Peer Gynt is an epic drama written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1867. The play is a verse drama, telling the life story of the farm boy Peer, an unreliable poet who is prone to make up tall tales of his own experiences, often based on local folklore. This to the chagrin of the villagers, who have heard the stories before. Peer lives with his widow mother on a downtrodden farm, coming from a family who has seen better days. During his youth, he trespasses on a rural wedding and runs off with the bride, after being rejected by the chaste Solveig, who apparently made a lasting impression on him.After having his way with the bride Ingrid, who was sweet on him, but had to marry someone else, he dumps her, only to get exceedingly drunk with three dairy maids in the mountain, and then finally to get abducted into the same mountain. Here, he encounters the Mountain King and his daughter, the green-clad Hulder, and has to pass some tests for the right to woo her. He goes some of the way, but rejects the trolls when they ask for permission to alter his eyesight for ever. Then the trolls beat him within an inch of his life before disappearing because of church bells, invoked by his mother, who seeks for him outside.Alone in the mountain, Peer has to face the Boyg, an undefinable creature he cannot fight, and who will not face him. Peer finally collapses when the creature gives in because of hymns and more church bells, this time invoked by Solveig, who really wishes to save his soul. He wakes up dreadfully hung over, and manages to give away a silver button to her younger sister Helga.Peer, now an outcast and outlaw, tries to make a living in the mountains, and Solveig comes to live with him. She decided that he really needed it, and would not live with anyone else. At the same moment, the green-clad Hulder arrives with an offspring she claims is his, and the realisation makes Peer go face heel turn on Solveig, and he flees the country completely for several years. He only makes a brief stop to visit his dying mother.Peer lives large in foreign lands, earns a lot of money on slave trade and missioning, and is abandoned by his foreign friends off the coast of Morocco. From there, he finds his way to Egypt, playing the prophet and seduces a beduin chieftain's daughter who robs him, before he eventually tries his luck as a historian in Cairo. He ends up in a local madhouse, suddenly realizing how he got there.Returning to Norway an old man, he ends up shipwrecked off the western coast, and comes home as an unknown beggar. He sees his old farm fallen to total ruin, is mocked by the villagers who believe him dead, and returns to the mountains, where he finally realizes that his life is wasted. He meets the Devil, the Mountain King and a button moulder, who tells him to be reshaped, as his soul was squandered. He finally admits defeat and runs to the only one who can still save him: Solveig, still waiting in his old cabin. The play ends with a "we´ll see" from the button moulder.Edvard Grieg composed incidental music for the play, which was performed at the premiere, with selections later published in the two Peer Gynt Suites. In the Hall of the Mountain King and Morning Mood are the most famous pieces.
The play contains examples of these tropes:
All Just a Dream: The second act from the moment he stumbles against the wall of a mountain shed dreadfully hung over, to the moment he wakes up at the end of the act with a dry throat. The passage with the trolls and the Boyg, let alone the Greenclad Woman happens in between. Whether or not this actually is just a dream is open for interpretation.
Artistic Licence - Geography: When coming home in the fifth act, Peer is standing on deck of a ship and claiming to see the mountain Hallingskarvet, and the glacier Hardangerjøkulen. None of those can be seen from the western seas. It is also unclear whether the captain of the ship is right when stating that one can see Norway's highest mountain from the top mast.
Asshole Victim: The four businessmen (a Brit, a Swede, a German and a Frenchman) who abandon Peer on the coast of Morocco and steal his yacht and his fortune are blown to pieces immediately after.
Becoming the Mask: Peer has actually piled up so many masks over one another over the years that he hardly can find himself under them anymore. Lampshaded in the famous "onion scene", where he actually tries to pile them off, one by one, only to find nothing beneath them.
Bedlam House: The madhouse in Cairo. Even the asylum keeper seems to have lost his marbles. Here, he seems to meet his peers, a number of people who are themselves to the point of hilarity. Peer makes a heel realization in the process.
But Now I Must Go: Peer in the third act, running the hell away from everything that binds him. He leaves Solveig at the doorstep, telling her to wait, and argues that he has a heavy burden to shoulder, and must carry it alone. It takes the rest of his life to return to her. Solveig used the same phrsing when leaving her own family behind to live with Peer.
Creepy Child: The brat Peer begat with the hulder has grown abnormally fast, and the first thing he says, is "I shall chop you with my axe".
Delusions Of Grandeur: Peer from the literal start. He dreams of getting the best of all around him, becoming a king, or an emperor. The delusion backfires splendidly when he eventually gets his coronation in a madhouse.
Description Cut: In the fourth act, when Peer has a humans are flawed monologue while entering his role as "the historian". He ends this with the words: "Women are a feeble stock" - and the scene cuts directly to Solveig, who patiently sits waiting - and does her famous song. As if Ibsen just makes a point in saying "feeble? I think not!"
Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Peer annoys the mountain king and the entire troll community when he decides not to follow their last request, and explains why he is not worthy of the king's daughter. The trolls beat him to kingdom come.
Did You Just Romance Cthulhu?: Peer gets a child with the Greenclad Woman, after romancing her alright. If he actually slept with her physically is beside the point, as the Mountain King points out. In the secondary world, lust is enough to conceive. When Peer goes oh crap instantly and talks himself out of the situation, he flips off the whole troll society.
Light Is Good: Played straight. A sunrise often parallels a moment of "dawning" in the mind of Peer. The end is also played out at sunrise. And then the name of Solveig, parallelled with the Norwegian word for "sun" (Sol).
Mama Bear: Peer's mother Åse. She is rather at odds and dissatisfied with the ways of her son, but stands up for him when she believes him threatened - to the point where she tries to face down the local smith, the possibly strongest man in the community and Peer's archnemesis in the first part of the play. Occasionally, she also acts like a jewish mother.
Mind Screw: The Boyg does this on Peer. So does the button moulder in the fifth act.
Ms. Fanservice: Anitra, daughter of a bedouin chieftain, who tricks Peer in the desert. If Peer is right in his description of her during her famous dance, she is actually fan disservice, but most productions play her the other way around.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: A number of times for Peer himself, as he constantly gets himself and others into impossibly bad situations.
Not Himself: Actually the whole point of the play. Discussed by the Button Moulder in the fifth act, who reasons that he Peer has never been himself, so why stall death?
Really Gets Around: Peer plays this straight: The bride Ingrid, the three dairy maids, Anitra (and who else?). Averted with Solveig, who never got to bed with him.
The Scrooge: Peer returns home with clear shades of this trope. His ship goes down with all hands, however, and he comes to shore ribbed of all his property. But at the start of the fifth act, he is miserly enough, not giving away a penny to anyone who seems happier than he (that is everybody else).
Catch Phrase: "Avoid it, said the Boyg". "Be utterly thyself".
Chekhov's Gun: The Silver Button, handed over to Solveig´s sister in the second act, is often seen as a foreshadowing of the button moulder in the fifth. Being a symbol of Peer´s soul, it makes sense in context.
Oh Crap: Several times during the play, often resulting in a face heel turn, only to make things even harder for Peer in the end. The final Oh Crap moment turns into a My God what have I done moment when he finally realizes that he is destined for total nothingness.
Prospector: During the 1849 California Gold Rush. He tells stories of that later on.
Grey and Grey Morality: as defined by Peer himself, to get away from any responsibility at all. Naturally, his final moment of realization occurs in a dense fog (grey, by all standards). The morality of Solveig is more common black and white.
Leaning on the Fourth Wall: With the "foreign passenger" musing that "one does not die in the middle of the fifth act", in the second scene of the same act.
Take That: The play was a symbolical kick to the Norwegian and Swedish denial of fact at the Battle of Dybbøl in 1864, when Denmark had to fight Prussia all on their own and lost. Ibsen could not forgive the lack of principle he meant to see in his countrymen, and wrote a play containing a main character lacking almost every principle in the world. And ironically, it became Norway´s national play. The Norwegian elite who in time embraced the play, seems to have been Dramatically missing the point. And somewhere, Ibsen is laughing his heart out...
Genre Deconstruction: The fairy tale on several accounts. Also romanticism according to some scholars. Taken to the extreme, the play is a deconstruction of the Norwegian national myth. The play becoming a national myth in it´s own right, is a heavy historical irony on Ibsen´s behalf. Whether the play actually deconstructs romanticism is up to debate, as the structure of the play relies heavily on romantic troping. The "deconstructor" of the plot is Peer himself, as Solveig, invoking the Power Blonde, is there to save him. All the romantic tropes are in fact played straight with Solveig.
Ibsen also nods to other Norwegian authors, as contemporary poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote of a golden haired girl in a largely successful story five years prior to the play. Like Solveig, this girl at first sight wore a hymn book, held "her mother's skirt", and had a similar name.
Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Peer at the end of the fourth act. He loses it after the second suicide, and calls out for mercy or whatever, but has lost the name of God in the process, calling him "ruler of all fools".
Somewhere, an Ornithologist Is Crying: Peer claims to have encountered seagulls at 1500 meters above sea level in the mountains of Vågå. But then again, he was telling his mother a tall tale.
Historical Villain Upgrade: The historical Peer lived and died in the area of Gudbrandsdalen in Norway, was known for his abilities as a reindeer hunter, for his tall tales, and for several encounters with trolls. The boyg and the three dairy maids are all extracted from the works of Asbjørnsen and Moe.
An Aesop: The realization dawning on Peer when meeting the Button Moulder, sent by God. The moral of the play is also uttered by him: To be thyself is to give thyself up, or to go with the meaning of the master on your brow.
Deus ex Machina: The button moulder. His task is to reshape squandered souls, and seemingly to give Peer a second chance, when Peer stalls him several times only to meet him at anothee cross-roads. The trope can be read as somewhat averted, as Peer has to find his salvation himself.
The Fair Folk: Played straight with the greenclad Hulder, who abducts him into the mountain.
Our Trolls Are Different.: Coupled with the fair folk trope, as the inside of the mountain is populated with secondary world beings of every order possible: Witches, goblins, trolls - They are all there. The main type of beings, including the king himself, is trolls, of course, and the main slogan is appointed to them: "Troll, be utterly thyself", as opposed to "Man, be thyself". Can be considered a combination of tropes, as the troll king is the father of the Hulder (not defined as such, only as "the greenclad woman", but her traits are likewise).
Hearing Voices: In the second act, when the Boyg calls on "birds" or whatever, to consume him. And later in the fifth act, alone in the wilderness, a number of voices call to him to remind him on all the tasks and works he didn`t do, the songs he never sung, and the tears he never shed. In the end, his mother calls to him, complaining that his way of "comforting" her on her deathbed in fact led her straight to hell.
Mental World: Most of the fifth act can be seen as this, as Peer's inner turmoil tends to mirror the landscape he walks through, often a barren wasteland of sorts, until he hears the song of Solveig and gets a sense of direction.
Napoleonic Wars: The historical background, set in the early nineteenth century, as the beginning of the play. Later events shout out to the Greek rebellion (1825) and the San Francisco Gold Rush in 1848. Peer returns several years after this, sometime before 1865.
The Atoner: Solveig, interceding on Peer's behalf.
Karma Houdini: To some extent. The picture of Peer imprinted in the mind of Solveig reflects his "true" meaning, and may just be enough to save him from total oblivion.
Saved by the Bell: Literally inside the mountain, as the Fair Folk can't endure the sound of churchbells. And Peer in the end, though it is the singing of hymns that does the trick.
Ambiguous Ending: "We meet at the last cross-roads, Peer, and then we'll see - I say no more..."