Playing King


  • Maria Berlova GITIS Moscow



Gustav III, Theatricalization of Politics, Swedish Theatre of the 18th Century, Yuri Lotman, Nikolai Evreinov, Catherine the Great


The Swedish King Gustav III ruled from 1771 to 1792. His departure to the Russian war in
1788 was staged as a grandiose spectacle. The King, who was also a playwright, made the day
of his departure coincide with the symbolic date of June 23. This was the date that Gustav II
Adolph (ruled 1611-32) went off to the Thirty Years' War in 1628. The parallel between
Gustav III and the great Swedish warrior King was further emphasized by his costume made in
the style of Gustav Adolph. In this article, the author analyzes Gustav III's departure to war as a
theatrical event and explores the borders of theatrical events in the late eighteenth century.
Gustav III's ceremonial departure is placed in the framework of Nikolai Evreinov's and Yuri
Lotman's theories of theatricality which show how the King applied theatrical means to
everyday life in order to theatricalize it, i.e. to make it spectacular and symbolic. By
the atricalizing life Gustav III idealized his role of king and thus performed his power.
Theatricalization of political life not only adorned life but it also significantly changed reality;
the theatrical playing of the King entailed real consequences - Gustav III enacted his role of a
monarch in a memorabl eway and achieved his political goals. The interaction between politics
and theater is the main focus of the article. The author also explores the poetics of theatrical
playing in politics. Obviously, the relation between the King-performer and his
subjects-spectators was different from the usual actor-spectator relation in the traditional
theater. During the communication of the King-performer and his subjects-spectators the
political context was of significant importance; the main purpose of such communication was
political propaganda. As a result of his ceremonial departure and, eventually, the
theatricalization of war, the King succeded in becoming a national hero among the simple
people, which proves the efficacy of theatrical means.

Author Biography

Maria Berlova, GITIS Moscow

Maria Berlova is a lecturer in European Art History at the Russian University of Theater Arts
(GITIS, Moscow, Russia). She also works as a Senior Researcher at the State Institute for Art
Studies. Right now she is working on two book projects: Performing Power: Political Masks of
Gustav III in English and Theater of the King in Russian. Berlova received her MA in theater
studies at GITIS in 2006, and PhD in 2011. She obtained her second PhD from Stockholm
University in 2013. Her research interests are European theater history of the eighteenth
century, particularly Swedish and Russian theater history.




How to Cite

Berlova, M. (2018). Playing King. Nordic Theatre Studies, 26(1), 80–90.



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