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Hangman


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A: Pär Lagerkvist Pf: 1934, Bergen and Stockholm Pb: 1946 Tr: 1966 G: Drama in 1 act; Swedish prose S: Medieval tavern and 20th c. nightclub C: 12m, 4f, extrasIn a medieval tavern, where the guests drink raucously and the tales they tell are often acted out, the gigantic Hangman sits silently and alone, wearing a blood-red robe. A carpenter tells how the Hangman saved a doomed boy, and all agree that the Hangman is ‘good sometimes, too’: he always asks the victim's pardon before executing them. The story is also told of the Hangman's marriage to a girl he could not bear to hang. However, his bride strangled their child, and he had to hang her after all. Suddenly the tavern is transformed into a modern nightclub, with smartly dressed customers eating, drinking and dancing to jazz, played by a group of black musicians. Excited by the presence of the Hangman, the guests salute him with ‘Heil!’, wonder about his sexual prowess, and agree that his violence helps to keep order. They throw out some importunate beggars, except a radiant woman beggar who seats herself beside the Hangman. The customers curse at the black musicians, hitting and shooting some so that they will play faster, and then dance in a frenzy of sex and violence. At last the Hangman speaks. He tells his listeners that he has done what they have asked of him, destroying humanity (represented by the woman beside him) and even took the life of Christ. The woman tries to comfort him, saying that she will wait for him, but he goes out to continue his duties.

A: Pär Lagerkvist Pf: 1934, Bergen and Stockholm Pb: 1946 Tr: 1966 G: Drama in 1 act; Swedish prose S: Medieval tavern and 20th c. nightclub C: 12m, 4f, extras

This Expressionistic warning about the dangers of Fascism was the most successful and controversial Scandinavian play of the inter-war years. While immensely theatrical, its symbolism now seems rather heavy-handed.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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