D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

First Period: Works of Youth (1834-42)

The Battle Between The Old And The New Soap-Cellars

  • The Battle Between the Old and the New Soap-Cellars
  • Slagen mellem den gamle og den nye Sæbkælder
  • 1838-40?
  • KW1, SKS13, SV13

Kierkegaard's only attempt at a play remains in sketch form. In it Kierkegaard portrays a young man with an identity crisis, Willibald (perhaps the young Kierkegaard himself), who tries to find his way intellectually, but is misled by bad philosophy. The philosophical references mostly allude to Hegelianism, though a number of allusions escape the modern reader as they are contemporary references.

The unofficial subtitle to the play is "A heroic-patriotic-cosmopolitan-philanthropic-fatalistic drama". An alternate title follows.

The All-embracing Debate on Everything against Everything
The Crazier the Better.
From the Papers of One Still Living against his will published by S. Kierkegaard.
Dedicated to the seven madmen of Europe, whom no city has wanted to acknowledge.

"All-embracing" likely refers to Hegelianism, which sought to encompass all knowledge and methods of inquiry. The other portion of the subtitle, "From the Papers of One Still Living", is another title of Kierkegaard's (a review of a work by H. C. Andersen), but does not help us exactly date this work. The reference to the seven madmen of Europe is unclear.

The play is in three acts. Act One takes place in Willibald's house, that is, in the world of actuality. Act Two takes place in the world of ideality, the Prytaneum, which Kierkegaard describes as a "Fantastic region". Act Three continues in the realm of ideality, and becomes the heavenly bliss of the Hegelian synthesis of the realms of actuality and ideality.

In Act One, the main characters are Willibald and his doppelganger Echo. Willibald has just returned from a party in which he was the sole wit and life. The play opens with Willibald's musings.

Well, now, if I am going to be a shadow myself, I will at least compose a new one, I will create one. (With great feeling) Let there be a person. (At that moment the cloud [from his pipe] assumes the form of Echo.) What do I see? Is it not my tormentor—my other self...? (p. 108).

The disappointment after the party may recall a passage from Kierkegaard's Journal.

I have just come back from a party where I was the life and soul. Witticisms flowed from my lips. Everyone laughed and admired me—but, I left, yes, that dash should be as long as the radii of the earth's orbit ——— and wanted to shoot myself (I A 161).

Willibald becomes sick, and is anxious to be rid of Echo, whom he loathes. Echo leaves to seek medical help for Willibald. But when he returns, Willibald is gone. Willibald tries to leave the world of actuality itself. As he flees he encounters some Grundtvigians (a group of conservative Christians), but is not interested in their religion. Act Two begins with Willibald in the realm of ideality, which is the prytaneum, a Greek foreign embassy of sorts.

In this realm philosophers present different forms of Hegelian thought to Willibald.

(More notes forthcoming.)