Axel and Valborg

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Axel and Valborg (Danish: Axel og Valborg) is a tragedy in five acts by Adam Oehlenschläger. It was written in Paris in 1808 and printed in Copenhagen in 1810. There is an English translation by F. S. Kolle.

The story is taken from a Danish romantic ballad, the last verse of which Oehlenschläger used as a motto:

May God forsake the wicked wretch
Who two like these would part
When glows a warm and mutual love
In young and virtuous heart

The ballad was well known throughout the Scandinavian countries long before Oehlenschläger's time. In Ludvig Holberg's poem “Peder Paars,” the bailiff's wife was almost drowned in a flood of tears because parts of it had been read to her.

The whole action of the drama takes place in the famous Trondhjem Cathedral, in Norway, during the reign of Haakon Herdebred. Axel and Valborg are cousins who love each other. In spite of the pope's dispensation removing the legal impediment, a scheming monk prevents their marriage. In this tragedy of a Northern woman's true and constant devotion, the beauty of the ballad is brought to its full fruition. In its simplicity, its pathos and tragic ending, it makes an almost overwhelming impression on the spectator. (Compare it with Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's The Fisher Maiden.)

In his own generation, Oehlenschläger's Axel and Valborg was the most favored and admired of all his writings. Through it, the romantic-sentimental style of poetry gained general favor. When Baggesen, beginning his review in a critical and hostile spirit, reached the famous lines spoken by the pure and innocent Valborg, as she crowns her lover's initials with flowers: “I bid thee, my love, good morning,” he was absolutely carried away and praised the work in the highest terms.

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