Performing Arts

Aladdin, or the Wonderful Lamp

Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850)
Premier at the Royal Theater, 1839 Se kort

By Lone Nyhuus, journalist, former dancer and choreographer, 2006

A strange fate

Imagine if you could have anything you wanted. Just say the word, and it would be yours. 
That is exactly what happened to the young tailor Aladdin. With sinister intentions, the evil wizard Noureddin lured him into a dark cave to fetch an old corroded lamp that didn’t seem special in any way. But it contained the greatest treasure: When Aladdin rubbed it, the lamp’s genie appeared and was able to grant all his desires. Irrespective of whether his wish was for the princess or the entire kingdom. How unjust it was, thought the cruel wizard Noureddin, who had found the cave after years of tireless searching and had led Aladdin to it. 

Well-known story 

Do you feel you know the story? Then you are probably right! Disney, for example, created a cartoon from the fairytale that originates from the famous collection of Arabic stories, The Arabian Nights. The Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger did the same thing.

He was greatly inspired by the wave of German romanticism and delved into our Nordic history and folklore to write Guldhornene (The Golden Horns) in 1802. Two years later, it was the Orient and its mysticism that formed the basis for his lengthy fairytale play Aladdin. 

The Orient in Copenhagen 

The play was written in verse and features myriads of characters. All of them gleaned from early 19th century Copenhagen. With her down-to-earth sense and outspoken energy, Aladdin’s mother is the epitome of an old tailor’s wife in the streets of Copenhagen at the time. Noureddin the Wizard is depicted as a Jewish merchant, and with his constant search for the good bargain, he lives up to the contemporary prejudices of Jews as misers. And Aladdin? He probably resembles any of the lazy youngsters that young Oehlenschläger saw running in the street. 

Born to fortune 

The fact that Aladdin fared so much better than most other young people was thanks to one thing: Aladdin was not the son of a tailor, but of an emir, an Arab prince. Aladdin was born to the fortune he achieved through the lamp and its genie. This is how all the creatures of the world had their predestined place. At that time, people were either born to be tailors, priests or princes.
It was only after the introduction of the Danish constitution in 1849, and the freedom of trade in 1859, that this “cosmological world order” ceased to place barriers in the way of energetic fortune hunters - such as, for instance, the ambitious wizard Noureddin. 

Well on St Sophie's Square near the Gate of the Seraglio in Constantinople, 1846. Painted by Martinus Rørbye. Photo: Ole Hein Pedersen.
Adam Oehlenschläger. Det Kongelige Bibliotek.
Performing Arts

Did you know?

Source: Archive for Danish literature

How does a 300-page manuscript written in verse sound? This is how Oehlenschläger's original version of Aladdin looks. Not exactly easily accessible compared with the standards of today. Today the play is always performed in a processed form, and if you do not have the courage to embark on the many verses, you can rejoice that the Danish author Kåre Bluitgen has retold Oehlenschläger's adventures in prose form and on slightly fewer pages. Bluitgen's Aladdin book was released in early 2006. 

The committee's justification

By The Committee for Performing Arts, 2006

In these times of integration, it is good to know that one of the cornerstones of Danish drama literature traces back directly to one of Arab culture’s principal literary works. The story of happy-go-lucky Aladdin originates from the 1001 Nights, and Oehlenschläger recasts it as an eclectic meeting between Muslim thinking and Copenhagen’s golden age.
Over five long, versified acts – in unabridged form the play stretches over several hundred pages – we follow the young Aladdin, from his beginnings wandering the streets of Isfahan as an irresponsible ne’er-do-well and – to his parents’ great concern – doing nothing to better himself, until at the comedy’s conclusion, when, now matured and conscientious, he has become the Sultan of Persia. This is seemingly made possible by the two amazing objects, the Magic Ring and the Magic Lamp – along with a love for the beautiful Gulnare, who he must first earn through insight and wisdom.

Despite the fact that Aladdin is so lucky that oranges simply fall into his turban – a turn of phrase that went on to enter the Danish language – this easily-won joy is fleeting. Lasting happiness, on the contrary, must be won through adversity. This is not to say that happiness is granted according to merit, for in this Romantic universe, good fortune is only something given to those chosen by fate, the Genie; whilst we others, despite our honest endeavours, earn only wisps of smoke from the lamp for our efforts.

Aladdin, or the Wonderful Lamp was performed for the first time on 17 April 1839 at the Royal Theatre.

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