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Theatre / Jeppe from the Hill

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Jeppe from the Hill, or The Transformed Peasent (Jeppe paa Bjerget, eller Den forvandlede Bonde) is a Danish comedy from 1722 by the Danish-Norwegian author Ludvig Holberg. Equal parts social commentary, psycological character study and zany farce it is one of the most popular and well-known plays in Denmark, along with Erasmus Montanus, another Holberg-comedy.

The lazy, alcoholic serf and war-veteran Jeppe is sent to market by his shrewish wife Nille to buy soap. Instead he spends the money on schnapps at Cobbler-Jakob's speakeasy and falls asleep in a ditch. Here he is found by the Baron and his entourage, who decides to prank him by carrying him to the manor, dress him in silk, put him in the Baron's bed and pretend that he is the Lord of the manor.

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Jeppe wakes up in the Baron's bed and is at first utterly confused and scared, but a couple of "doctors" persuade him that he is really the Lord of the Manor, and that his former life as a peasant is a delusion. He starts to enjoy life as a squire and gets drunk on the Baron's fine wines ("Carnali-sack"), much to the amusement of the entourage, but soon his anger at his old oppressors boils over and he threatens to have them all executed, especially his hated tormentor, the bailiff, before he passes out from drink. The entourage puts him back in his old clothes and leaves him on his own dung heap.

Here he is found by Nille, who is NOT happy that he has spent all the money and is not really inclined to believe him when he claims that he has been in Paradise. But then a group of "policemen" (the entourage again, in disguises) appears and arrests him for impersonating the Baron. Jeppe is brought to "court", found guilty, and sentenced to death by poisoning (really a sleeping potion) and hanging.

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Nille despairs when Jeppe is strung up, until he wakes up and start asking for schnapps, then she trashes him again. The judge has Jeppe taken down and sent on his way with some money. He immediately goes to the speakeasy to get some schnapps and tell his weird story, but then it becomes known what really happened, and Jeppe becomes the laughingstock of the entire town.

The play ends with the Baron pointing out that this shows why peasants should not be put in charge.


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This play provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Jeppe is the Ur-Example in Danish literature.
  • Crapsack World: Where to begin? The baron actually plays his pranks out of boredom, and the serfs is far from well off under his rule.
  • Domestic Abuse: Nille to Jeppe.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Nille's thrashings of Jeppe are played for laughs.
  • Gratuitous German: Jeppe starts peppering his speech with German when he remembers his soldiering days. Justified in that German was the command language in the Danish Army at the time.
  • I Call It "Vera": Nille thrashes Jeppe with her lash, called "Master Erik".
  • Insane Troll Logic: When Jeppe wakes up after his execution, the "judge" explains that a court that can sentence you to death, can also sentence you to life. Jeppe asks if that means that he can kill the judge and then bring him back as well, and the judge says "Of course not, Jeppe, you're not a judge."
  • Jerkass: Jacob the cobbler, who sells Jeppe the brandy that sets off the action. Also some of the Baron's men.
  • Kangaroo Court: The court that sentences Jeppe. Somewhat subverted in that the court scene is played relatively straight. For instance Jeppe is given a defence lawyer, who points out that the whole story is absurd, because how would Jeppe fool the entourage into thinking that he was the Baron?
  • Mind Screw: Most of the play consists of the Baron and his entourage doing this to Jeppe.
  • Pass the Popcorn:
    • The baron does his prank on Jeppe out of boredom, and sits in through the whole thing. Jeppe actually sees this.
    • One production had the baron's men sitting on the side eating actual popcorn during this part of the play.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Jeppe can be interpreted as such, reminiscing his days in the army. Justified — he was a soldier for TEN years and saw some actual carnage. He vividly remembers a Swedish attack, including the slaughter of several thousand men.
  • Society Is to Blame: Both Nille and Jeppe opens the play with a good Lampshading on this. Nille doesn't really wish to beat her husband, but is actually forced to by her superiors because he is a serf and has to pay his debts. Jeppe himself laments his social position more than once, and this is actually the reason behind his drinking problem. Everybody is on to him.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Nille cheats on Jeppe with the Deacon.


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