Kungens komediant

The King’s Actor

by Agneta Pleijel

Little Lars loves to get applause and be kissed by the actresses. And he gets almost more kisses and applause than he can take. As early as six years old, he has a role in Gustaf III’s opera. But when he first catches the attention of the King, little does he realize what it can mean to be the monarch’s favourite. He came very close to the King, and that marked his life in many ways. In the second part of Agneta Pleijel’s family chronicle – which started with Drottningens chirurg – we get to meet actor Lars Hjortsberg (1772–1843). In the novel, he talks about his life: as Gustav III’s garcon bleu or commoner page, as the King’s librarian at Haga summer palace outside Stockholm and in the war against Russia, and as the person who read to the King as he lay dying after being shot at the masquerade ball at the opera. Lars Hjortsberg ended up the uncrowned king of the theatre in Sweden. He was a brilliant comedy actor, adored by his public.

In the first novel we got to meet surgeon Herman Schützer and became familiar with the growth of the profession of surgery, but this time it is about his younger relative Lars and the theatre. Is acting a profession or a way of life? Can you disguise yourself in order to become yourself?  Kungens komediant is as much an historical novel as it is a contemporary tale. A tale of truth, power games, life and love.

“That was the first time the thought occurred to me that the lives of all of us are but a part of one big spectacle, directed from inside the King’s head. It seemed to me that everybody, poor as well as rich, nobleman as well as commoner, was part of a performance being played inside his Majesty’s head. A king, especially one with such a talent for the theatre, naturally wanted to cast the roles himself.”

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