By Lone Nyhuus, journalist, former dancer and choreographer, 2006
Behind the heavy walls of faith
“Never, never. This will never be. My daughter engaged to a Herming. Never!” In 1912, Nathansen’s bourgeois moral comedy was performed for the first time at the Royal Danish Theatre. For almost 100 years, the old Jewish patriarch Levin has shouted these words across the cosy living room that is the stage. Shouted them in frustration at his daughter Esther and her wish to marry a non- Jew.
The Jewish minority
There were 300 years of discrimination of the 8,000 Danish Jews between old Levin and the daughter’s wish. Many Jews were not allowed to enter Denmark. Until 1788, Jewish craftsmen were barred from the guilds, and until the early 19th century Jews had to follow special laws stipulating where they could live and what they could do for a living.
In 1814, the Jewish minority achieved Danish civil rights and in 1849 was granted freedom of religion. Many Jews became integrated in Danish society during the 19th century and obtained a good social position. Esther’s brothers, for example, are a wholesaler and a doctor. Despite the softening, Jewish-Christian marriages were not welcome. If need be, between Danish women and Jewish men. But not the other way round!
Some of the reviewers of the opening performance found the conflict outdated: Anti-Semitism is over, they said. But the problems of the play were extremely relevant. And with international persecutions of the Jews and the holocaust, the issue has remained topical throughout the 20th century. And still is... Try, for instance, to exchange the word Jewish for Muslim, then we have the trouble!
Henri Nathansen, who was Jewish himself, created a cast of realistic characters, idiomatic lines, and conflicts we can recognise from our own life. We have sympathy with the old Levin; sense his fear of being overtaken by developments. We follow his daughter Esther in her struggle between the desire to marry the man she loves, and the respect for her solid Jewish background.
Just human beings
The play and its characters reach out into the world and into us. Towards the end of the play we cannot help, along with Heming, in wishing for a future, that no longer divides people into Jews and Christians. A future when we are just ... human beings.
Did you know?
The two actors Poul Reumert and Jørgen Reenberg know Henri Nathansen's piece in and out. Both have played the roles of the young procurator Meyer and the old Adolf Levin. Several times, the two have been facing each other on the stage, among other things in a setup at The Royal Theater in 1950 and in Denmark's radio version from 1963. In 2006, Jørgen Reenberg received a Reumert - for best male lead - for his performance as Levin in Indenfor Murene at the Royal Theater in 2005.
The committee's justification
By The Committee for Performing Arts, 2006
Young couples with different cultural backgrounds, destined not to be together: dramatic literature is full of them. However, few of them have had such a rich stage life as Esther and Jørgen in Henri Nathansen’s naturalistic contemporary classic Indenfør Murene.
Over 500 times at the Royal Danish Theatre alone, the idyll has been shattered in the traditional Jewish Copenhagen home when Esther informs her family that she has become engaged to the young non-Jewish Dr Jørgen Herming, PhD. A conflict comes to a head during a failed dinner party hosted by the future in-laws, when it becomes apparent to Herr and Fru Levin that their daughter has consented to get married in a church. As they leave Herming’s home in anger, Esther realises that she has betrayed her cultural background, and flees back home. Now it is Jørgen who has to go to her. Despite the fact that the conflict is not resolved explicitly, the love of the young couple represents a promise of reconciliation and Esther and Jørgen as archetypes of a new generation attempting to gain a footing in the meeting between two cultures.
To a greater degree than the portrayal of young love, it is the portrait of the Levin home that brings the play beyond its initial point as a Christian-Jewish problem drama. It is in the loving portrait of the family father, Levin, that the drama gains ground, expanding its humanistic message, and in the intimacy between his family and its traditions, we are forced to give in. Both to the sabbath’s warm soup and meatballs and to Nathansen’s exceptionally well-composed play.
Indenfor Murene was first performed at the Royal Danish Theatre on 23 March 1912.