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Berlova, Maria
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Berlova, M. (2013). Performing Power: The Political Masks of King Gustav III of Sweden (1771-1792). (Doctoral dissertation). Stockholm: Department of Musicology and Performance Studies, Stockholm University
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Performing Power: The Political Masks of King Gustav III of Sweden (1771-1792)
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

King Gustav III founded the Swedish National Theater and Opera, participated in the court theater as playwright, director and actor and he was rightly called the Theater King. The King’s passion for acting was perceived in the past as a psychological weakness, which won him the appellation of wimp (fjant). However, Gustav III presents a special interest as a performer of the role of an enlightened monarch according to the philosophy of the epoch of Enlightenment, particularly that of Voltaire. This research project aims at challenging the stereotyped perception of Gustav III, and presents him as a performing king who purposely used his acting ability to achieve political gain.

The theoretical foundation of this study of the King’s use of theater is described in Chapter I. The theory of playing by Johan Huizinga and the theory of theatricality of Nikolai Evreinov, from the point of view of culture and anthropology, respectively, explain how playing is the basis of human living. Yuri Lotman’s semiotic approach is applied to formulate the concept of theatrical playing meant to influence the spectators, which is at the core of the Pageants in court and in public, used by Gustav III to display his power. Finally, but most importantly, the theories of Josette Féral, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Willmar Sauter present theatrical playing as an interactive performative communication between the performer and the beholders that became the core of Royal Encounters, which were the most effective political tools of Gustav III.

The ensuing chapters are devoted to the different activities of the King related to theater, understood as the sum of interactions between the performer and the spectators that can occur within the walls of a theater or outside them. Theatricalized actions transported into life and directed to the beholders (Pageants) and the interaction between the performing King and his beholding subjects (Royal Encounters) are presented and examined. Examples of Pageants are chosen from court life, such as entertaining divertissements and amateur theater; Public Pageants were held at occasions such as the birth of a royal prince and King Gustav’s departure to the war with Russia. Among the Royal Encounters the coup d’etat in 1772 and the struggle against the nobility at the Riksdag of 1789 can be mentioned.

The conclusion establishes the concordance between the performing King and his beholding subjects leading to real achievements in politics. This investigation sheds light on the different theatrical means the King employed in crafting political tasks and choosing appropriate political masks. Gustav III was a master of acting; thus, the decisive factor in each of his theatricalized actions was not so much his art at playwriting and directing, as his ability as a performer. In addition, the King could assert his royal power by performing his own idealized social role of an enlightened monarch.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Musicology and Performance Studies, Stockholm University, 2013. p. 160
Gustav III, theatricality, theatrical playing, staging, pageant, performative communication
National Category
Performing Art Studies
Research subject
Theatre Studies
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-93127 (URN)
Public defence
2013-10-04, rum 119, Humanistvillan, Frescativägen 24 E, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2013-09-11 Created: 2013-09-03 Last updated: 2022-02-24Bibliographically approved

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