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Theatre / The League of Youth

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The League of Youth is a pretty lighthearted, but somewhat snarky comedy written by Henrik Ibsen in 1869. The play relates the rise and fall of the young attorney Stensgaard, who has political ambitions, and falls heavily on his nose because he constantly listens to the wrong people. The satire concerns the fact that any political ambition had to connect to property, and hence, Stensgaard is set on marrying the daughter of a wealthy landowner. If only.


The problem is, there are two of them: The chamberlain Bratsberg, who owns the iron mines, and the property and forest magnate Monsen. The two are at odds because of their wealth, rivaling on who should run the local politics. Both also have daughters, and Stensgaard tries to propose to both of them. Unfortunately, economics make the possibility of bankruptcy for both of them, and Stensgaard is uncertain because the girls can lose their income. And he will then lose his possible place in parliament. Finally, he ends up a bachelor, when the girls marry other men.

Stensgaard is also lured into some stupid decisions by the older and more experienced MP Lundestad, a shrewd farmer. He also gets tricked by the master manipulator Heire, who schemes against all the others. In the end, Stensgaard is run out of town, and status quo is preserved.



  • Alcohol Hic: Aslaksen is a little on the wet side. Stensgaard calls him out on it. The trait serves as a Chekhov's Gun.
  • Apathetic Citizens: Discussed. Aslaksen underlines the fact that the common folk prefer a newspaper of the "lower" sort - or it is easier to sell that kind of paper. When Stensgaard came along, the paper started to publish political leanings and opinions, and the sales dropped instantly.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The Bratsberg family. Inherited wealth and as close as you ever get to nobility in Norway (the title of "chamberlain" was in use at the time).
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Aslaksen. The final proposal of Stensgaard goes awry because Aslaksen is drunk, and produces the wrong letter to Madam Rundholmen (the third of Stensgaard`s possible engagements). Thus, the Madam is eganged to Bastian Monsen, not Stensgaard, at the end of the play, and Stensgaard has lost his last chance of marrying for property, and by default, his rightful place in parliament.
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  • Daddy's Girl: Thora Bratsberg, the Chamberlain`s daughter. Also Ragna, daughter of Monsen.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Fjeldbo, the local doctor.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Played with. If you look through the character list at the beginning of the play, Stensgaard is listed pretty far down, ranked below both Bratsberg and Monsen. In that respect, the actual main character is - Bratsberg. Granted, Stensgaard is given a fair amount of stage time (even more than Bratsberg and Monsen).
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Bratsberg, misinterpreting the Rousing Speech of Stensgaard. He actually thought Stensgaard meant Monsen, and promptly invited his "attacker" to a dinner party.
  • Fauxdian Slip: Heire is good at insulting people by using this. Seemingly on purpose. Stensgaard calls him out in it.
  • Follow the Leader: Ibsen was more than usually inspired by Ludvig Holberg in this play. The ridiculing of a flawed main character (Stensgaard) is clearly one of Holberg´s most prominent shticks.
  • Idiot Ball: Stensgaard makes a show for the greatest Idiot Ball in any play ever written by Ibsen, missing out on all his chances whatsoever.
    • Both Fjeldbo and Bratsberg has the ball for a short time. Fjeldbo when he erroneously informs Bratsberg of Stensgaard´s intentions, and Bratsberg when he naively invites Stensgaard to dinner moments after.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Aslaksen, the newspaper man. He is known for making up stories and scandals when the paper sells badly.
  • It Amused Me: Heire, acting on "new information", which he willingly exploits. He is the only one to actually enjoy the situation after Stensgaard´s blemish.
  • Jumped at the Call: Stensgaard is called into action by Monsen, Aslaksen and Heire, and starts off his political career with a Rousing Speech, before creating a new party.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Stensgaard all the way. He never learns.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Daniel Heire and farmer Lundestad, the old politician.
  • Miles Gloriosus / Naïve Newcomer: Stensgaard manages to fit them both. Nice work if you can get it.
  • Missing Mom: The Bratsberg and Monsen families both have missing moms. Thora and Ragna are quite alike in many respects.
  • The Mole: Heire. He feigns animosity towards Bratsberg to gain Stensgaard`s trust, then seemingly leads him on, until Stensgaard makes a complete ass of himself, and his grand schemes come down to nothing.
  • Never My Fault: Fjeldbo is oblivious on his own mistakes, when he claims victory over Stensgaard at the end of the play. He innocently led the man on, after all, and even misinformed Bratsberg.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The false banknote could have been used as a political instrument in the hands of Stensgaard, but being the Naïve Newcomer he actually is, he presents it to the elder gentlemen, who tells him it has no value after all. At the end, Stensgaard gives it back to the Chamberlain, and loses the gambit.
    • Fjeldbo in the first act, when Bratsberg is in the dark on the actual target of Stensgaarsd´s rhetorical attacks (himself, as it is). To calm him Down, and to humor Thora, Fjeldbo whispers "Monsen" in his ear - which sets up a number of misunderstandings in the second act. Fjeldbo is thus responsible for Stensgaard´s hapless apology to Bratsberg, and even for the fact that Stensgaard makes the moves on Thora - which Fjeldbo himself is engaged to. For a short time, Fjeldbo holds the Idiot Ball himself.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Lampshaded prominently by Aslaksen. Being a newspaper editor, he should know it. His enthusiastic recurring line is: "Now there will be life in the local conditions". It seems he is hounding Stensgaard just to stir things up a bit.
  • Only Sane Man: Fjellbo, the doctor. He also serves as a foil to Stensgaard and his grand schemes.
  • Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Stensgaard. In the second act, he apologizes to an unwitting Bratsberg, and thus he reveals himself as the one to have insulted him. Both Fjeldbo and Lundestad begs him to stop before he says too much.
  • Out-Gambitted: Stensgaard is well and truly outgambitted by Lundestad.
  • Period Piece: Oh, so much. The year of the play is 1867, and Lundestad clearly states that he has been in parliament since 1839. Bratsberg also comments on his father, who was gaining his wealth during the time of the Norwegian Constituent Assembly.
  • Rags to Riches: Selma Bratsberg, the daughter-in-law of the Chamberlain. She grew up in poverty, was groomed by Daniel Heire and eventually got married to Erik Bratsberg. Because of the false banknote, she threatens to break marriage and go back to the streets, performing vaudevilles.
  • Reality Subtext: The Bratsberg area is actually found outside the city of Skien, where Ibsen grew up. Daniel Heire is said to have some traits in common with Knud Ibsen, the author`s father, up to and including a bankruptcy. Stensgaard is also modelled on Ibsen`s Real Life rival Bjørnson, who arguably got offended by the play, although this was a friendly jab at best.
  • Really Gets Around: Implied with Stensgaard. There was some backstory with a girl he was betrothed to. Then he proposes to three women in a row, and ends up loosing all of them.
  • Red Herring: A false bank note, who could be the downfall of Bratsberg, forged by his son Erik. Stensgaard gets a hold of it, and he could possibly use it against the chamberlain. Lundestad convinces him that the note is useless, so he sends it back to Bratsberg, and nothing ever comes of it.
  • Rousing Speech: Stensgaard holds one in the first act, led on by Heire. This leads to the forming of a new political party: The League of Youth.
  • Smug Snake: Ringdal, Bratsberg`s second.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Stated almost literally by many others against Stensgaard. The trope could pass as the premise of the whole play.
  • Self-Made Man: Mons Monsen. He gained his wealth through speculation, starting off as a lumberjack, trading in forest and timber.
  • Social Climber: Stensgaard. Also Monsen. The two are friends at the start of the play, until Stensgaard ditches Monsen for Bratsberg, who is even more elite. It is said that Monsen quite desperately tries to make a social network to benefit from, but is constantly obstructed by Bratsberg (or so he feels).
  • Spanner in the Works: Aslaksen. Being drunk, he mixes up letters from Stensgaard and Bastian Monsen, resulting in the sudden marriage between Madam Rundholmen and Bastian, and ruining every attempt from Stensgaard to marry for property.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To An Enemy of the People. Alaksen the newspaper man occurs in both plays. Stensgaard is clearly an antithesis of Stockman.
  • Status Quo Is God: The play ends with the same power structure as before, and it seems nothing will ever change it. The only difference is the bankruptcy of Monsen. Implicated that the MP Lundestad (and Daniel Heire) obstructs Stensgaard to keep the status quo. Bratsberg benefits from it.
  • Take That!: In this play, Ibsen gives a satirical take on the fact that the Norwegian political system was growing stale, and slowly going into a gerontocratic rule, where a small elite of landowners had all the political power. That system gradually stiffened, until parliamentarism was established 15 years later, in 1884. The young and idealistic Stensgaard is routed by the older men, and they shrewdly state that he will get into parliament in due time, and when that happens, he will be just as cynical as the rest of them. The year 1869 was the starting point for the political struggle that eventuyally led to the breakthrough for parliamentarism in Norwegian politics.
    • In 1869, fellow poet Bjørnson campaigned all over Norway on behalf of the leftists (although he himself was unable to cast any votes), to secure a majority for them in parliament. Thus, it is no wonder that the more sarcastic Ibsen couldn`t resist the urge to make fun of Bjørnson`s cause - while he actually supported it. The "League of youth" has a real equivalent in the "reform movement" that would become the core of the Norwegian Leftist party over time.
    • Also a take on the property rules, which makes up the rather hilarious "getting married fast" plotline.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: Steensgaard, rambling on after being shown the door a number of times.
  • Title Drop: The League of Youth is quite naturally mentioned a number of times during the play.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Erik, the son of chamberlain Bratsberg plays it straight.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Fjeldbo calls Stensgaard out on this when he suddenly turns his viewpoint 180 degrees because he was invited to a party at the Chamberlain`s - and then goes on to propose to his daughter, who unbeknownst to him is betrothed to Fjeldbo.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Stensgaard is idealistic, but also easy to convince. Too bad he is ousted by two master manipulators.
  • Wild Card: Daniel Heire. At the start of the play, he is seemingly at odds with the Chamberlain. In the second act, it is revealed that the two of them actually are old friends. During the play, he is always scheming, changing sides all the time.
  • Working-Class People Are Morons: Bratsberg has this opinon, not at least of Monsen, who worked his way up the ranks from being a simple lumberjack.
  • Yes-Man: Ringdal, the second in command of Bratsberg.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: Invoked most prominently by old Lundestad.

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