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Theatre / Rosmersholm

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Rosmersholm, written by Henrik Ibsen, was published in 1886. The play tells the story of a retired priest, Johannes Rosmer, living at his inherited estate, Rosmersholm. With him is an old housekeeper, Madam Helseth, and the young and inspiring Rebekka West, who arrived with a doctor from the north to tend to Rosmer's mentally ill wife, Beate - who, it turns out, was Driven to Suicide by throwing herself into the waterfalls by the mill, one and a half years prior to the play. Rosmer feels guilty over this, and so does Rebekka; Rosmer never dares to walk down to the falls because of this traumatic incident.


Principal Kroll, Rosmer's brother-in-law, a man with conservative leanings, tries to make Rosmer get back into the fold, but Rosmer refuses because he feels he has to denounce all the old ways of thought. Kroll then disowns their old friendship, and it is slowly revealed that Rosmer's wife commited suicide because she wished her husband a better life with Rebekka. Kroll chides Rebekka for this, and she acknowledges that she partly led Beate Rosmer into her demise, which nearly breaks her relationship with Rosmer. In the end, they reconcile, and decide to end it together by going straight for the waterfalls. Tragedy Ensues.


Tropes to be found in this play:

  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Rosmer proposes to Rebekka, but she refuses. She gives in come the last act.
  • Arc Symbol: The White Horses, mentioned time and again, are a vivid harbinger of death.
  • Author Avatar: Rosmer states some points Ibsen also stated in a number of poems he wrote at the same time.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Johannes and Beate Rosmer seem to have lived like this.
  • The Chessmaster: More than one. Rebekka seems to have been playing both Rosmer and his wife. Then there is Kroll, who tries to play Rosmer over to his side, and Mortensgaard likewise, to the other side.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Rebekka West has some secrets, and we should probably not inquire too much upon her. She was born in the far north, and it is questionable if she ever knew her father. The name given for her birthplace implies some connections to the Sami People.
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  • Deconstructed Trope: Ibsen turns his former tropes inside out during this play. The whole "star-crossed lovers jump in the river together" trope is actually a Dead Horse Trope, at least in Scandinavia, as it was overused by dime ballads, which were known for melodramatic endings, and were immensely popular. Ibsen would probably never use this at all unless he had his tongue firmly placed in his cheek.
  • Disappeared Dad: Rebekka is the adopted daughter of Doctor West, who came south for the attendance of Beate Rosmer.
  • Driven to Suicide: Beate Rosmer (who was literally driven) jumped in the waterfalls. Later, Ulrik Brendel, Rosmer's old teacher, and at the end, Rebekka and Rosmer, also jumping into the waterfalls.
  • Downer Ending: Oh, the romantic couple jump in the waterfalls together.
  • Evil Reactionary:
    • Principal Kroll is in opposition to anything "new", and enters political life to stop, or at least stall, the radical leanings of the times. He has been a conservative all the way, and is also responsible for getting Brendel thrown out of his position as a university teacher (while still a student). It seems Kroll is somewhat out of touch, as his own children and his wife also lean in on the more contemporary radicalism. (Truth in Television: The play is set during the rise of new political parties in Norway, and the Left was the first to organize. Kroll seems to be eager to organize the Right (Conservative) party, founded two years prior to the play in 1884, hence his frustration over the new popular movements.) When Kroll is asked about his possible connection to a labor union, he sharply states that he has nothing to do with them.
    • Johannes Rosmer's father, a major, also kicked Brendel out of his university position.
  • Foreshadowing: At the opening of the play, Rebekka sits by an open window, listening to the waterfalls. Madam Helseth suggests they close the window because of the draft from the falls (underscored that there is something "pulling" from the falls). At the end of the play, the Madam views the romantic couple go in the water from the same window.
  • Gratuitous German: Ulrik Brendel, Rosmer's old teacher, spills some German phrases over his speech, just to underline his ethnic background.
  • Grim Up North: Rebekka was born in Gamvik, a small hamlet in Finnmark, the northernmost county in Norway.
  • Guilt Complex: Rosmer and Rebekka both blame themselves for Beate Rosmer's suicide.
  • Haunted House: The Rosmersholm estate has an eerie feeling to it. Madam Helseth states that the dead never actually leave the manor - they are bound to the place. The children who were born there never cried, nor laughed. The current resident never had any children.
  • It Runs in the Family: The Rosmer family is stock full of unhappy priests and loads of guilt.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Invoked by Beate Rosmer in a letter to the local newspaper editor, Mortensgaard.
  • Killed Offscreen: Rosmer and Rebekka. Madam Helseth, the last one on stage, comments on the suicide act from her window, and thus delivers the last lines of the play.
  • May–December Romance: Rosmer and Rebekka. She is about 30 years old, he at least 15 years older.
  • Melodrama: There is a certain melodramatic ring to this chain of events. But then again, what was Ibsen actually up to?
  • Mind Screw: Oh yes. Ibsen plays it big.
  • Old Retainer: Madam Helseth. She seems to have been at Rosmersholm for decades, and knows the Rosmers and their quirks pretty well.
  • The Philosopher: Ulrik Brendel and Johannes Rosmer fit the trope. Both with a dark twist.
  • The Reveal: Rebekka reveals she was partly instrumental in the suicide of Beate Rosmer.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Rebekka West decides to leave Rosmersholm in a hurry. But then she changes her mind.
  • Shadow Archetype: Principal Kroll to Johannes Rosmer.
  • Shout-Out: Medieval Ballads, especially one about "Rosmer from the sea". The White horse is also a common way to depict the Norwegian Water sprite (Nøkken), who was known for pulling people down to him. He could shape change into a white horse that rode straight for the waters.
  • Sliding Scale Of Free Will Versus Fate: Rosmer contemplates setting himself free, but is reined in by his family curse, duties and guilt. It seems death is the only way out.
  • Suicide Pact: Rosmer and Rebekka end it together.
  • Take a Third Option: In the divided political landscape of the times, Rosmer has a strong wish to unite the factions, not siding with either of them. It goes badly.
  • Take That, Audience!: Is Ibsen actually toying with his audience in this play? There are a number of false leads before The Reveal, and from there we have a number of twists, like Rebekka deciding to leave the estate, then suddenly changing her mind, consenting to marry Rosmer on the spot (after having turned him down earlier on), and then the two of them suddenly head for an unexpected suicide? And what of the political set up during the first act? Mind Screw indeed.
  • Tragic Hero: Johannes Rosmer.
  • Twist Ending: The suicide part seems to come out of left field. But then again, "the old missus took them..." (being the last words of the play).
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Rosmer and Rebekka have tons of it.
  • With Us or Against Us: Kroll breaks his friendship with Rosmer because Rosmer has changed his views.
    Kroll: Those who do not stand with me, I do not know any longer.
  • Working-Class People Are Morons: Kroll, being an old elitist, is justified on this.
  • Wrap It Up: The decision to kill off the main characters wraps up the plotline rather quickly. The whole thing is solved in four acts, as opposed to the regular five (or three).