The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia

May 1995
94 line illustrations
440 pages
24.4x17.2 cm
ISBN: 9780859914581
Format: Hardback

The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia

Terry Gunnell

A fresh look at early dramatic activity in Scandinavia, using archaeological, historical and literary evidence.
This book takes a new approach to the question of whether some form of drama existed in early Scandinavia. Dr Gunnell examines the dialogic poems of the Poetic Edda, preserved in manuscripts from the late thirteenth century, from the viewpoints of both performer and audience. He argues that in order to be fully understood by the audience, the poems must have been presented in some dramatic fashion, and not merely chanted. He substantiates his claims by exploring characteristics found only in the manuscripts of these dialogic poems and in contemporary manuscripts of dramatic works from England and Northern France, suggesting that even in the thirteenth century, the dialogic poems must have been regarded as dramatic works. The examination is accompanied by the most complete review to date of the evidence for some kind of ritual drama having existed in pagan Scandinavia, looking at archaeological evidence for the use of masks and costumes, information contained in the sagas, and contemporary historical accounts.

TERRY GUNNELL is Professor of Folkloristics at the University of Iceland.


The book has two main contributions to make to the study of medieval Scandinavia. It is a marvelous compendium of evidence for dramatic and quasi-dramatic activities in Scandinavia from prehistoric times to the present; and it presents a serious case for regarding the dialogic poems of the Edda as miniature plays... no reader could fail to be informed and stimulated by its contents. SPECULUM

Full of useful information, current perspectives, and informed speculations, with an enviable profusion of plates... a substantial introduction to the vexing questions of cultic performances in early Scandinavia and their literary/dramatic afterlife. COMPARATIVE DRAMA [US]

A fascinating and thorough study of the evidence concerning early dramatic performance in pre-Christian Scandinavia. JOURNAL OF ENGLISH AND GERMANIC PHILOLOGY