Gustavus Vasa

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Gustavus Vasa is a controversial English play by Henry Brooke (1703–1783)[1],

Though originally titled Gustavus Vasa, The Deliverer of His Country, the play is more often referred to simply as Gustavus Vasa

The original text

The play concerned the liberation of Sweden from Denmark in 1521 by King Gustav I of Sweden (then regent), and was to have been performed at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, in 1839, but on the eve of the opening night it was banned by the Lord Chamberlain - according some sources this was probably at the instigation of the then Prime Minsiter, Robert Walpole, who apparently believed that the villain of the piece resembled him. This gave the play the dubious distinction of having been the first English play to be banned under the Licensing Act 1737. The text was first published as Gustavus Vasa, The Deliverer of His Country ("a tragedy : as it was to have been acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane") in London by R. Dodsley in 1739.

In America however, the play would later achieve an opposite effect. It was the first play performed at the Federal Street Theatre (opening on February 3, 1794), and even though it deals with the Swedish struggle for freedom from Denmark in the 16th century, the theatre audiences in the country at the time saw it as a reflection of the American Revolution, with President George Washington as Gustavus Vasa.

Translations and adaptations

Translated and/or adapted into German as a 5 act tragedy called Gustav Wasa by August von Kotzebue (1761-1819)[2]. Performed 1800 and published in Leipzig by P.G. Kummer, 1801.

Translated and adapted into Dutch as Gustaaf Wasa by D.F. van Heyst (apparently from the English version by H. Brooke) and published in Amsterdam by J.W. Smit, 1802. (In the general index to F.C.L. Bosman (1980) the Dutch play is referred to as Gustaaf Vasa, but in entries on the play the title is given as Gustaaf Wasa.)

Performance history in South Africa

1867: A fragment performed in Dutch as Gustaaf Wasa by Aurora II in Paarl, with as an afterpiece Een Hedendaagsch Duel (Guiseppe) on 7 November.

1868: Performed in Dutch as Gustaaf Wasa by Aurora II in the Germania Hall, Cape Town, with as an afterpiece Manke Koos (Arnold) on 19 November.

1872: A fragment of two acts from H. Brooke's English version, translated as Gustaaf Wasa by Van Heyst, performed in Dutch by Aurora II in the Germania Hall, Cape Town, with as an afterpiece Een Oom uit Californië (Hoek) on 5 September.


Commentary on the published text of Gustavus Vasa: a tragedy, in five acts, as performed at the New Theatre in Boston, the text published by John West, no. 75 Cornhill, in 1794, in "The First Seasons of the Federal Street Theatre: 1794–1798" on the website Boston Literary History[3]

Herbert Wright. 1919. "Henry Brooke's 'Gustavus Vasa'", The Modern Language Review (Vol. 14, No. 2: April, 1919), pp. 173-182.

Paul Walsh. 1992. "Henry Brooke's Gustavus Vasa: The ancient constitution and the example of Sweden" Studia Neophilologica (Volume 64, 1992 - Issue 1: pp.67-79).

Facsimile version of the 1801 German Text, Hathi Trust;view=1up;seq=7

Facsimile version of the 1802 Dutch Text, Google E-book[4]

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 462, 464, 467

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