Canut, a tragedy

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Title: Canut, a tragedy
Genus: Tragedy in verse
Original language: German
Author: Johann Elias Schlegel
Publishing year: 1746
Place and time of the action: a room in Canut's castle
  • Canut , King of Denmark
  • Estrithe , Canut's sister
  • Gunilde , a confidante of Estrithe
  • Ulfo , Estrithes husband
  • Haquin , Canuts War Servant
  • Godewin , Canuts War Servant
  • Godschalk , Prince of the Slavs

Canut, a tragedy is a rhyming historical tragedy in verse by Johann Elias Schlegel in 5 acts. First published in Copenhagen in 1746 and dedicated to Frederick V of Denmark .

Table of contents

At the beginning of the piece, Ulfo and Estrithe return to Copenhagen at Estrithe's request. Ulfo inflicted a heavy defeat on Canut's army when he was able to use a ruse to force a large group of Canuts warriors onto a bridge, which then collapsed. His former Norwegian and Swedish allies are dead, and Estrithe tries to find a reconciliation with Canut. The viewers learn that Estrithe sticks to Ulfo mainly out of a sense of duty to her brother Canut, because through a letter from Canut that Ulfo has abused, she believes that Canut wanted her connection with Ulfo.

Through his actions, Ulfo proves an irrepressible desire for fame and honor and does not shy away from any means. He spreads lies about Godewin, Estrithes' former lover, in order to challenge him to a duel. Ulfo wins, but gives Godewin his life to score with Canut and Estrithe. Canut, good-natured ad absurdum, wants to help Ulfo to fame and sends him on a vengeance campaign with Godschalk, a Slavic prince who wants to take revenge on his father's murderers. However, Ulfo sees his opportunities for development limited and tries to forge a murder plot against Canut with Godschalk. But Godschalk does not participate and reveals Ulfos' plans at Canut.

Canut wants to forgive the imprisoned Ulfo one more time, but Ulfo does not want to be forgiven. Finally he can snatch a sword from a guard and tries to kill Godschalk, but the latter is able to defend himself and Ulfo dies. The piece ends with Canut and Estrithe regretting Ulfo's stubborn zeal for glory: “Oh, oh! the lust for glory, the noblest of instincts, / is nothing but frenzy, does not tame it human love. "(V.5)

Ulfo must be seen as the actual main character of the play, who, through jealousy of Canut's great reputation, tries continuously to harm Canut and to gain power. Canut himself is rather passive and remains rather vague as an almost endlessly forgiving, "good king". While the contemporary interpretation saw in Ulfo an abysmally evil person who is punished for his misdeeds, the modern interpretation tends to see in Ulfo an early, if somewhat misguided striker and drummer , who falls to his end in a kind of misguided self- realization.


  • Johann Elias Schlegel: Canut, a tragedy . Ed .: Horst Steinmetz. Reclam, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-15-008766-X (Reclam's Universal Library 8766).