To live is a fight with trolls, in the vaults of the heart and mind.
To write poems, is to hold a judgement over yourself. (Epigram by Henrik Ibsen).
A famous Norwegian playwright, and celebrated as a national symbol by Norwegians. Many of Ibsen's plays were critiques of the morality of his time, residing very far to the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
and often having No Ending
in a traditional storytelling sense. A noteworthy example is A Dolls House
, about a housewife and mother of three who has been taking deceptive means to support her family by herself. Her husband never suspects, but treats her as a child in a big toy house
(hence A Doll's House
). The play as Ibsen wrote it ended with Nora flat-out leaving her husband after he reveals how he thinks of her: the last sound of the play is described as "the most famous door slam in the history of theater." However, for his German audience, Ibsen was pressured into writing a new ending, where the now self-assured and defiant Nora slips back into her meek role as a housewife when she is reminded of her children. Both endings are usually included in translations of the script, albeit with the German ending in significantly smaller letters.
Ibsen had a notable rivalry with Swedish playwright August Strindberg, who often accused Ibsen of stealing his ideas (claiming that Ibsen's Hedda Gabler
, for example, was a ripoff of his own Miss Julie
). Ibsen, delighted by the notion of having an archenemy, hung a huge portrait of a glowering Strindberg over his desk, and said that it helped him concentrate.
Ibsen`s production went trough a number of phases. The early stage was marked by a knack for historical plays, often with a happy ending
, and from a later point of view, this part of his production is a long early installment weirdness
. His early tendency is slightly more idealistic than what he became in later years, but he also had to swallow some harsh criticism in this early stage. Notably the years between 1850 and 1856, when he wrote four plays, three of whom never entered his collected works
. To be fair, all the young playwrights and poets in the 1850s were labeled "idealists".
Phase two overlaps roughly with the 1860s. This phase marks a transition from the early stage, and shows a more mature, but clearly seeking poet. At the same time, this is Ibsen`s "angry years". Both Brand
and Peer Gynt
as well as a string of poems, show that Ibsen was more disappointed with his lot, and showed himself as a veritable snark knight
. His early sentiments were turned inside out, and Ibsen seems to have made a point of "sacrificing himself" in each and every play. If there is an author avatar
, be sure that he seldom survives the play in this period.
Come the 1870s and onwards, we find the Ibsen we know and love. The mature playwright with his realistic plays, occupied by his tendency to reveal all the corruption of the Norwegian bourgoisy. He also stands out as an elitist, with small regard for the commoners. The lower classes tend to be set as morons in some level or another, and the big cheeses, like Old Werle and Proprietor Brack, or Consul Bernick, all get off the hook scott free, while the people in the middle suffer. In this period, Ibsen clearly stated silly rabbit idealism is for kids
. Thus, we see a harsh deprecation of his youthful days.
His late phase, after 1885, shows a more introvert and symbolical playwright, searching for his roots, and he re-uses themes from early on, like the medieval ballads
, but it is moulded in a different way. As the years passed, Ibsen was more into dissecting himself, and deconstructing himself in the process. His last three plays is stock full of this. He wrote his last play, When We Dead Awaken
, in the fall of 1899. With a career launched in 1850, he set a solid mark on the entire second half of the nineteenth century.
Ibsen was punctual to the point of parody, and people in Christiania (Oslo) knew they could tune their clocks after him, at least after he moved back to Norway in 1891, and settled in a flat in the western parts of town. Every day at a certain time, he went down to his favorite café, entering the spot when the clock stroke twelve. He kept this habit up for thirteen years
Ibsen continued his strolls through town until he got to sick to move around. He suffered a stroke about 1904, which made him incapable of social life, and finally died in 1906, hailed as the greatest playwright in Norway, a country he had less than good to say about in his plays. In that respect, he seems an inversion of Henrik Wergeland
. Wergeland had a vision of what Norway could become. Ibsen presented a nightmare, or at least a bad dream that never left.