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Rasmus Berg, a Danish farmer's son, has been given a costly education in Copenhagen. When he returns, he speaks Latin to his parents, and Latinises his name as Erasmus Montanus. He wants to "dispute", and goes on to "prove" a number of absurdities, such as relying on argument from ignorance to prove that his mother is a rock. He is contrasted to his brother Jacob who is only interested in knowledge which is of practical application.
His persistent arguing gets him into trouble with the parents of his fiancée Lisbet, who refuses the marriage until he stops claiming that the Earth is round. His fiancée begs him to retract his statements that the Earth revolves around the sun, but he refuses. After a village plot tricks him to enlist for military service and leave the city, he reconsiders and makes the retractions, allowing him to marry Lisbet.
- Erasmus Montanus/Rasmus Berg: protagonist; the scholar
- Jeppe Berg: His father
- Nille: His mother
- Jacob: His brother
- Lisbet: Erasmus's fiancee
- Jeronimus: Her father
- Magdelone: Her Mother
- Per: The Deacon
- Jesper: The Baliff
- A Lieutenant
- A Corporal
Act I, Scene I
A village street showing Jeppe’s house. Jeppe, with a letter in his hand.
Jeppe. It is a shame that the deacon is not in town, for there's so much Latin in my son's letter that I can't understand. Tears come to my eyes when I think that a poor peasant's son has got so much book-learning, especially as we aren't tenants of the university. I have heard from people who know about learning that he can dispute with any clergyman alive. Oh, if only my wife and I could have the joy of hearing him preach on the hill, before we die, we shouldn't grudge all the money we have spent on him! I can see that Peer the deacon doesn't much relish the idea of my son's coming. I believe that he is afraid of Rasmus Berg. It is a terrible thing about these scholarly people. They are so jealous of each other, and no one of them can endure the thought that another is as learned as he. The good man preaches fine sermons here in the village and can talk about envy so that the tears come to my eyes; but it seems to me that he isn't entirely free from that fault himself. I can't understand why it should be so. If any one said that a neighbor of mine understood farming better than I, should I take that to heart? Should I hate my neighbor for that? No, indeed, Jeppe Berg would never do such a thing. But if here isn't Peer the deacon!