When she was a child Karen Blixen wrote plays, which she performed with her sisters and friends. In Isak Dinesen. Her Life in Pictures (collected and edited by Frans Lasson, text by Clara Selborn) there is a photograph of the children performing a play written by 11-year-old Karen Dinesen, Hovmod staar for Fald (Pride Goes Before a Fall, not translated into English). The script for this play has disappeared, but in Blixeniana 1983 (the yearbook of the Karen Blixen Society), which contains a selection of the young Karen Blixen’s writings, two other early play texts are reproduced – Rolf Blaaskægs Død (Rolf Bluebeard’s Death, not translated into English) and Marsk Stig (Lord High Constable Stig, not translated to English). The only play she re-worked, and which was published and performed, was the marionette play Sandhedens Hævn (The Revenge of Truth).
THE REVENGE OF TRUTH
The Revenge of Truth was produced twice during Karen Blixen’s lifetime. In March 1936 at the Royal Danish Theatre, directed by Svend Borberg, and in 1960 as a television film directed by Erling Schroeder. In 1974 it was performed in a total theatre production at Boldhusteatret, and in 1977 as a puppet play at Riddersalen. The composer Ib Nørholm used The Revenge of Truth as the basis for an opera, produced at Østre Gasværk in 1986 and later in Odense and Århus. In 1998 Jaques S. Matthiesen directed The Revenge of Truth at Fiolteatret in a show performed by a combination of marionettes and actors. And most recently, during the 1998-99 season, Peter Langdal directed a production of the play at the Royal Danish Theatre, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the theatre.
The first version of The Revenge of Truth was written in 1904. It was re-worked in 1915 and again in 1926, when it appeared in the journal Tilskueren. Around the same time Karen Blixen wrote two other marionette plays – Elmis Hjerte (Elmi’s Heart, not translated into English), which has never been published, and Carneval (Carnival, not translated into English), which was rewritten as a tale and first appeared in Efterladte fortællinger (later published in English in a slightly different collection as Carnival. Entertainments and Posthumous Tales, 1977).
Karen Blixen introduced her early marionette plays into some of her later tales. The Revenge of Truth appears in “The Roads Round Pisa” and “The Supper at Elsinore”, and again in the posthumous tale “Second Meeting” in which one of the main characters, Pipistrello, is the director of a famous marionette theatre.
LIES TURN INTO REALITY
The Revenge of Truth tells of an innkeeper, Abraham, who gets caught up in his own lies. He is making plans to rob and murder a young country lad, Jan Bravida, when a witch, Amiane, puts a curse on the inn where the action is taking place – all the lies told under its roof that night will be revealed as truth next day. As in many of the tales, the play investigates issues of identity and destiny. People do not know themselves and their role in life until the play is over. As the female lead says:
“When we first began, no one knew what his role was like, indeed, we ourselves didn’t know, for who can know what a character will look like on the stage? But now we have said those lines we had in us, we haven’t kept a single one back, and when the curtain falls, no one can have any doubt what we really were.”
But while the play is running, we do not know who we are and how it will turn out. We can only see the overall perspective of our roles after the curtain has fallen.