Brand is a dramatic/epic play written by Henrik Ibsen and published in 1866. The play tells the story of a young and idealistic priest, who more than anything else wishes to make society better. His uncompromising attitude alienates him from his parish over time, and he ends up alone in the wild mountains, wondering what actually went wrong.The cast, for the convenience of the reader:
Agnes, his wife. Married to him after the end of the second act.
Einar, a painter and childhood friend of Brand. Something of a light hearted fellow from the start. Formerly engaged to Agnes, who left him for Brand.
Gerd, a beggar girl with a fatal effect on Brand.
Brand`s mother, no name given. A hard hearted old woman of some wealth.
The Bailiff, main antagonist. Keeper of law and order in the community.
The provost, superior of Brand. Tries to keep him in check just barely.
The Schoolmaster, both close up to the work of the priest in different ways.
Other unnamed officials present in the fifth act, there for the sake of a speech and a good meal.
a farmer and his son, people Brand meets in the mountains at the beginning of the play.
A beggarwoman and her child.
People of the parish, farmers and their wives. The congregation and everybody else.
Present off stage:
The beggar band. Only spoken of, but of great importance. Gerd and the unnamed mother belongs to this band.
Dying off stage:
A man killing his child because he isn`t able to feed him, and then committing suicide. Brand`s mother, Brand`s infant son Alf, between the third and the fourth act. Agnes between the fourth and the fifth.
This play, or rather, book, marks an early example of fandom queue, making the trope older than television. At the sole expectation of the new play of Ibsen coming into print, people massed at the quay to see the boat coming in and loading off the bookstacks. The first edition was sold out soon after, and people were seen discussing the text on every street the following days.
Altum Videtur: This is the only play of Ibsen featuring That much latin. The actual Aesop of the play comes in latin, much to the arguable annoyance of scholars.
Always on Duty: Brand chooses to stay on because of this. He reasons that he was a priest before he became a father, so the has obligations.
The Bailiff also counts, being so into his job that he almost sacrificed himself to help save his archives. Not so different after all?
Angrish: Brand towards the Bailiff in the fifth act, when he loses his temper, spitting out to him the essential "you have not the faintest clue what I am trying to say here, do you?" and ending in a total loss of words.
The Antagonist: Mainly the Bailiff, playing the role of obstructive bureaucrat from the second act. In the fifth act, he is coupled with the provost, representing the church, and other unnamed officials. This bunch gets the greater lot of Brand`s anger, and is paired with satan himself. The provost even gives Brand a lesser temptation early in the fifth act, to counter with the more "spiritual" one later. For the more untangible antagonism Brand is up against, see the dark side trope.
Author Avatar: Brand himself. Ibsen actually said that the character was "himself in his finest moments". He was quite fond of this guy.
Badass: Brand, daring what everybody else thinks is impossible. He braves unsafe ice in the first act, deemed to crack at the weight of a man, and later, he braves a wild storm in a nutshell of a boat. Both times, he does this for the sole purpose of saving souls. So, yes, he is a badass preacher if nothing else.
Battle in the Center of the Mind: All the time. This is a non-action play, of course, but a lot of hero and warrior tropes are invoked. The battles in the play are battles of ideas and the will.
Calling the Old Man Out: Brand actually calls his mother out on her greed. She initially wavers, but stiffens herself up. They never meet again.
Catch Phrase: "All or Nothing" - Brandīs slogan. Also "Brand, you are stern", heard many times. "If you gave it all except your life, then know you have given nothing." One might also count in the bailiffīs "always inside my jurisdiction" statement.
Cataclysm Climax: The avalanche at the end of the play, set off by a gunshot from Gerd. Described to have swallowed the whole valley (and everyone in it).
Character Development: Agnes. She starts out as a merry manic pixie dream girl who is taken by the speech of Brand. His cravings of a serious view of life turns her into a lancer for his cause, and braves the harsh seas with him in complete trust of God, only to save a manīs soul. After getting married, he confides in her, and she gives him the strength to choose in the direst situations. In the end, after her son is dead, Brand puts her to the test when a frozen child needs clothes, and she reluctantly gives away what she got left from her own dead child. When she finally admits freedom from this mortal coil, she accepts death as a rise to a higher plane of existence. During the course of the play, she has passed from pixie girl to a near saint.
Einar the painter goes the opposite path (off-stage). After loosing Agnes, he turns sick, and gets saved, only to turn into an even darker and edgier version of Brand himself.
Cloud Cuckoolander: Gerd, the beggar girl. She is also troped as the wild one. Tends to turn up when Brand is troubled, and has a fatal effect on him, several times. She is also the only one left to tend to him in the end.
Comically Missing the Point: The provost. He seems to have comically missed the point of the whole bible, and one cannot help but wonder how the man ended up in such a high clerical position. Brand gets quite impatient with him.
Corrupt Church: Played straight on the provost in the fifth act. At least Brand blows the accusation wide open in his rousing speech. The provost does not find it amusing.
Crapsack World: The entire community, set in a narrow west Norwegian fjord under a glacier and a possible avalanche, set off at the very end. The people tend to be narrow minded, but seem to see Brand as "the right kind of priest". The glacier also keeps the sun from warming the area, and the result is that Brandīs son dies. Brand himself grew up in the coldest part of the area with an uncaring mother.
All the male characters seem to miss something through the play.
Dark and Troubled Past: Brandīs childhood, which was far from happy. He grew up alone in the coldest part of the valley with a widowed mother who clearly did not love his dead father. Actually, she robbed him on his deathbed, and Brand hints that he was as greedy as she was. None of them would share their wealth, seemingly. Brand grew up a moody boy who hardly played with other kids, as his childhood mate Einar points out to him.
No wonder, when push came to show, that Brand did not care for his motherīs estate, and denied her a priest at her deathbed (yep, it was himself) because she never wanted to part with her money.
Darker and Edgier: The tone of the play: Cold and callous. Probably the most dark and edgy play in the entire corpus of Ibsen.
The Dark Side: The not so easy defeated entity Brand is up against. He defines it as "the spirit of compromise", and will not yield at any cost. In time, he comes to see it incarnated in the officials, and he defines the being he meets in the final temptation scene as this.
Deadpan Snarker: Brand again. Lots of times during the play. Many of the snarks could have been Ibsenīs, as he also was fond of the trope in real life. Considering Ibsenīs innate anger at the time of writing, the entire play can be considered a snark.
Despair Event Horizon: The agony of Agnes when asked to give up the clothes of her dead son. Brand in a similar agony when he first learns that his son is ill.
Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Brand all the way. From the outstart, when he literally wavers in the fog, only sure of one thing, he will follow the will of God, whatever that is. A number of times during the play (at least one time pr act, possibly twice in the fifth), Brand has a lesser realization on how things are supposed to be. Every time, it goes from bad to worse, until he finally realizes that he left the power of love out of his equation.
Determinator: Slightly subverted in the third act when Brand actually (almost) decides to leave on the spot for the sake of his sick son. A stirring speech from Gerd makes him determined to carry on.
Deus ex Machina: Number 2 or 3, to be precise. Only featured by a booming voice crying an aesop through the massive avalanche. This is also the very last words of the play:
He is Deus Caritatis! ("He is the god of love/charity...")
Eldritch Abomination: The "something" that Gerd is constantly shooting at. It goes by various names, and resides inside or on the glacier. She eventually gets the better of it at the time of Brand`s final epiphany. Cataclysm climax ensues.
To be realistic, it is probably a hawk. On a symbolical level, it is not...
The temptator is always cast as the same actor who plays Agnes. This is often done to confuse both Brand and the audience. In the written play, the being is somewhat undefinable, and only recognized by Brand when it presents itself as Agnes.
Face-Heel Turn: The community, when abandoning Brand to struggle alone for the last part of the play.
The Final Temptation: Brand alone in the wilderness, struggling with his actions and their dire consequences, is tempted by a being who presents itself as his dead wife. The being craves that he gives up his cause, and his slogan "all or nothing." He defeats the being when he brings up the concept of longing, which the being cannot overrule. In a recent production, the being was actually cast as Agnes, and the producer stated that it/she was right.
Follow the Leader: The TV series Angel may or may not owe some points or two to Brand when presenting the main character of the show. One actual line uttered by Darla to Angel (season 2) can be taken as a shout out to Brand:
Also the character of The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, next to Brand in stuffiness, and a principles zealot of the same order. Brand himself is often clad in black, no wonder (black was actually the official colour of priest`s garments at the time of the play, to underline the point). As is Sandman and Angel...
Freudian Trio: The women of the play: Brandīs mother (Superego), Agnes (Ego), Gerd (Id). Of course everything goes off the scale when both the mother and Agnes are gone.
Genre Deconstruction: Brand is arguably the hero, and even lampshades his own heroic efforts. His view of God is also a rather heroic one (Hercules lookalike and old testament Badass). But Ibsen would not have been Ibsen if he did not at least try to deconstruct the hero tropes. And seemingly Brand does not fit his actual environment at all, and his larger than life visions is almost, but not quite, lost on his fellow men. If not, someone with actual power is there to stop him. Hence, tragedy ensues.
Gold Digger: Brand`s mother ended up as a rather creepy version. She robbed her husband for goods while he lay dying. Brand called her out on it pretty soon after he met her.
Grandpa God: Subverted and spoofed. Brand spoofs the trope heavily in the first act, preferring a young, heroic divine being for the visionings of the painter Einar, who painted God that way, earning a long snark from Brand (covering two pages).
Hates Being Touched: Brand`s mother warns him off with a staff when he comes too close to her. Their only meeting in the play is setting them at least tree yards apart.
Hearing Voices: Brand alone on the mountain. The voices call to him that he "is not worthy" and will never be more than a nobody. They come as a prelude to the final temptation.
The Heart: Agnes is the heart to Brand (or his "link to humanity"). With her gone, he feels shut off, both from himself and the people around him.
Heroic BSOD: Brand in the fifth act after the death of his wife Agnes. Also Agnes in the fourth after the death of her son. The third act has Brand considering a face heel turn for the sake of his sick son, but decides not to, so the BSOD moment can be said to start from there.
Ignored Epiphany: Subverted, as Brand actually gets epiphany proper when reaching the "Ice Church" with Gerd. Tears of remorse quickly follows, as he understands what his fatal flaw actually was. He doesn't come around to make amends, because of the avalanche.
The true meaning of the final deus ex machina has been debated for decades.
Ill Girl: Actually a boy. Alf, the son of Brand, succumbing to pneunomia in the third act.
Intrinsic Vow: Brand takes this on in the first act, setting off his "good fight".
Ironic Echo: The reception of the play, echoing the way Brand himself gets trashed in the fifth act, by the very elite Ibsen tried to rail against (In Norway, who was the butt of Ibsen`s ironic treatment).
Manly Tears: Brand bursts out when entering the "ice church" with Gerd, and finally realizing where he is. So far, frustration, anger and possible mangst has tortured him. A cataclysm climax is right around the bend, though. Can also be troped as tears of remorse.
Meaningful Name. Brand, meaning "Sword". Agnes even lamshades this in the fourth act. The name also connects with the Norwegian word for "fire". Agnes, of course, means "chaste" (Greek) and "lamb" (Latin). Einar means "lone warrior" (for all those that thinks he is not connected to Brand), while Gerd means "fence".
Brand, Einar and Gerd all have norse names. Agnes does not. Some intended fridge logic here?
Mental World: actually a pivotal point in the play, invoked and played straight by Agnes, and resulting in an Eureka Moment for Brand. Agnes has a soliloqui in the second act, staring "inwards" to a new world, which she herself has the responsibility for, to cultivate and to populate. Brand follows suit, and concludes that this "inward path" has to be the right one.
Messianic Archetype: Gerd finding Brand alone on the mountain, claims that he is the messiah. Brand fiercely denies it as another temptation. Up to this point, the trope has been played straight on Brand time and again, but Gerd is the only one that actually says it. But she is quite far out, though.
Money, Dear Boy: The provost actually tries to tell Brand that this is the point of being an official, clergy or not. Brand does not buy it.
Brand`s mother came up with the same argument. She got to live for her collected treasure. It is implied that she in turn had the trope invoked by her father.
Mr. Exposition: The Bailiff, who tells Brand, and the audience, some chunky pieces of background plot during the play. Also the Schoolmaster and the Bellringer. They have a long scene at the beginning of the fifth act, with a main purpose in bringing the audience up to date on recent events. And also some philosophical outlooks in the process.
Muggles: The greater lot of the cast. Notably, Brand gets their attention when he goes badass in the second act. They end up useful idiots in the fifth act, and then become canon fodder at the end of the play because the author willed it so...
The Needs of the Many: Brand`s motivation, or also the motivation of the parish people, who time and again argues this way to make him stay.
Subverted from the start, but played straight in the third act. Brand originally chose to stay for the sake of his mother.
Nominal Importance: To a degree. Brand, Agnes, Einar and Gerd all have their names. The others are either names by designation, like the bailiff, or "voices in the crowd". We have of course the outstanding mother of Brand, who is only that at nothing else. One possible exception is Nils Snemyr, a mauve shirt who actually gets his name addressed during the famine scene in the second act.
Not Blood Siblings: Brand and Gerd. Gerds father, a poor young man, loved Brandīs mother, who discarded him. She married the wealthy man who became the father of Brand, while the boy went to live with the local stragglers (actually romani stock), and became the father of Gerd...
Only Sane Man: Brand, at several occasions, thinks he is... Thank God for Agnes.
The doctor, who argues that the family should leave the area for the sake of their sonīs ailment, also counts. He is the first to point out to Brand that his ability to love is somewhat barren.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: The local bailiff, who dislikes Brand, but plays along until Brand "shows his true colours". He is often played as a comic relief, but is in truth a callous opportunist who doesnīt give a toss about people outside his jurisdiction. In the famine scene in the second act, he is cold against everyone who canīt consider themselves "registered".
Powderkeg Crowd: The common folk, turning and heel face turning during the course of the play. In the second act, the come close to lynching Brand when he arrives on the scene, then to turn 180 degrees when he braves the unpassable fjord. Later, Brand stirs up the crowd to open rebellion, only to lose them completely to the rumors of a quick income.
Principles Zealot: Brand most of the time. Much of the criticism in-play and outside of it, stems from the fact that he is such a hardliner on his basic principles.
Rage Breaking Point: The Crowd scene in the fifth act, when Brand finally has it. Up to this point, he has played nice, but with an occasional snark. Have in mind that he is severely traumatized by now, and has endured a lengthy speech by the provost, only interrupted by more snarks. The theologial/political views of the provost may have been an unintended berserk button as well. He is supposed to formally open the new church, but instead rebels and throws the key into the fjord, and basically says [[screw the rules, Iīm doing whatīs right]]
Rebel Leader: Brand in the fifth act, when he finally snaps and lets the officials have it all. The crowd follows him for some time, but not overly long. The Bailiff is actually trying to read the "rebel act" to stop him, but is pushed away by the crowd.
Romani: Gerd, and the beggarwoman with her child. It is implied in a trowaway line that the bailiff ordered a whole bunch of them arrested, leaving only the destitute mother and her child out in the cold, only to knock at Brand`s door at the most dramatic moment.
Rousing Speech: Several. Most apparent in the fifth act, when Brand actually convinces the entire parish to go to the mountains with him, in search of a better destiny. At this point, Brand seems to have had a lot of rousing speeches off-stage, as the other officials rightly has begun to fear him.
Agnes has one in the second act, to the point where Brand gets new revelations and remakes his choices. Even a local farmer gets his moment of awesome in the same act, trying to convince Brand that his task is right before his eyes.
Rule of Symbolism: Brand speaks of a "church" that has to be built bigger. The "symbolical church" is implied to be built in the minds of men (a church not made with hands...).
also the glacier/the "ice church", falling down at the end.
"The world", as defined by the entity passing for Agnes in the fifth act, hinting of a dualistic christian view, where the physical world are to be shrugged off anyway. In gnosticism, this world is technically evil.
Rule of Three: The first act presents three characters, who sets Brand off on his first "quest": A farmer who wants him as a priest for his dying daughter, the painter Einar (and his fiancée Agnes), who lives on the light side, and finally Gerd, the wild one. All of them sides of life he wants to set straight: The dull (the farmer), the idle (the artist), and the wild one (the trope namer).
Sacrificial Lamb: Agnes, wearing the apropriate name (Agnus Dei). She ends up dead, after sacrificing everything for the good cause. The last sacrifice, though, is Brandīs, when he has to give up his wife.
Screwed Up Family: Brand was born into an arranged marriage. His parents never loved or seemed to care for eachother, and the father of Brand`s mother pushed her into it, because the boy she had in mind was poor. So he left with a romani girl, becoming the father of Gerd.
Second Act Break Up: Agnes with Einar, when he refuses to help Brand because he fears for his life. She immediately goes herself, and her fate is sealed.
Shrine to the Fallen: the drawer containing the clothes of Alf, dead at that point in the play (the fourth act).
Shout-Out: To The Bible from beginning to end, both as direct reference and as allusions. Brand himself uses the Messianic Archetype trope over and over, and the author uses it shamelessly on the title character. After all, he is a man of the cloth...
Society Is to Blame: Justified with the beggarwoman in the fourth act. ALSO justified in the case of Agnes, who falls victim to this chain of events. To make things clearer: The beggars are actually a band of romani lawfully arrested by the bailiff, accused of straggling, theft and social disorder. The lone mother is one of the few still going free. Brand can justly blame society for his plight, as it is the obstructive bailiff who unintendedly made things worse for him and Agnes, resulting in her death soon afterwards. It is a fair chance that some of Brand`s outbursts against the officials later on is connected to this fact.
Another dramatical case of truth in television: Romani people were known for traveling all over Norway in this time, and the official attitude towards them was often criminalization, arrest, or just making them leave for whatever excuse available. Their plight was not good, and many resorted to petty crimes and begging. The criticism implied in the play is justified by history.
Stand Your Ground: Gerd effectively orders Brand not to back out of the fight at the end of the third act. She argues that the dark side will prevail if he does not hold the line against it.
The Soulsaver: Twice. First, the man who killed his child for want of food to feed it. Brand to the rescue because he recongnizes the sheer need for salvation, or at least peace. Once again in the fourth act with Agnes, who cannot bear to part with the clothes of her dead son.
Speak of the Devil: Inverted in the final temptation scene when Brand, convinced he is talking to Agnes, and who is supposedly not dead, utters the words "Thanks to.." only to be hushed by the being in question.
Staring Contest: Brand vs his mother in the second act. They stand in a way that almost points towards a showdown situation. The "staring" continues for three years until she finally dies.
Stock Character: The bailiff, who does not do any Character Development at all, and the provost in the fifth act, who represents "the body of the church" in all itīs unintended silliness.
Take That: Much of Brandīs rantings are criticisms of Norwegian society at the time, and the portraits of the Bailiff and the provost (the officials) sets them out as comical villains. The play is an inversion of Peer Gynt, and written at the same time.
A prominent example comes in the fourth act, when the bailiff proposes building a "political party house", and Brand calmly interprets it as a possible madhouse: "and if somebody gets too crazy, we always have the great hall" (a kick to the Norwegian parliament, assembled at "the great thing" or stortinget).
And the provost`s rantings in the fifth act arguably serves as a "Take that, church!". Hence, all officials, priests and politicians are in for a beating in the play.
The Cloud Cuckoolander Was Right: Gerd on warning Brand from going down in the valley at their first meeting. Can also be played as a foreshadowing, because of her immediate proposal of going to the "ice church" (the glacier), where they both finally end up, and perish. Gerd`s visions of grandeur are possibly bigger than Brand`s.
A moment of fridge brilliance to shape up the final part of the play occurs in the fourth act when Brand actually begins to think like her (although not realizing it at the time).
Third Option: Inverted. Agnes chose to stay with Brand on the expence of her own life and the life of his son. The real killer is the fact that he could have sent her away and caught up with her later. This was not a tolerable solution in 1866. It didn`t occur to Agnes either.
Many readers have been justly cross with Brand because of this. But then again, society is to blame.
Brand has used most of the act on denying his mother his presence, both as a son and as a priest. The mother on her side, denied to give up anything of her goods to charity, and Brand surely didn`t want any of it. So she died without redemption from her son. Dysfunctional family indeed.
Too Much Information: Brand witnessed his mother robbing his father on the father`s deathbed while still a boy! This squicked him out good and proper, and made him get as far away from his mother as possible. When his mother begged him to take care of her wealth, he instantly turned her down, and told her exactly why.
Tragedy. Possibly the purest tragedy Ibsen ever wrote.
Trauma Conga Line: For Brand and Agnes respectively, beginning with the death of Brand`s mother, then immediately on to the fatal sickness of their son, and then his untimely death. From which we conclude the death of Agnes. No wonder Brand is screwed up at the beginning of the fifth act, complaining that he has lost his link to God, and nothing actually matters anymore. And all this time, he tries to keep a stiff upper lip.
Turbulent Priest: Brand from the third act and onwards. The bailiff covertly asks him to leave, and a local man tells him straight in his face that the bailiff wants to get rid of him. Come fourth act, the bailiff admits defeat because Brand is popular among ordinary people. In the fifth act. Brand is in for a knighting, and is also discussed when promoting a new bishop. When Brand violently bursts out against them, both the provost and the bailiff lapse into a sigh of relief:
Ungrateful Bastard: Arguably the entire community when chasing Brand away in the fifth act. Note that this is the same people who begged him to become their priest in the second act, and who asked him to stay on in the third...
Earlier, Gerd pointed out to him that his priorities were wrong when setting the life of his son over the work of God. Referring to Alf as a "false God" is the trick that makes him stay.
Villain Corner: Brand, because of his principle zeal. This is arguably the strongest argument against his character in literary criticism. His only way out of it is possible death or mental breakdown, depending on who you ask.
Consider The Sandman, who had to die to get out of the trap his own rules had set for him.
We Can Rule Together: What the provost essentially tries to tell Brand. He has to give in to compromise, and the world will be his to command.
What Could Have Been: The play was originally meant as a narrative epic, nicknamed the "epic Brand" by scholars. The work was never finished, but gives away some extra clues on the character.
With Us or Against Us: A cry from the crowd roused by Brand in the fifth act, to the distress of the county officials. Also an early trope namer. The crowd does not hold for long, though.
Wham Line: "Folks, the spirit of compromise is Satan!" And the crowd went totally wild...
What the Hell, Hero?: the local doctor calls Brand out on his refusal to see his mother on her deathbed, and again on behalf of his sick son. Gerd calls Brand out on his decision to leave, making Brand`s position impossible over time.
World of Symbolism: Often played straight. The play is not intended to be realistic. A good in-universe example of completely missing the point is the rather literal minded bailiff, who actually thought Brand meant a physical church when he probably thought of something else (se the Bigger is better trope above). This is most probably an in-joke in the play, as Brand strives with his ideas to the point where nobody follows them anymore. This could arguably make Brand a cloud cuckoolander, something that can explain the role of Gerd in his life. The last part of the play can be said to represent a mental world occupied only by Brand and Gerd.