.

Brask. By Saint George, I think you are out of your senses!

0lof. If so, don’t give me the same treatment as Gert the Printer. You put him in a madhouse, and it made him too wise, I fear.

Brask (to Bishop Sommar). Do you know Gert?

Sommar. No, Your Grace.

Brask. He’s a lunatic who used my press to print Lutheran writings in place of the anti-Lutheran stuff I put into his hands. Moreover, he was dreaming of the Apocalypse and the Millennium. (To Olof.) Have you seen him?

Olof. He was here awhile ago, and you can expect but little good of him.

Brask. Is he at large?

Olof. He’ll be in Stockholm soon, and from there you’ll hear of him, I think. Take care, my Lord Bishop!

Brask. Ho, there is nothing to fear yet.

Olof. The Anabaptists are in Stockholm.

Brask. What do you say?

Olof. The Anabaptists are in Stockholm!

Brask. The Anabaptists?

[Enter Gustaf Vasa suddenly.]

Gustaf. What’s up? The city is in a tumult, the people are marching through the streets crying for the mass. What’s the meaning of all this?

Brask. Mischief, Your Highness.

Gustaf. Bishop Mans!

Sommar. The city has failed to pay its tithes.

Gustaf. And for that reason you refuse to hold divine service? ‘Sdeath!

Brask. Your Highness ought to remember–

Gustaf. Answer me, Bishop Malls!

Sommar. Your Highness ought to remember that matters like these, which fall within the jurisdiction of the Church–

Gustaf. I command you to attend to your duties!

Brask. The Bishops of Sweden take no orders except from their superiors, the Pope and the Canon Law.

Gustaf (checked). I know, but if the Pope cannot always keep an eye on them?

Brask. That’s our concern.

Gustaf (flares up, but controls himself at once). Your Grace is right. It will remain your concern.

Brask. To change the subject–Stockholm is about to rise in rebellion.

Gustaf. Who says so?

Sommar. Our canonicus here.

Gustaf. Your schoolmaster? Where is he? Oh, is it you? What’s your name?

Olof. Olof Pedersson.

Gustaf. Master Olof! They tell the you are a heretic, and that you are scheming against Holy Church! That’s a perilous venture!

Brask. This very day he has dropped his mask by daring to show open defiance of the Chapter’s prohibition against services, and for that reason we demand that Your Highness consent to have him duly punished.

Gustaf. That’s a matter for the Chapter and does not concern me. (To Olof.) But what was that you had to say about a rebellion at Stockholm?

Olof. The Anabaptists!

Gustaf. Is that all?

Brask. Does not Your Highness know how those madmen have been carrying on in Germany? We suggest that Your Highness return to the city in person with your armed force.

Gustaf. That’s a matter in which I suit myself!

Brask. But civil war–

Gustaf. That’s _my_ concern! (To Olof.) Olof, I appoint you to the clerkship of our court-house at Stockholm. Get over there at once. Speak to the people. I put my trust in you!

Brask. For the country’s sake I ask Your Highness to consider the futility of wasting speech on madmen.

Gustaf. Souls are not controlled by swords. Bear that in mind, Your Lordships.

Brask. The Church has never–

Gustaf. Nor by keys! (To Olof.) Go to my chancellor, and he will give you your appointment.

Brask. You had better wait a moment, canonicus.

Gustaf. Our secretary will not put your orders ahead of mine.

Brask. The rights of the Church must be assured first of all. Olof Pedersson–

Gustaf (correcting him). Secretary–

Brask. Secretary Olof Pedersson cannot leave this city until the Chapter has pronounced its verdict.

Gustaf. The Chapter must try the case before it can pronounce a verdict.

Brask. That’s our concern.

Gustaf. It is not your concern, Bishop Brask. The Bishop of Linkoping cannot sit in judgment on a canonicus at Strangnas. Speak for yourself, Bishop Sommar.

Sommar. After what has just occurred–h’m!

Brask. All further arguments would seem superfluous.

Gustaf. You had better be silent, Bishop Brask, or leave us, as I am talking privately to Bishop Sommar–privately!–Well, speak up, Bishop Mans!

Sommar. I cannot see but–that–as His Grace, the Bishop of Linkoping–

Gustaf. We are talking of Master Olof now. Your Lordships will have to postpone the trial. Be kind enough to leave us.

[Exeunt Bishops.]

Gustaf (to Olof). Will you be my man?

Olof. Your Highness’ secretary?

Gustaf. No, my right hand–on the condition that for the present the left hand shall not know what the right is doing. Go to Stockholm.

Olof. The Chapter will demand my surrender and ban me.

Gustaf. Before they get to that point you may fall back on me, but until then–stand on your own feet as far as you can.

Olof. What is Your Highness’ will?

Gustaf. Talk to those fanatics in Stockholm.

Olof. And then?

Gustaf. Oh, that’s a long way off. I don’t dare to think so far yet.–Let them preach. It can’t hurt those sottish spirits to hear a new word, even if it he not all true. But there must be no violence; for then the sword will join in the game. Farewell, Olof! [Exit.]

Olof (alone). So the Emperor won’t be friends with the Pope!

(The two scholars, who have been waiting among the trees in the background, come forward.)

First Scholar. Shall we go on with the play, Master Olof?

Olof. No, children, there will be no more playing.

First Scholar. Are you going to leave us, Master Olof?

Olof. Yes, and probably forever.

First Scholar. Can’t you stay over Whitsuntide, so that we can perform our comedy?

Second Scholar. And so that I can play the Angel Gabriel?

First Scholar. Please do as we ask you, Master Olof! You are the only one who has been nice to us and spared us those terrible fasts.

Second Scholar. Oh, don’t go away from us, Master Olof!

Olof. You don’t know what you are asking, children. The day will come when you shall thank the Lord that I did go away from you.– Oh, no, I hope such a day will never come!–But let us make our leave-taking brief. Good-bye, Nils! Good-bye, Vilhelm!

(He embraces them, and they kiss his hand. In the meantime Lars Andersson has entered and is watching the group closely.)

First Scholar. Won’t you ever come back, Master Olof?

Lars (coming forward). Are you ready to start now?

Olof (to the scholars). No, I shall never come back.

Scholars (as they go out). Good-bye, Master Olof, and don’t forget us! (Olof stands looking after them.)

Lars. I have seen the King.

Olof (absent-mindedly). Have you?

Lars. Do you know what he said?

Olof. No.

Lars. “I have got a harrier to raise the game; now it remains to be seen whether he will come back when I whistle for him!”

Olof. Look at them–playing there among the graves, and picking flowers, and singing the songs of Whitsuntide.

Lars (taking hold of Olof’s arm). Child!

Olof (with a start). What did you say?

Lars. I thought you had laid your hand so firmly on the plough handle to-day that there could he no question of looking back. (Olof waves his hand to the scholars.) Are you still dreaming?

Olof. It was the last bright morning dream that passed away from me. Pardon me–I am awake now!

[Exeunt toward the right. Then they are nearly out, Olof turns for a last look at the scholars. These have disappeared in the meantime, and in their place appear the two Black Friars, Marten and Nils. On seeing them, Olof utters a startled cry and puts one hand to his forehead. Lars drags him out.]



(A Room in the Foundation Wall of the Church of St. Nicolaus at Stockholm (generally known as Greatchurch), used as a beer-shop. A bar full of pots and mugs occupies the background. To the right of the bar stands a table, back of which appears an iron door. Two disguised friars (Marten and Nils) are seated at this table drinking beer. The other tables are surrounded by German mercenaries, peasants, and sailors. The door to the street is at the right. A fiddler is seated on top of a barrel. The soldiers are throwing dice. All are drunk and noisy. Hans Windrank, a man from Smaland, a German tradesman, and a Dane are seated together at one of the tables.)

German (to the Dane). So you defend a bloodthirsty brute like Christian?

Dane. Oh, mercy, he’s human, isn’t he?

German. Not, he’s a monster! A bloodthirsty brute! A treacherous, cowardly Dane!

Dane. Zounds! But you’d better not talk of blood. Do you remember the massacre on Kappling Island, when the Germans–

Windrank. Listen to me, good Sirs! Let’s be friends now, and have some fun, and I’ll tell you about Americky.

German. Are you going to blame us of Lubeck for what the Germans did?

Dane. Oh, mercy, I was talking of the Germans only–

Windrank. Listen, good Sirs, what’s the use of quarrelling? (To the Tavern-keeper.) Four noggins of gin! Now let’s be calm and agreeable, and I’ll tell you of Americky. (They are served.)

German (sipping). A noble drink! Think of it, good Sirs, how everything is advancing. To-day the grain is growing in the field–

Windrank. And to-morrow it’s made into wine. I wonder who first found out how it’s done?

German. Beg your pardon, but that’s a German invention. I call it invention, because you discover Americky.

Windrank. And the Germans never make any discoveries?

German. ‘Sdeath!

Windrank. Now, now! You’re no German, you said.

Dane (to the German). Can you tell the who invented the story that the Swedes got their present king from the Germans? (General laughter.)

German. It was we of Lubeck what gave Sweden a liberator when she was on the verge of ruin.

Windrank. Here’s to the King!

Dane. Here’s to Lubeck!

German (flattered). Really I don’t know how to–

Windrank. Why, you aren’t the King!

German. Beg your pardon, but it was my Danish brother’s–

Dane. How can you be of Lubeck when you are a citizen of Stockholm?

Windrank (to the Man from Smaland). Why won’t our silent brother drink at all?

Man from Smaland. I’ll drink your corn-juice, but when it comes to the King’s health, I do like this! (He crushes the tin cup and throws it on the floor.)

Windrank (groping with one hand for his sheath knife.) You won’t drink the King’s health?

Man from Smaland. I’ve been drinking the cup he offered me so long that I don’t care to drink his health any longer.

Windrank. ‘Sblood!

German (eagerly). Hush, hush! Let’s hear what he’s got to say.

Dane (in the same way). Mercy, yes!

A Man from Smaland. The Lord help me when I get home again!

Windrank (sentimentally). What is it, my dear man? Why do you look so sad? Do you need money? Look here, now! (He pulls out his purse.) I’ve half my wages left. What’s the matter with you?

Man from Smaland. Don’t let us talk about it. More gin! Gin here! I’ve money, too. Do you see? Gold! (The liquor is served). It isn’t mine, but I’ll spend it on drink to the last farthing, and you’ll please help me.

Windrank. And yet it isn’t your money–how can you do that?

German. Who’s wronged you, my dear fellow? I can see that you have fared badly.

A Man from Smaland I am ruined! You see, I got two hundred oxen on trust, and when I came to Stockholm the King’s agent took charge of the whole business, and he said I couldn’t sell them for more than he allowed. It’s the King that fixes the price on oxen–it’s the King that has ruined me.

German. You don’t say!

Man from Smaland. Oh, I know a lot more. He means to take the priests and the monks away from us in order to give everything to the gentlefolk.

Dane. To the gentlefolk?

Man from Smaland. Exactly! I wish King Christian–God bless him! –had cut off a few more heads.

Windrank. Well, is the King like that? I thought he had those noble fellows by the ear.

Man from Smaland. He? No, he lets them be born with the right to cut oak on my ground, if I had any. For I did have a patch of land once, you see, but then came a lord who said that my great-grandmother had taken it all in loan from his great-grandfather, and so there was an end to that story.

German. Why, is the King like that? I would never have believed it.

Man from Smaland. Indeed he is! Those high-born brats run around with their guns in our woods and pick off the deer out of sheer mischief, but if one of us peasants were dying from hunger and took a shot at one of the beasts–well, then he wouldn’t have to starve to death, for they’d hang him–but not to an oak–Lord, no! That would be a shame for such a royal tree. No, just to an ordinary pine. The pine, you see, has no crown, and that’s why it isn’t royal–and that’s why the old song says: The peasants we hanged in lines
From the tops of the tallest pities. It has nothing to say about crowns, mind you.

German. But the pine carries its head high just the same, and its back is straight.

Man from Smaland. Drink, good Sirs! You’re right welcome to ‘t. It’s a blessed drink. If only I didn’t have wife and children at home! Oh, my, my, my! But that’s all one! Oh, I know a lot more, but I know how to keep it to myself, too.

Windrank. What do you know?

German. Maybe it’s something diverting?

Man from Smaland. You see–if you counted all the pines of Smaland, I think you’d find a whole lot more of them than of oaks.

German. You think so?

Windrank. I don’t like you to talk badly of the King. I don’t know what he is doing or saying, and it isn’t my business either, but I know he takes good care of the shipping trade. Yes, it’s he who has put ships on the Spanish trade, and who has made me a skipper, and so I’ve got no fault to find with him.

German. He has done it out of sheer deviltry, just to hurt the trade of Lubeck–of Lubeck, to which he owes such a great debt!

Man from Smaland. Well, he’ll get what he deserves! A steer doesn’t lose his horns when you make an ox of him. Many thanks for your company. Now I’ve got to go.

German. Oh, no! Just one more noggin–and then we can talk a little more.

Man from Smaland. No, thanks, though I’m sure it’s good of you, but that’s all I dare take, for otherwise I fear this will end badly. I’ve wife and children at home, you see, and now I’m going home–to tell them we’re ruined–no–I don’t dare to–I’m much obliged, Mr. German–let’s drink some more.

German. That’s right! (They drink.)

Man from Smaland (emptying his cup and jumping up). Oh, damn the bitter stuff! [Exit, staggering.]

German (to the Dane). O Lord–when that fellow wakes up!

(The Dane nods assent. The noise has been steadily increasing. The fiddler is playing. Then the organ begins to play in the church.)

Windrank. It’s strange, I think, that the King lets them have a drinkshop in the church wall.

German. Does it hurt your conscience, skipper? The King doesn’t know it, you see.

Windrank. But they don’t go together, the organ music and the singing in here. I’ve always been a God-fearing man, ever since I was at home.

German (ironically). Happy the man brought up in that way! You had a mother–

Windrank (moved). Yes–yes!

German. Who tucked you up nights and taught you to say: “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

Windrank. That’s it!

German. And a fine woman she was!

Windrank (on whom the drink is beginning to show its effect.) Oh, if you only knew!

German. The Lord has heard her prayers. You’re weeping. So you must be a good man.

Dane. Dear me!

German. If your mother could only see you now–with those tears in your eyes!

Windrank. Oh, I know I’m a poor miserable sinner–I know it! But I tell you–I’ve got a heart, damn it! Just let a poor wretch come and tell me he is hungry, and I’ll take off my own shirt and give it to him.

German. How about another drink?

Windrank. No, I don’t think so.

(Several blows are struck on the iron door from the outside, causing general excitement.)

Windrank. God-a-mercy!

German. Don’t get scared. That’s not the gate of heaven.

Windrank. I’ll never drink another drop–I vow and swear!

German (to the Dane). What a blessed drink gin must be, seeing it can move a rogue like that to sentimentality–nay, even to thoughts of sobriety.

Dane. You’re right. There is nothing like it.

German. It opens the heart wide and closes the head. Which means that it makes good people of us, for those are called good, you know, who have much heart and little head.

Dane. I’d go still farther. Gin makes us religious. For it kills reason, and reason is the rock that keeps religion from entering our hearts.

German. Most holy is gin! Strange that–

Dane. You need say no more!

(More blows are struck on the iron door.)

Windrank (who has fallen asleep, is awakened by the blows). Help! I die!

German. What a pity to lose such a sweet soul!

(The door is pushed open so that the table at which Marten and Nils are seated is upset together with the mugs and cups on it. A woman wearing a red and black skirt, with a nun’s veil thrown over her head, comes running into the room. For a moment Gert can be seen in the doorway behind her, but the door is immediately closed again.)

Harlot (with a startled glance at her surroundings). Save me! The people want to kill me!

A German Mercenary. A harlot under a nun’s veil! Ha-ha-ha! (General laughter.)

Marten (making the sign of the cross). A harlot! Who dares to bring her into this respectable company? Master taverner, take her out of here, or she’ll hurt the good name of the place and the sanctity of the church.

Harlot. Will nobody here save me? (In the meantime the tavern- keeper has seized her by the arm to lead her into the street.) Don’t give me into the hands of that furious mob! I wanted to steal into the Lord’s house that I might share in His grace–I wanted to start a new life–but the monks drove me out and set the people on me–until Father Gert came and saved me.

Marten. You can hear for yourselves. She has polluted the Lord’s temple. She wants to hide the garment of shame beneath the veil of sanctity.

German. And there isn’t enough of the veil.

Marten (approaching the woman to tear the veil from her face). Off with the mask, and let your abomination be seen by all! (He draws back when he catches sight of her face.)

Harlot. So it’s you, Marten–you murderer!

German. Old chums!

Marten. That’s a shameless lie! I never have seen her before. I am Brother Marten, of the Dominicans, and Brother Nils here can be my witness.

Nils (intoxicated). I can testify–that Brother Marten has never seen this woman.

Harlot. And yet it was you, Nils, who showed me Marten’s letter of absolution when I was driven out of the convent and he was permitted to stay.

Nils. Yes–come to think of it!

Marten (in a rage, pulling Nils by the sleeve). You’re lying– you, too! Can’t you see he is drunk?

German. My dear folks, I can testify that the reverend brother is drunk, and that’s why he is lying!

Crowd (with signs of disgust). A drunken priest!

German. Well, booze is absolution for lying. Isn’t that so, Father Marten?

Tavern-keeper. Really, I can’t let my house be the meeting-place for any kind of disturbance. If this goes on, I’ll lose my customers and get hauled before the Chapter. Won’t you please take away that miserable creature who’s causing all this noise?

Marten. Take her out, or I’ll have you all banned! Don’t you know that we are now within the consecrated walls of the church, although the Chapter allows this outhouse to be used for the material refreshment of travellers?

German. Surely this room is holy, good folk, and surely the Lord doth dwell here.

(The crowd begins to drag the Harlot toward the street door.)

Harlot. Jesus Christ, help me!

[Enter Olof. He appears in the door, and pushes through the crowd until he reaches the Harlot, whose hand he takes so that he can pull her away from the drunken men about her.]

Olof. Answer me–who is this woman?

Marten. She’s no woman.

Olof. What do you mean?

Marten. She is no man either, although she’s disguised.

Olof. “She,” you say–and yet not a woman?

Marten. She’s a harlot.

Olof (shocked, drops the woman’s hand). A harlot!

German. Don’t let go of her, Master Olof, or she’ll run away.

Olof. Why are you laying hands on her? What is her crime?

German. Going to church.

Olof. I see! (He looks around.)

Marten. What are you looking for?

Olof (catching sight of Marten). A priest!

Marten. I am a Black Friar.

Olof. Yes, I guessed that much. So it’s you who have incited the people against her?

Marten. I am protecting the church from foulness and trying to keep it free of vice. She is a banned woman, who has been trafficking with her own body, which should be a temple of the Lord. (The woman kneels before Olof.)

Olof (taking her by the hand). But I, Dominican, dare to take her hand and match her against you. She has sold her body, you say– how many souls have you bought?–I am also a priest–Nay, I am a man, for I am not presumptuous enough to put a lock on God’s own house, and as a sinful human creature I hold out my hand to my fellow-creature, who cannot be pure either. Let him who is without sin step forward and cast the first stone.–Step forward, Brother Marten, you angel of light, who have donned the black garments of innocence and shaved your hair so that no one may see how you have grown gray in sin! Or have you no stone ready, perhaps? Alas for you, then! What have you done with those you were to hand the people when they were crying for bread? Have you already given them all away?–Step forward, you highly respectable citizen. (To Windrank, who is asleep on the floor.) You, who are sleeping the sleep of a brute, why don’t you wake up and fling your knife at her?–Do you see how he is blushing? Can it be from shame at the bad company you have brought him into, or from carnal desire? (The crowd mutters disapprovingly.) You are muttering! Is that because you are ashamed of my words or of yourselves? Why don’t you cast the stones? Oh, you haven’t any. Well, open that door. Summon the people outside and hand this woman over to them. If you don’t think fifty men have power enough to tear her to pieces, you maybe sure that five hundred women will avail. Well? You are silent?–Rise up, woman! You have been acquitted. Go and sin no more. But don’t show yourself to the priests, for they will deliver you up to the women!

Marten (who has tried to interrupt Olof several times, but has been held back by the German, now displays a document). This man, to whom you have been listening, is a heretic, as you may have heard from his talk, and he has also been t excommunicated. Here you can see! Read for yourselves! (He takes one of the candles from the nearest table and throws it on the floor.) “As this candle, that we here cast out, is extinguished, so shall be extinguished all his happiness and weal and whatsoever good may come to him from God!”

Crowd (draws back, making the sign of the cross, so that Olof is left alone with the Harlot in the middle of the room). Anathema!

Marten (to the Harlot). There you can hear how much Master Olof’s absolution avails you.

Olof (who has been taken aback for a moment). Do you still dare to trust my word, woman? Are you not afraid of me? Can you not hear the lightnings of the ban hissing around our heads? Why don’t you join these twenty righteous ones who still remain within the refuge of Holy Church?–Answer me! Do you think the Lord has cast me out as these have done?

Harlot. No!

Olof (seizing the letter of excommunication). Well, then! The great bishop of the small city of Linkoping has sold my soul to Satan for the term of my life–for farther than that his power does not reach–and he has done so because I bade the people seek their Lord when they had been prohibited from doing so! Here is the contract! As the Church, by that contract, has bound me to hell, so I set myself free from it (he tears the letter to

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