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Theatre / Lady Inger at Austraat

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Lady Inger at Austraat (Fru Inger til Østråt) is a period piece written by Henrik Ibsen in 1857. This is one of his most known historical plays, and historical domain characters are abundant. Lady Inger was a Norwegian noblewoman sitting at her estate in Trøndelag, and was close to the circles of power at the time. The play goes pretty deep into her agonies concerning the fate of Norway, and the decisions she has to make considering both her daughters, her situation, and her future. Emmisaries from Denmark and Sweden, as well as Norwegian nobles, plot in different directions around her, and difficult decisions has to be made. At the same time, there is rebellion in Sweden, and the farmers in Norway strive to join, but their mission is already doomed, as is the future of lady Inger. The year of the play is 1528, and it is clear that any struggle for independence is bound to fail.


This play contains the following tropes:

  • Artistic Licence - Geography: The Austråt manor is sited west of the Fjord of Trondheim. In the fourth act, Nils Stensson plans to gather a band of farm soldiers to enter Sweden by horse. This would mean passing the fjord of Trondheim by boat, or ride an impossibly long route around the fjord to the north, in mountainous terrain, and without roads. This would take several days, and yet Lady Inger implies that a ride to the Swedish border is quite accessible and done in no time.
    • When the peasants wish to take up arms at the start of the play, they and Inger discuss using boats across the fjord. At this point, Geography seems to be in place. The Artistic Licence kicks in later, when Nils Stensson asks for troops, only to get ambushed. Did Inger forget her own geography on the way?
    • Niels Lykke states that a band of Swedish soldiers are situated half a mile from the manor. This would mean a band of Swedish soldiers camping almost as far inland as possible without getting their feet in the western sea. And this band of soldiers just camped there without incident? Anyway, Nils returns within hours, his band of men eliminated by the Swedes.
  • Artistic Licence – History: Where to begin? Ibsen exaggerates some of the events for the Rule of Cool, and for the sake of national sentiments. It is not entirely certain that the Norwegian noblemen were present at Akershus fortress the day Knut Alvsson was murdered (in fact, the Norwegian nobility was in doubt on how to handle him), and in Oslo, sympathy was on the Danish side. Furthermore, the eldest daughter of Inger, Lucia, is said to be dead at this point of time. In fact, she was alive and had a child with Niels Lykke.
    • The most aggravating example of this is the implied affair between Inger and the Swedish rebel leader Sten Sture, and their son Nils. This is definitely an artistic licence on behalf of Ibsen. Real life Inger died on a boat accident with her daughter Lucia as late as 1555 - and certainly not in 1528 as the play states.
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    • There is also Jens Bjelke, stated to be Swedish (he was actually Danish), and seemingly somewhat older than he should be at this point. He later married Lucia, and the entire Austråt estate fell to him.
  • Black Comedy: Honestly. Tropes like the Mistaken Identity, misunderstood dialogue, Nils handing his letters to the wrong person because of a misunderstanding... Several of those would fit perfectly in a comic setting. If Ibsen had wanted this to end up on a lighter note, he would have produced a Deus ex Machina. He didn`t. All things considered, there is elements here which would have amused Anton Chekhov.
  • Blatant Lies: Both Olaf and Niels when they meet Inger says they trust her, and she likewise. Then, she produces to cups of wine to toast on behalf of this trust, only to bust them both when she informs them that one of the cups was poisoned. Both of them goes Oh, Crap! instantly, while Inger smiles calmly and states that they both revealed their lack of trust.
    • If you are looking for a Funny Moment in this play, it is here.
    • Niels bluffs his way through the play with great skill.
  • Broken Bird: Inger got broken good and proper before the play started. She is distrustful, full of bad conscience because of her Intrinsic Vow, somewhat afraid of the future, and freaks out when Olaf Skaktavl comes calling, because she thought he was dead, and she is constantly haunted by the dead Norwegian nobles.
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  • Cannon Fodder: The farm militia, slaughtered off stage in a Curb-Stomp Battle. In less than two hours...
  • The Chessmaster: Niels Lykke, the Danish noble. Lady Inger herself. She obviously tries to out-chess Niels.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Swedish noble Jens Bjelke, wary of Norwegian support for the Swedish rebellion, puts troops in place along the highway. Those soldiers are responsible for the massacre of Nils Stensson`s men later on.
    • Olaf Skaktavl, because he was uninformed about the identity of Nils. Which leads to him killing Nils later on.
  • Chivalric Romance: The setting is partly this, partly Goth. A number of chivalrous songs are mentioned, but the whole "romance" thing is actually stabbed to death by the notorious womanizer Niels Lykke. Eline thinks she lives the part from the very beginning.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Lady Inger. And it goes From Bad to Worse for her.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The entire play is solved in an absurdly short time - a day and a night. The events commented on took far longer time in real life, and events happening later than 1528 are lampshaded (the reformation in Denmark being one of them - occured in 1536).
  • Cool Old Guy: Olaf Skaktavl, the Norwegian noble.
  • Cool Old Lady: Lady Inger herself. Usually casted to be played a middle age actress (and she is also considered heavy theatrical stuff).
  • Dan Browned: Ibsen dumps a lot of references here, and shows some thorough research. But then, he goes off the scale with inaccuracies (see the Artistic Licence entries). Probably the only time he did this. Therefore, Lady Inger is often played as a personal drama revolving around the emotions of the Titular Character.
  • Darkest Hour: The play underscores this rather heavily. The different Norwegian fractions clearly doesn`t trust eachother, there is no leadership, no successor to the throne, and Danish and Swedish agents are everywhere. And here is Lady Inger with her vow to fight on.
    • Dream on, Lady Inger. Gustaf Vasa was already on the throne at this point.
  • Downer Ending.
  • Enter Stage Window: Nils Stensson, the designated Rebel Leader.
  • Flowery Elizabethan English: Er, Norwegian in this case. The speaking patterns are filled with old idioms, easily translated with "thou", "thee" and "thine", archaic in Ibsen´s time, but reckoned "high style" in the era of Inger. All characters in the play talk and act like a number of characters from The Silmarillion.
  • Gambit Pileup: The play is a straight example, with Lady Inger and Niels Lykke trying to outgambit eachother, setting lives, properties and an entire nation at stake. Lampshaded by Inger herself:
    Tonight, lots will be cast over the kingdom of Norway.
  • Goth: Take your pick. Horror elements of the classic gothic literature are everywhere. A castle at night, a woman in black walking sleeplessly around in empty rooms, the servants believing her to be a ghost (she is eerily pale), and she has fits of angst as well, believing the first stranger to enter the room to be another ghost...
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Ibsen made some amendments on factual history in this play (for the Rule of Drama), but he didn`t alter the fact that Denmark gets the upper hand (in-play through the gambits of Niels Lykke). Norway ended up as a Danish province. Period.
  • Historical Domain Character: Pretty much the entire cast. Inger and her daughters, the Danish nobleman Niels Lykke, Sten Sture from Sweden, and namechecks on the heroic Knut Alvsson. Even Martin Luther is referred to in passing.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Knut Alvsson, of course.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Niels Lykke. Truth in Television states that he was more of a Butt-Monkey than the manipulative bastard he seems to be in this play.
  • Idiot Ball: The prominent ball holder would be Nils Stensson, but also a lot of people around him, who never told him of his background or his actual role. The entire fate of Norway and Sweden seems to be in the hands of a misinformed unwitting pawn.
    • The entire population in Western Sweden (Dalarna) should be counted in here. They sided with the young Nils Stensson out of blind loyalty to his looks - and nobody seems to have told him who his father probably was (Sten Sture was a known folk hero at the time. And Nils never asked about it).
    • Olaf Skaktavl when he accidentally informs Niels Lykke on his mission, asking bluntly for letters from Peder Kansler, which Niels was unaware of until that moment (the letters are carried by Nils Stensson). Olaf gets the ball because he should have been a little suspicious of Niels when he does not produce the letters - and does not proceed to question him more thoroughly on his errand!
  • I Gave My Word: Referred to in-play. The entire Norwegian elite, including Inger, then 15 years of age, swore vengeance after the murder of Knut Alvsson. This promise is driving all of Inger`s actions, and makes her life a living hell. She adamantly warns her daughter from giving a similar promise.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Niels Lykke manages to con Inger into believing that Nils Stensson is her enemy and not her son, and she has him executed, by the hand of Olaf. She is well aware that Niels Lykke is out to play his tricks on her, and mistrusts him from the onset, and yet...
  • Large Ham: It is quite, quite possible to ham the titular character up many notches, passing through melodrama and far into narm territory - if you are female and into that sort of thing.
  • Last of His Kind: Inger believes herself to be the last surviving member of the once proud Norwegian nobility, wiped out by the Danish over a period of twenty years. It turns out There Is Another, Olaf Skaktavl, but Inger had given up hope. No wonder she freaks out when he suddenly appears on stage.
  • Little Miss Badass: Lady Inger, swearing vengeance at the age of 15. Olaf hints on that she pushed her way through the crowd surrounding the dead Knut Alvsson, and swore her own revenge. She promptly denies it.
  • Meaningful Name: Niels Lykke. His last namne means "luck". He seems to benefit from sheer accident a couple of times, and exploits it to win his gambit. Swedish nobleman Jens Bjelke even lampshades this, by thinking he was Born Lucky.
  • Mistaken Identity: When Olaf Skaktavl meets Niels Lykke, he honestly believes Niels to be the man Peder Kansler had told him about (actually Nils Stensson). Likewise, Niels Lykke thinks Olaf is Nils Stensson as well, but is Genre Savvy enough to guess otherwise, and uses Xanatos Speed Chess to exploit the situation.
    • Nils does not know he is the son of Sten Sture. Inger thinks he is Sten`s other son (who is dead at this point). The only one to know the truth is Niels Lykke, who stumbled on the fact by sheer coincidence.
  • The Mole: Lady Inger`s preferred role in the political mess-up being Scandinavia at the time. Niels Lykke seemingly is. Peder Kansler may also be counted in, acting as a mole for Norway.
    • Finn, a servant in the Austraat estate, serves as a mole for Niels Lykke, until he is busted and gets locked up.
  • Never Learned to Read: Nils Stensson is anyway bad at it. This gives Niels Lykke an advantage because he can read properly, and gets all the information he needs from the letters the younger Nils never understood anyway.
  • Oh, Crap!: Niels Lykke has one of those when he realizes the identity of Nils Stensson.
  • Old Retainer: Bjørn, the old housekeeper, a Nice Guy who used to tell Eline fairy tales when she was younger. A faithful confidant of Inger.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Olaf Skaktavle, being almost the Sole Survivor of the Swedish ambush, lost a finger in combat, and barely scoffs when Inger mentions it.
  • Out-Gambitted: Lady Inger is finally beaten by Niels Lykke.
    • Zig-zagged and subverted by the murder of Nils Stensson. With the pawn gone, there are no clear winners - Inger collapses on stage, and Niels just wanders off.
  • Outlaw: Olaf Skaktavl, former Norwegian noble, has been on the run for several years.
  • Period Piece: stated to take place in 1528.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Sten is killed because he gave a promise to Niels Lykke, not to make himself known to Inger. She ultimately believes he is Sten Sture`s legitimate son, and orders him killed. The only proof of his identity is given to her after his death.
    • It gets worse when considering that Olaf knew in advance that Nils was arriving, but didn`t have a name check. Inger, at the same time, is informed that Niels Lykke is expected to the manor. When Olaf and Inger meet, they both presume they are talking about the other person. Tragedy ensues, also because Nils Stensson misses the meeting with Olaf, only to crash into Niels Lykke.
  • Properly Paranoid: Inger, Niels, and Olaf. Lady Inger informs the other two that she poisened their drinks - both of them immidiately reacts like they are busted, while Inger concludes that neither the Danish nor the Norwegian nobles really trusts her.
  • Really Gets Around: Niels Lykke, implied to have gotten his way with more than one of Inger`s daughters, which is pretty much Truth in Television.
  • Rebel Leader: A whole string of them: Knut Alvsson, Sten Sture, Nils Sture by default, Olaf Skaktavl.
  • The Reveal: Inger reveals her backstory to both Olaf and Niels come the fourth act.
  • Sanity Slippage: Lady Inger has some shades of this in the fifth act, when emotions overwhelms her and delusions take over. She loses it completely when she finds her son dead, and that she herself ordered his murder.
    • At the start of the play, Inger hasn`t had a good night`s sleep for a long time. This should justify the trope, as deprivation of sleep will make you slip over time.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Nils Stensson, entering the stage, spilling his life story to Nils Lykke, who reads the secret letters actually meant for Olaf Skaktavl. Because of this, Niels Lykke gets the upper hand in the gambit contest with Lady Inger.
    • Nils rides off with a farm militia, only to get the whole lot of them killed almost at the doorstep. Considering that Norwegian farmers were known for holding their own against both Swedes and Scotsmen, this makes Nils an impossibly bad military leader as well.
    • It gets better when considering his life as a rebel leader. People flocked to him from all corners, and it didn`t occur to him that he could be the spitting image of the dead rebel leader Sten Sture. Or, as the play implies, that he lacked all the strategical savvyness of his father.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Jens Bjelke, the Swedish noble.
  • Spanner in the Works: Peder Kansler, because he did not mention Nils Stensson`s name to Olaf Skaktavl. The entire gambit falls because of this.
  • Tsundere: Eline, daughter of Inger, initially despising Niels Lykke for his role in seducing her sister, and because of the rumors going of his actions. She is also smitten by his charms, but does not admit it. Played Up to Eleven when Eline states she hates Niels, with a passion that actually sounds rather... endearing.
    • They did get married in the end, though.
  • The Unseen: Peder Kansler, part of the Norwegian national council. He is the one who wrote the letters destined for Olaf Skaktavl, carried by Nils Stensson, who get intercepted by Niels Lykke. His fatal mistake was to not mention the name of Nils Stensson to Olaf, and thus he is the source of all the misunderstandings leading up to the death of Nils (tragically by the hand of Olaf, and approved by Inger, his mother).
  • Unwitting Pawn: Nils Stensson, thoroughly played by Niels Lykke.

  • Truth in Television: While Knut Alvsson definitely aspired for royalty, claiming to be the last heir of the medieval kings, he never had that support, and as far as history shows, he was not close to call in all the nobles just like that.

  • Viewers Are Geniuses: The audience is almost expected to have a good reference-pool on the Norwegian 1500s.
    • In the 1850s they probably had.
  • When It All Began: All the events of the play is driven by the crucial murder of the nobleman Knut Alvsson in 1502, referred to as early as in the first line. Knut was betrayed by a Danish noble to negotiate under safe conduct, but was slain by an axe. The plot relies heavy on this incident, as the Norwegian nobles, including Lady Inger herself, were present at the fortress of Akershus before and after the murder. They all immidiately swore revenge on the Danes after the murder of Knut.
    • Truth in Television: All of Knut`s properties were handed over to the Dane who was responsible for his death. In play, this is extended to other Norwegians who opposed Denmark, like Olaf Skaktavl. The trial after the murder was a sham, as the Danish were freed of all charges, although the law of safe conduct was thoroughly broken.
  • The Casanova: Niels Lykke is notoriously known for this, even in Sweden.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Niels Lykke changes his plans rapidly on the information Olaf Skaktavl unwittingly gives him. This comes in useful moments later, when Nils Stensson arrives.

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