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Ghosts, originally titled Gengangere (literally translated as Ghosts), is a play by Henrik Ibsen. It was written in 1881 and first staged in 1882.

On an interesting side note, the play was originally written in Danish. The word "Gengangere" is Danish, not Norwegian. That is because Danish was the main written language in Norway at the time. For more on that discussion, see Norwegian Language Struggle. Ibsen preferred writing in the language he was taught.

Helen Alving is about to dedicate an orphanage she has built in the memory of her dead husband, Captain Alving. She reveals to her spiritual advisor, Pastor Manders, that she has hidden the evils of her marriage, and has built the orphanage to deplete her husband's wealth so that their son, Oswald, might not inherit anything from him. Pastor Manders had previously advised her to return to her husband despite his philandering, and she followed his advice in the belief that her love for her husband would eventually reform him. However her husband's philandering continued until his death, and Mrs. Alving was unable to leave him prior for fear of being shunned by the community. During the action of the play she discovers that her son Oswald (whom she had sent away so that he would not be corrupted by his father) is suffering from inherited syphilis, and (worse) has fallen in love with Regina Engstrand, Mrs. Alving's maid, who is revealed to be an illegitimate daughter of Captain Alving, and thereby Oswald's own half-sister. The play concludes with Mrs. Alving having to decide whether or not to euthanize her son Oswald in accordance with his wishes. Her choice is left unknown.

Among the better-known adaptations of the play is a 1987 made for television production directed by Elijah Moshinsky with Kenneth Branagh as Oswald Alving, Judi Dench as his mother Mrs. Alving, Natasha Richardson as Regina Engstrand, Michael Gambon as Pastor Manders, and Freddie Jones as Regina's (adoptive) father Mr. Engstrand.

Should not be confused with: The Protector 2011 episode "Ghosts", the Psych episode "Ghosts", the Revolution episode "Ghosts", the Hidden Palms episode "Ghosts", the DC Comics series Ghosts, or the board game Ghosts.

Also not to be confused with the books Ghosts (1990) and Ghosts (1993) or the films Ghosts (2005) and Ghosts (2006). Nor is there any connection to the British sitcom Ghosts (UK) or its American remake Ghosts (US).

This play provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Captain Alving may have been a jerkass, but at the same time, he was so likeable that nobody ever noticed - or cared.
  • Arc Words: "Passion of Life". It is stated that Captain Alving was quite passionate, but withered away. Later, Oswald uses the same phrasing when he describes Regina. Helen has a visible Oh, Crap! moment in the process.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Captain Alving was also a chamberlain, belonging to the upper upper class in Norwegian society. Also a cheating bastard and abuser of women.
  • Batman Gambit: Engstrand is behind this one, with Manders acting as his Unwitting Pawn. Through the course of the play, he gets Manders to be where he wants him to be, and tricks him into setting all the money from the Alving estate into his "home for sailors" - actually a brothel. He also makes Manders believe he set fire to the Alving Memorial. In one particular production, we see Helen Alving give Engstrand a Death Glare when she understands what is going on.
    • The gambit may even extend beyond Engstrand´s conscious behaviour when the Fridge Logic sets in. Oswald´s illness is (most likely) triggered by his fatigue the morning after the fire. He assisted in quenching it the whole night in the constantly pouring rain, not caring for his own health. The man who was responsible for said fire was Engstrand, of course. Thus, Engstrand is directly and indirectly responsible for the entire ending of the play.
  • Berserk Button: Mrs Alving when Manders mentions "law and order" (societal rules). It cost her dearly.
  • Book Dumb: Old Engstrand doesn't understand the French words Regina uses and asks if she is speaking English. Regina responds with a sarcastic "of course" (in the original Norwegian version. An English translation would have him confuse French and German).
  • Cue the Sun: The play ends with the sun rising after three acts of rain. Ironically, none of the remaining players are able to appreciate it.
  • Curse Cut Short: Engstrand when he is confronted by Manders on the truth of Regina´s mother.
  • Curves in All the Right Places: Regina, according to Engstrand, Manders, Oswald, and (believe it or not) Helen Alving.
  • Daydream Believer: Regina Engstrand has lived on the illusion that Oswald will take her to Paris for several years after he told her of the place. When Oswald returns at the beginning of the play, he is stunned by the fact that she took him seriously, and has begun to teach herself French. This Is Reality ensues rather harsh upon her, but she leaves anyway, still clinging to a hope of something better, but she has taken on some fatalism when she eventually leaves. Regina is the closest character to earn her own "I Want" Song - had Disney dared to make a movie out of the play.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: Manders and Helen. When Helen eloped after one year of marriage, she asked for Manders to shelter him. He was then a friend of captain Alving and a regular guest. Note that Manders never set foot in the Alving home after that incident, and is reluctant to sleep over when Mrs Alving offers him the opportunity. Sometimes during the play, Manders breaks his formal tone and adresses her as "Helen". We have to assume something happened, but we never find out what. And, to further heightening of this - Helen Alving states that there is something "priestly" about his son's appearance. Whoops. Manders is so into his formal role he never noticed.
  • Dirty Old Man: Engstrand. Also a Consummate Liar. Captain Alving obviously was one. And then there is Manders, who was aware of Regina and her "maturity" early on.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Oswald relates how his father once took him in his lap and forced him to smoke his pipe until he choked on it and had to throw up... And one wonders how he got his syphilis.
    • Engstrand is walking with a severe limp. Folk tradition in Norway states that The Devil himself does this - because one of his feet is the hoof of a horse.
  • Downer Ending: The only decent male character is losing his last wits, while the main character despairs.
  • The Fettered: Helen Alving. She is bound by duty, tradition, laws, and gets into a fit when Manders mentions "law and order". Yet another Ibsenian woman who seems to have had enough.
  • Foreshadowing: Regina tells Engstrand that Oswald is upstairs, "resting". His fatigue comes back stronger as the play progresses. Engstrand also tells of the "upper class" people, like, for instance, captains, who are to be given "hospitality" in his planned institution. And the late Alving was - a captain.
  • For Your Own Good: Manders reasoned that way to keep Helen Alving from eloping while still freshly married.
  • Gay Paree: Oswald has spent some years with the artists in Paris. Regina dreams of Paris, almost literally invoking the trope, because her life actually sucks.
  • Generation Xerox: Captain Alving was caught red handed with a housemaid in the parlor. Years later, Oswald is discovered in the parlor with the daughter of said housemaid (Regina Engstrand, who, as it turns out, was conceived in the former event. Which means... squick). Subverted if it turns out Manders is Oswald's father (commented on in a throwaway line).
  • Genre Savvy: Regina turns out to be quite genre savvy when it comes to her father, and will not relent to him at any cost. But even she didn't see the true link between her and Oswald.
  • Gratuitous French: Regina has learned some French phrases in case she is going to Paris with Oswald.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: All the way through, until the last moments of the play.
  • Heroic BSoD: The very end of the play. Mrs Alving is considering Oswald's plea to kill him when his mind goes. She can't make up her mind. And there it all ends. With a Big "NO!".
  • Hipster: Oswald has spent some time with the then-hipsters of Paris (the Bohemians). Manders calls him out on their moral standards, when he hears that the families live outside of wedlock, with children. Oswald has a Shut Up, Hannibal! moment where he reminds Manders that the real bastards are the bourgois upper class men, coming to visit the "alternatives". Manders does not have a straight answer to that one.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Manders, misjudging both Captain Alving, Helen, and Engstrand.
  • Hypocrite: Engstrand, but also Manders to a degree. The two get along splendidly.
  • Idiot Ball: Manders is the prominent ball holder in this play. He is elegantly tricked by Engstrand, and has to get all the Info Dump straight in his face from Mrs Alving. As a priest, he should have known his flock a little better than that. When he confronts Engstrand, he is tricked again. When he decides not to take any insurance on the memorial home, and then almost gets framed for arson later, he is almost Too Dumb to Live.
  • Insurance Fraud: Inverted because the "Alving Memorial Home" never became insured. This happened because Manders feared for his reputation. Then the whole thing caught fire and burnt to the ground, making sure all wealth got lost.
  • It's All About Me: Manders. He is far more into his own reputation as a priest than actually caring for anyone else. More than once, he laments that the entire shebang will hurt his reputation. This, of course gives Engstrand a good opportunity to blackmail him - and Manders is more than willing to comply, as long as he is not involved himself.
  • Large Ham: Manders. He has the potential to be played that way.
  • Love Martyr: Helen stayed with her cheating husband until the day he died. She came to regret that decision.
  • Love Redeems: Helen Alving knew that her husband Captain Alving was a cheat, but she stayed with him in the hopes that he would be reformed. However, he remained a cheat all the way to his death.
  • Male Gaze: Manders when commenting on how Regina has "filled out" the last two years. Oswald is also commenting on her curves.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Engstrand is behind Manders.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Oswald believes Regina to be one. He states that she has "love of life", and would be the one to "help him out" - that is, kill him when his sanity slips. Sadly, she leaves in a hurry when she is presented to her actual backstory.
  • Manchild:
    • Helen Alving invokes the trope after seeing Manders being duped by Engstrand. She indicates that he has to be a big child - no man with his wits in place could be that naïve.
    • In hindsight: Captain Alving acted irresponsibly to a degree that the trope also is invoked for him.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Engstrand. He twirls Manders around his finger like nothing, even when he blames the reverend for accidentally setting the Memorial on fire.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Regina. Almost all the male cast members comment on her looks. Engstrand goes further, by suggesting she should work as "bait" in his planned "home for sailors". Consider that every character who is not Regina compliments her, and Regina Engstrand may be the most prominent fanservice character Ibsen ever created.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: When Helen Alving tells Oswald and Regina of Captain Alving’s life, she invokes this, making a point of Alving's boredom in a place that was too small for him.
  • Off Stage Villainy: Engstrand has done a number of bad things, and is responsible for burning down the Memorial - but it all happens off stage. But as it happens, he gets Manders to support him all the way. And what does that tell us of Manders?
  • Oh, Crap!: Regina gets some serious willies when she discovers the identity of her true father.
  • Only Sane Man: Mrs Alving. Possibly her son Oswald. At the end of the play, she is literally the only sane person on stage. She is also educated to a level that seemingly surpasses Manders, and Genre Savvy to boot. She even lampshades it when Manders is constantly manipulated by Engstrand. It seems Ibsen is fond of setting his Only Sane Man characters in a Surrounded by Idiots plot time and again...
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Manders is rather uptight and formal, but when he breaks out of this, he adresses Mrs Alving by her given name: "Helen!" OOC indeed.
  • Parenting the Husband: Helen Alving took full control of the Alving estate after the affair with Regina's mother, making Alving a "second child" in the household. "I took complete power, and he dared not oppose it!"
  • Precision F-Strike: Engstrand, but also Regina. Especially when Engstrand gets to know that Manders is in on the secret concerning Regina. Goes as another Oh, Crap! moment.
  • The Reveal: Helen Alving gets around to explain the circumstances concerning the relation between Oswald and Regina. Her reaction is as you could expect.
  • Rich Boredom: Captain Alving fell to pieces because he was confined to a small Norwegian town, without anyone to share anything with. It resulted in a waste of talents and resources on complete idleness. Which made life miserable for Helen Alving and Oswald.
  • Sanity Slippage: Oswald's illness sends him straight into blubbering at the end.
  • Sarcasm Mode: The most sarcastic line is Engstrand's, when he, at the end of the play, states that he will raise a memorial "worthy of captain Alving". Cue the brothel.
  • Sinister Minister: Reverend Manders is not above striking a deal with Engstrand the carpenter, allowing him to build a brothel, or trying to gloss over the more questionable actions of Captain Alving. He was also the one who sealed the marriage between the housemaid and Engstrand, making Regina believe Engstrand was her father. To top it, he has no qualms in trying to persuade Regina to follow Engstrand when Engstrand wants her to - ahem - "work" in his establisment. Subverted when we consider him an Unwitting Pawn in the hands of Engstrand.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Regina solves it this way.
  • Social Climber: Regina when she decides to follow Oswald to Paris, and later when she states that she still will be able to "drink champagne with the upper class".
  • Spiritual Successor: The Wild Duck, written in 1883. Both plays contain a girl conceived outside of wedlock and fostered by another. While The Wild Duck discuss "ideals" as lies (Relling), this play sets the "ideals" of Manders as opposite to the truth (lampshaded by Mrs Alving).
  • Stepford Smiler: Helen Alving.
  • Stepford Snarker: Helen Alving has to let out some steam.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Manders, although Norwegian, fits the trope.
  • Team Mom: Helen Alving is the most prominent Team Mom in the Ibsen canon, besides Lady Inger at Austraat.
  • Title Drop: When Helen has retold the story of her husband and the housemaid in the parlor, she and Manders hear Oswald and Regina reenact the scene. Helen goes immediately pale, and whispers: Ghosts. Later, in the second act, she follows suit, by stating: "We are probably ghosts, all of us".
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Oswald when he is first introduced. Manders comments that he almost looked like his father, when he came downstairs smoking the old man's pipe. Subverted when Helen protests: "He looks like me". When she states that Oswald's mouth (which Manders claimed looked like the captain) rather reminds her of a priest, it should have worried Manders a little. To underscore this: Helen Alving eloped after a year of marriage, seeking shelter at the home of Manders. It is never stated what happened between them. But Manders kept a safe distance for many years after.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Helen Alving and Manders. Up to eleven when Manders states that he never dares to sleep over in the Alving home.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Regina when she discovers the identity of her true father, delivers this to Helen Alving, before she leaves for good. She resents that she has lived the life of a housemaid all the time, when "I could have been brought up a proper lady!"