Short summary - Axel og Valborg - Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - Axel og Valborg
Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger

The action of the play from beginning to end takes place in the solemn atmosphere of Trondheim Cathedral in Nidaros, the medieval capital of Norway. On the sides of the stage are burial niches, in the center is the tomb of Harald, the grandfather of the ruling king Hakon the Broad-shouldered. Closest to the audience in the foreground are massive temple columns, on one of them the monograms “A” and “B” are displayed - Axel and Valborg, the names of the heroes of the play, whose love is doomed - they are half-brother and sister, and their mothers are buried right there in the cathedral.

However, Axel and Valborg were teased by the “bride and groom” in early childhood, when later their friendship began to develop into love, Axel was hastened to be sent abroad to the German lands, where he, together with the Bavarian Duke Heinrich the Lion, successfully fought with the Wends and from the beardless The young man turned into a brave and self-confident warrior. Axel is an ideal hero, and, of course, he did not forget Valborg. Having become accustomed to victories, he did not back down from his beloved and obtained permission from the Pope Adrian for marriage - the papal bull breaks his blood relationship with Valborg.

Full of bright expectations, Axel returns to his homeland. Appearing to Valborg in the guise of an old man, he checks her feelings and, convinced of her fidelity (Valborg hangs fresh wreaths on a column with monograms every morning), demands from King Hakon to give his beloved to him as his wife. But the king also claims the hand of the beautiful Valborg and considers her his by right, he is her protector and guardian. He considers Axel’s demand unnatural, but having learned about the permission received, he is going to solve the matter by force, but he allows himself to be persuaded by his confessor, the insidious Dominican monk Knud, who promises to prevent Axel from marrying Valborg with the help of church chicanery.

In fact, Knud very convincingly proves to Bishop Erland that the papal permission given to Axel is not valid: the bride and groom are brother and sister not only by blood, but also by baptism: Axel was baptized only at the age of five, along with the then born but Valborg, and the pope did not give permission to break this connection. The bishop regretfully has to admit the validity of Knud's arguments - they are documented by entries in the church book. With a heavy heart, he proceeds to a rite other than a wedding ceremony - the ceremony of separating the bride and groom: Axel and Valborg take the opposite ends of the canvas, and it is cut between them with a sword blow that the monk Knud inflicts.

Axel and Valborg are in despair: a second appeal to the pope is impossible - Pope Adrian has died, and the new head of the church, for political reasons, favors the king more. Fate, thus, again turns against the lovers. Saying goodbye in private in the cathedral, they, like good Christians, resign themselves to their fate, promising each other to be reunited together in heaven.

But such an end to the matter is not pleasing to Bishop Erland, who is full of sympathy for the young. In his youth, he experienced a similar tragedy - he was separated from his beloved, who, against his will, was given for another. Erland's feelings are also shared by Axel's friend Wilhelm, a gloomy-looking young warrior who arrived with Axel from abroad. By Wilhelm's own admission, he is "a cross between a sheep and a wolf": the son of Erland's former lover Eleanor and a certain Rudolf. Wilhelm promised his dead mother to give her last “forgive me” to her cordial Friend, and therefore ended up in company with Axel not by chance. Full of good intentions, Bishop Erland and Wilhelm take revenge on an impersonal and indifferent to the suffering of people fate. They resort to the so-called "pious deception." The bishop gives Wilhelm a golden helmet, a cloak and an iron spear of St. Olaf, buried in Trondheim Cathedral, whose ghost, according to legend, appears from time to time in the church at night. Appearing at the cathedral at midnight in the garb of a dead king, Wilhelm orders the guards who bowed before him in reverence to leave from the church, and the monk Knud, who doubted the miracle and suspected deceit, is pierced with a sword for unbelief (before his death, in repentance, the monk actually admits that he does not believe not only in miracles, but even in the immortality of the soul). Valborg, who is to be married the next morning with King Hakon, is thus free, and Axel can take her away on a boat prepared for flight.

But Axel again challenges the fate prepared for him. He cannot leave King Hakon. Just this morning, the contender for the throne, Erling, enters Nidaros with his considerable retinue. A distant relative of the king, Axel is bound to him by bonds of loyalty and honor, a vassal must protect his master.

King Hakon is struck by the nobility of Axel's deed. In the rag with which he bandages his wound, Hakon recognizes a piece of cloth cut off during the rite of separation of the bride and groom. But doesn't Aksed want to reward Hakon with good for his evil, thereby humiliating him? Axel reassures the king - he wanted to take Valborg for himself out of a heartfelt desire, Axel knows how great the power of love is, and does not take revenge on the king, his intentions are pure - protecting the king, he fulfills his duty and hopes that he will repay him with good for good.

At this moment, Erling's warriors burst into the cathedral. Under the pretext that the combat helmet of the wounded man is too heavy for him, Axl puts it on his head. He and the king defend themselves from the attackers until help comes to them - the Birkebeiners (warriors-bast shoes, a kind of people's militia). But it's' too late. Mortally wounded Axel (he was still taken for a king) dies with the name of his beloved on his lips. Called for the last farewell, Valborg finds Axel already dead, she asks his German friend to sing her a folk ballad, which she herself has never been able to sing because of the tears that choked her. Wilhelm sings a ballad to his own accompaniment on the harp: The Knight Ore comes to the island to woo his dear Elsa, but exactly a month later, illness brings him to the grave. Else grieves and cries for the groom, and the power of her grief is so great that she raises the dead man lying in the coffin. Throwing the coffin on his shoulders, he knocks on the door of Elsa's house, but she does not let him in, demanding that he first utter the name of the Lord. Ore does not comply with her demands, but promises Elsa that she will remember him in joy and in sorrow. The rooster cries - Ore it's time to go to the grave. Ore disappears, and Else mourns and mourns him, until exactly one month later, the disease brings her to the grave too.

Having sung the song to the end, Wilhelm notices that Axel Valborg, who has clung to the body, is dead. Wilhelm's squire entering the temple announces that King Hakon has just died in battle. Evil fate, therefore, does not bypass anyone in the tragedy.

King Hakon the Broad-shouldered, a real historical person, really died in a battle with Erling in 1162.