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Captain Scipio: The Recollection of Phister’s Portrayal as the Comic par excellence

ByTimothy Stock

Kierkegaard’s posthumously published recollection of Joachim Ludvig Phister’s portrayal of Scipio, Captain of the Papal Police,1 amounts, quite possibly, to the entirety of the extant critical literature on the comic opera Ludovic.2 The comedy was a success in Paris,3 and was part of the repertoire of the Danish Royal Theater from 1834 to 1841 with one performance being staged in 1846.4 It is also the subject of a piano variation by Chopin,5 but otherwise it has sunk into general obscurity. I will sketch the opera, the character of Scipio and his dramatic role, Kierkegaard’s

1 “Herr Phister as Captain Scipio” (SKS 16, 125-43 / C, 329-44) was written under the pseudonym Procul (meaning “at a distance”) and originally intended as an addendum to “The Crisis and a Crisis in the Life of an Actress” (SKS 14, 93-107 / C, 301-25). Kierkegaard considered publishing it in Fædrelandet with a note from the editor that the author would rather it was not printed (See Pap. IX B 73) but ultimately decided against it. Kierkegaard explains this in a letter to Phister, which accompanied a copy of the review (See SKS 28, 108-9, Brev 63 / LD, 276-7, Letter 193). Aside from this review, the letter and a few drafts Scipio is not mentioned elsewhere in Kierkegaard’s writings, though there is reason to believe that the (comic) archetype of the “half-drunk man” derives ultimately from Phister’s Scipio (see SKS 7, 468-9n / CUP1, 516-17n). The review is also available in English with a long introduction on Kierkegaard as a dramatic critic in Crisis in the Life of an Actress and Other Essays on Drama, trans. by Stephen Crites, London: Collins 1967, pp. 7-63; pp. 107-26. 2 Georges-Henri Vernoy de Saint Georges, Ludovic, 1833, music by Louis Joseph Ferdinand Hérold and Jacques François Fromental Elie Halevy, in Danish as Ludovic, trans. by Thomas Overskou, first performed in Copenhagen in 1834, afterwards as a regular part of the repertoire until 1841 and once more in 1846. See also Ludovico. Lyrisches Drama in zwei Aufzügen, trans. by Karl August Ludwig von Lichtenstein, Mainz: Schott 1834. 3 See Ruth Jordan, Fromental Halévy: His Life in Music 1799-1862, New York: Proscenium Press 1996, pp. 42ff. 4 This is confirmed by several sources, including C, Notes, p. 460; Crisis in the Life of an Actress and Other Essays on Drama, trans by Stephen Crites, p. 145; and Peter Tudvad, Kierkegaards København, Copenhagen: Politikens Forlag 2004, pp. 258-9. In no source is there any indication when, or how many times, Kierkegaard viewed Phister’s portrayal of Scipio, though Kierkegaard himself refers to reflecting on “a single performance” in his

portrayal for Kierkegaard in general, especially insofar as it illuminates his theory of the comic.