Jeppe on the Hill
By Lone Nyhuus, journalist, former dancer and choreographer, 2006
Where am I?
The day before he’d been boozing - like so often before. The day before he’d been beaten by his wife - like so often before. The day before he’d spent his last penny on drink - as really many times before. So when, in his state of intoxication, he lay down to sleep on the dung heap, he knew that once he woke up again, he would find pure hell: A hangover, a sour wife and no money!
He rubs his eyes. And when he sees what he sees, he rubs them again. And then he really gets a fright. Elegantly clad servants politely bid him a good morning. Instead of his dirty clothes, he is wearing a fine shirt. He is treated to the finest wine and the most expensive food.
A crude joke
Jeppe has been placed in the baron’s bed. The night before, as the baron and his entourage passed by the sleeping Jeppe on the dung heap, they had an idea for a practical joke. After rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and consuming a lot of good wine, Jeppe - much too willingly - accepts what the noble people are telling him: That he is the baron. Jeppe’s trouble-free life as a master lasts only one happy day. The next time he wakes up, he doesn’t only have a hangover. He also has a bad-tempered wife, en empty purse and the same old, sorry life as a poor peasant on Sealand.
We must use our senses
Ludvig Holberg was one of the first Danish playwrights to write in Danish. With inspiration from the ancient Roman comedy writer Plautus and French dramatist Molière, Holberg’s plays were to inform the growing Danish middle classes about common sense versus foolishness. To enable citizens to distinguish between right and wrong. Like many other authors of the age of enlightenment, Holberg trusted the intellect and the clarity of logical thinking. If the drunkard Jeppe had applied more of this, the baron and his people would not have succeeded in tricking Jeppe’s so badly.
It is hilarious to see the stupid peasant believe that he can get away with ordering the bailiff and the baron’s secretary about. While we laugh at Jeppe, we are also taught that we should not believe everything we hear and see.
Did you know?
l 1728 afslørede Ludvig Holberg, at han havde skrevet komedier og digte under pseudonymet Hans Mikkelsen. Det kom dog ikke som den helt store overraskelse for den litterære offentlighed, der i mange år havde vidst besked om, hvem den "mystiske Hans Mikkelsen" i virkeligheden var.
The committee's justification
By The Committee for Performing Arts, 2006
Jeppe awakes in the baron’s bed, and does not know whether he is awake or simply dreaming. Jeppe opens his eyes with a noose around his neck, convinced that he is dead. Jeppe is pained by all levels of reality that a modern person must master in order to exist in the world.
The drama Jeppe on the Hill (original title: Jeppe på Bjerget) opened a door into the abyss of Danish popular mentality. Holberg introduced here, as an undeniably popular icon, the Danish loser, the small man, the alcoholic, the simpleton. In the wake of Jeppe we have the thief Egon Olsen, Flyttemand Olsen and Grisehandler Larsen – indeed, almost all of Danish film and TV’s treasures. The smart, yet misunderstood and honest idiots, who we, in our highly complex society steadily wish we could become in order to escape from all political or existential responsibility.
The drama is quite simply brilliant, and therefore dangerous. In his entertaining play on levels of reality – sociological, metaphysical and epistemological – Holberg incorporates everything from Descartes’ seven meditations to the dark political thinking of Hobbes. Ultimately, Jeppe on the Hill’s talk of anti-democratic and conservative virtues falls on deaf ears. More than anything else, this drama, across all of Denmark, has unleashed an atrocious, unrestrained national character that steadily ravages and destroys with genius alone. It is art as anarchy, the highest goal.
Jeppe on the Hill was first performed sometime between the end of September and the end of the year in 1722 at the first Danish Theatre in Lille Grønnegade. First printed in 1723.