Essay, Research Paper: Henrik Ibsen

Literature: Shakespeare

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Henrik Ibsen was born at Skien in Norway on March 20, 1828. When he was eight,
his father went bankrupt. This event made a deep impression upon him. After they
went bankrupt, his family moved to a small farm north of the town where they
lived in poverty. Henrik was forced to attend a small local school. He received
a substandard education. In 1843, the family returned to town. Unfortunately
they were still poor. Ibsen came from a very dysfunctional family. His
domineering father was an alcoholic who found solace in alcohol. His quiet
mother found comfort in religion. He used them as a model for his plays. The
blend of an overbearing husband and a submissive wife made appearances in his
plays Brand, A Doll's House, and Ghosts. The bitter character of Hjalmar Ekdal
in The Wild Duck was based on Ibsen's father. When he was sixteen, he moved to
Grimstad to work for a druggist. He had wanted to become a doctor, but game up
on the idea after he failed Greek and Math on his University entrance exams.
Medicine was not his only ambition. He also wanted to be a painter. In 1850,
Ibsen entered the first of his three writing periods. His romantic period went
from 1850 to 1873. The greatest works from this period are the Brandand Peer
Gynt Most of the plays that he wrote during these years are romantic historical
dramas. Lady Inger of Ostraat was a romantic drama with intrigue. The Vikings of
Helgeland was a simple and sad tragedy. The last play of the Romantic period was
Emperor and Galilean. It is similar to Ibsen's other play Catiline because it
showed his impatience with traditional attitudes and values. In both plays he
showed sympathy for historical characters who were famous for being rebellious.
Ibsen became the stage manager and playwright of the National Stage in Bergen in
1851. He worked there for six years. In 1857, he moved to Christiania (Oslo),
where he became director of the Norwegian Theatre. He neglected both writing and
the theatre. He plunged into social life with his literary friends and drank
heavily. In 1858, Ibsen married Suzannah Thoresen, with whom he had one child,
Sigurd Ibsen. This was a marriage that was often as misunderstood as the
marriages of Ibsen's dramas. At the age of thirty, Ibsen saw his first
performances of Shakespeare in Copenhagen and Dresden. Shakespeare's work
convinced Ibsen that serious drama must strive toward a psychological truth and
form its basis on the characters and conflicts of mankind. Ibsen and his friend
Bjшrnstjerne Bjшrnson founded "The Norwegian Company" in
1859. After the Norwegian Theatre went bankrupt in 1862, Ibsen was depressed and
broke. As a result, he was sometimes seen drunk on the streets of Christiania.
His success with The Pretenders in 1863 inspired him to write several poems.
Ibsen became bitterly disappointed with current political events, especially
Norway's failure to help the Danes in their war against Prussia. In 1864 he left
Norway. After he left, he spent most of his time in Rome, Dresden and Munich. He
was supported by a pension from the Norwegian state and income from his books.
In 1866, he had a significant breakthrough with his play Brand. In his speech to
Christiania students in 1874, Ibsen said, "All I have written, I have
mentally lived through. Partly I have written on that which only by glimpses,
and at my best moments, I have felt stirring vividly within me as something
great and beautiful. I have written on that which, so to speak, has stood higher
than my daily self. But I have also written on the opposite, on that which to
introspective contemplation appears as the dregs and sediments of one's own
nature. Yes, gentlemen, nobody can poetically present that to which he has not
to a certain degree and at least at times the model within himself." In
1877, Ibsen entered his second period of writing with his play Pillars of
Society. Ibsen wrote a series of plays dealing with social problems, such as A
Doll's House and Ghosts. He also wrote a series of plays dealing with
psychological problems, such as The Lady from the Seas and Hedda Gabler. He
wrote eight plays during of this period and both originated and perfected the
problem play. The term "problem play" refers specifically to the type
of drama which Ibsen wrote beginning with Pillars of Society in 1877. In these
plays, the emphasis is on the presentation of a social or psychological problem.
These plays deal with contemporary life in realistic settings. The symbolism
that existed in Brand and Peer Gynt is almost gone. Ibsen presents his themes or
"problems" to the audience with realistic characters and
straightforward plots. In his plays, Ibsen deals with the theme of individuals
trying to find themselves in the face of established conventions. Two examples
of this are Nora in A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler. Ibsen also used a
"retrospective" approach in A Doll's House and. The major events occur
before the curtain goes up. The plays concern the way the characters dealt with
these past events. The themes in A Doll's House made Ibsen the enemy of
conservatives everywhere. The idea of a play that questioned a woman's place in
society and suggesting that a woman's self was more important than her role as
wife and mother, was unprecedented. The play caused outrage in many government
and church officials. Some people felt that Ibsen was responsible for the rising
divorce rate. Some theaters in Germany refused to perform the play the way Ibsen
had written it. He was forced to write an alternate "happy" ending in
which Nora sees the error of her ways and doesn't leave. The play became popular
in Europe despite its harsh criticism. It was translated into many languages and
performed worldwide. The controversy surrounding his play made Ibsen famous.
Hedda Gabler was another experiment for Ibsen. Instead of presenting a social
problem, he presented a psychological portrait of a fascinating and
self-destructive woman. After a twenty-seven-year self-imposed exile, Ibsen
returned to Norway in 1891. In October 1893, Ibsen's wife Suzannah, returned to
Italy due to a recurring problem with gout. While she was gone, Ibsen found a
young lady companion. She was a pianist named Hildur Andersen. Hildur became a
constant companion on visits to theatres, lectures, and galleries. He later gave
her a diamond ring as a symbol of their union. He wrote to her after his wife
returned home from Italy. Ibsen and his wife had marital problems after she
returned. He discussed his marriage with an old friend Elise Auber. According to
Halvdan Koht, "[Ibsen] was clearly disturbed about his own marriage and
spoke to Mrs. Auber about it. He had many conflicts with his wife at this time,
and on occasion his anger was so extreme that he threatened to leave her. These
outbursts were only momentary, and he knew that they would never separate."
Ibsen's third period of work started after he returned to Norway. It was
referred to as the Symbolist Period. The plays in this period contain elements
of defeat. The Master Builder deals with an aging architect who succumbs to
defeat. John Gabriel Borkman is about a man who sacrifices his love to become
rich. Ironically, the title of Ibsen's last play was When We Dead Awaken. In
1900, Ibsen suffered a stroke. He never completely recovered from his stroke and
was an invalid for the rest of his life. Despite his medical setback, he was a
fighter until the end. When he was coming out of a coma in 1906, the nurse
commented that he appeared slightly better. Ibsen replied "On the
contrary!" Sadly, he died a few days later.
Ibsen, Henrik. Six Plays by Henrik Ibsen. New York: The Modern Library Press,
1957. Jacobs, Lee. The Bedford Introduction to Drama Third Edition. Boston:
Bedford Books, 1997 Meyer, Michael Henrik Ibsen: A Biography. 3 volumes. Garden
City: Doubleday, 1971. Thomas, David. Henrik Ibsen. New York: Grove, 1984
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