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Creator / Henrik Ibsen

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"To live is to fight with trolls in the vaults of heart and brain, to write is to sit in judgement of one's self."

Henrik Johan Ibsen (20 March 1828 – 23 May 1906) was a Norwegian playwright, 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 Doll's 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 through 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". Come 1859, Ibsen had a serious Creator Breakdown and didn't write anything significant, be it poems or plays, for four years, after 1858. His "second phase" can thus be said to imply a lot of therapy.

Phase two overlaps roughly with the 1860s, beginning with a "revival" in 1862. This phase marks a transition from the early stage, and shows a more mature, but clearly still questing poet. At the same time, these are 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, preoccupied by his tendency to reveal all the corruption of the Norwegian bourgeoisie. He also stands out as an elitist, with little regard for the commoners. The lower classes tend to be set as morons at some level or another, and the big cheeses, like Old Werle and Proprietor Brack, or Consul Bernick, all get off 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 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 are chock 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 set their clocks by him, at least after he moved back to Norway in 1891 and settled in a flat in the western part of town. Every day, he went down to his favorite café, entering when the clock stroke twelve. He kept this habit up for thirteen years. The path he walked is carved with quotes from his plays, so if you're visiting Oslo, keep an eye out.

Ibsen continued his strolls through town until he got too 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 things 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.

Notable tropes found in the collected work of Ibsen:

  • Author Appeal: Ibsen loved walking in the Norwegian mountains. He even wrote a song about this. Many of Ibsen`s characters frequently stroll the mountain areas, are on their way up, or down, or just roaming around there. Brand does it, Peer Gynt (obviously), Hilde Wangel, Falk the poet, and many others.
  • Author Avatar: Used a number of times. Brand, Gregers Werle/Relling...
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: There is at least one per play, with very few exceptions.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A whole lot of them spread over most of his production, starting in 1853 and continuing. Ibsen himself loved the trope in Real Life. Also abundant in a number of his poems.
  • Downer Ending: Emperor and Galilean stands out. Also Lady Inger at Austraat.
  • Goth: Ibsen was quite fond of this. More than one of his early plays have gothic elements in them, and in his later symbolical plays, he returned to the staple. Thus:
    • Lady Inger at Austraat has the titular character walking sleeplessly about in an empty castle, believing it to be haunted, while her servants believe she herself is a ghost.
    • The Warriors at Helgeland is even more gothic in the entire setup.
    • Catilina, his very first play has Furia, a gothic heroine through and through.
    • Rosmersholm: a Haunted House.
    • When We Dead Awaken: Irene, a heroine of the "gothic insane" variety.
      • This seems to be mostly played on his female characters...
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality
  • Happy Ending: Most of his pre 1860 plays.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Ibsen was notoriously known for his attitude towards Norway, swinging from hilarious Deadpan Snarker to heavy deprecation. Arguably, Peer Gynt is the greatest offender on this, because the play is allegedly built on this trope.
  • No Ending: Every play from 1866 and onwards.
  • Only Sane Man: In many plays, this trait is played on a medical doctor. Ibsen seems to have put doctors in this position a number of times: The doctor in Brand, Fjeldboe in The League of Youth, doctor Wangel in The Lady from the Sea, and more. If this trope is not subverted, how shall we interpret An Enemy of the People's Doctor Stockman?
  • Parental Abandonment: More than one play uses this. Usually, an upper class man gets a child with a lower class woman, concealing it by marrying her off to another commoner. Used as a plot point in Ghosts and The Wild Duck. Other versions of the trope are also there to be found. (Ibsen did it himself with a housemaid in his youth. The child and the mother were put out of his life, although he paid his fees, and seemingly never got it out of his system completely.)
  • Sanity Slippage: Lady Inger at Austraat's Lady Inger may have been the first to fall victim to the trope (1857). Since then, Ibsen used it frequiently, up to and including his very last work in 1899.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Many, many times. As a rule, it is a young girl who breaks out and leaves (Nora Helmer has to be counted with this lot). A male example is Erhart, the son of John Gabriel Borkman.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: More on the cynical end (at least in terms of setting and tone)
  • Sliding Scale of Realistic vs. Fantastic: Ibsen is known as the father of realism.
  • Straw Nihilist: Oh, so many of them. Relling, Rubek, Brand, Borkman, Dr Rank, Solness. The older Ibsen got, the more he used them.
  • Tsundere: A good lot of girls in Ibsen's plays show Tsundere qualities: Eline in Lady Inger, Hilde Wangel in The Lady from the Sea, Ingrid Hægstad in Peer Gynt, Svanhild in Love's Comedy. Usually, he made this type a foil to a truer ingenue type of heroine.
  • When She Smiles: Because of his aloof personality and social quirks, Ibsen rarely smiled on portraits and photographs. However, he was pictured smiling once, by Norwegian painter Erik Werenskjold, and this painting shows a rare moment of pure fun from this rather sullen man. A local paparazzi also managed to shoot a picture of Ibsen while talking to a young child on his regular stroll. At that moment, a kind smile can be observed, but usually, he never cracked.

Notable works: