Performing Arts

Ordet

Kaj Munk (1898-1944)
Premier at Betty Nansen Theater, 1932 Se kort

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

A miracle

“Isn’t there one among you who can support my hands while I pray the miracle down? I say to you everything is possible for he who has faith!” With these words, Johannes, the pious son of the family, lies down in front of the coffin containing Inger, the dead daughter-in-law. He folds his hands and prays; no almost commands: 
“Hear me, you dead woman. In the name of Jesus Christ, the Grave Buster: If God wants this. Return to life. I say to you, woman, rise!” And Inger rises. After having lain in a coffin for five days in the best parlour of the house, she returns to life. 

Struggle for God 

We are in Western Jutland in the 1920s; an impoverished and religious part of Denmark. For 50 years, old Mikkel Borgen has struggled to introduce the forgiving and mild Christianity, “Grundtvigianism”.

His project has succeeded - if it wasn’t for the Danish version of the Home Mission which, through its revival meetings and confession, “... makes God the chairman of a party”, as Mikkel Borgen puts it. This part of Christianity also wins followers; so many indeed, that the little community is nearly split in two. Mikkel Borgen’s own family is not untouched by the conflict either. Anders, the son, is in love with a young girl, Anne. But Anne belongs to the “obscurantists” at the Home Mission, and both Mikkel Borgen and the girl’s father resist the love of the young couple. 

The poet priest 

Kaj Munk was Denmark’s great poet priest. Until his much too early death - he was shot by Nazi soldiers in 1944 - he wrote poems, articles and plays from his vicarage in Vedersoe in Western Jutland. All his writings were permeated with great faith. Faith in God, and in the word of God, as the mild and healing element in a harsh life.
This is also the essence of Ordet (The Word). The daughter-in-law of the house dies in childbirth, and at her deathbed the two old fathers give in and allow their children, Anders and Anne, to marry. One miracle leads to another. Soon afterwards Inger is awoken from the dead by the pious Johannes and his great faith. 

Preben Lerdorff Rye in Carl Th. Dreyer's film adaptation of Ordet from 1955. Photo: Scanpix.
ORDET PREBEN LERDORFF RYE
Kaj Munk drawn by Knud Nørholm. Det Kongelige Bibliotek.
Performing Arts

Did you know?

Source: Kulturcentret Assistens

"My name is Kjeld Abell. I interrupt the notion to announce that the theater poet, Kaj Munk, has been murdered. Lets hounor him with a minute of silence". Kaj Munk, who wrote Ordet, and Kjeld Abell, who made Anna Sophie Hedvig also present in the cultural canon, knew each other personally. In January 1944, Abell was angry that the Royal Theater would not cancel the performance when Kaj Munk had been murdered by the Gestapo. Therefore, Abell sneaked up on the stage in the middle of the show and announced the message. The consequence was that he had to escape from the Gestapo and go underground.

The committee's justification

By The Committee for Performing Arts, 2006

In a drama characterised by middle-class matter-of-factness, the poet and priest Kaj Munk’s deranged and irrational play Ordet (in English: The Word) is in many ways a rarity. A disputed work written in a 6-day long orgy of writing and which praises “the courage of prayer” and preaches “the potential of the miracle”.
The plot is set on the west coast, namely Borgensgård, where the Grundtvigian estate farmer Mikkel Borgen refuses to allow his son Anders’ marriage to the girl he loves because she comes from an evangelical family. Old Mikkel’s dream is to see his estate as the continued focal point of the parish community – and his plan is definitively not in harmony with the evangelical bogeymen. Little does it help when Mikkel’s kind-hearted daughter-in-law Inger attempts to convince him that differences of opinion and patriarchal beliefs have to give way to love.

Inger’s pious, unreflecting childlike faith cannot move the conflicting parties. It is only when Inger dies unexpectedly in childbirth and then is woken from the dead by the insane Johannes that childhood faith wins over all reason.
Nothing is easier than to criticise Ordet. Both for the drama’s radical genre shift from the first act’s popular comedy to the final acts, which are more like a miracle play, and for the misguided courage, which often mars the dialogue and gives it a touch of cold calculation.  However, any criticism is silenced in the face of the savagery of the writing, which positively forces the audience to take it in, scene by scene. It is difficult to find room for doubt as long as one finds oneself in Kaj Munk’s overwrought universe.

Ordet was performed for the first time in 1932 at the Betty Nansen Theatre.

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