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Theatre / The Lady From the Sea

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The Lady from the Sea (Fruen fra havet) is a play written in 1888 by Henrik Ibsen. The play tells the story of Ellida Wangel, the wife of a district physician, Dr. Wangel. She married him after his former wife died, and he was left a widower with two half grown daughters, Bolette and Hilde. Ellida has hidden secrets, and the play tells how those secrets come back to haunt her, in the shape of a former suitor, a sailor she gave her heart to years before. When he suddenly shows up, Ellida freaks out, and is more than a little tempted to elope with him.

This play contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Premise of the play. When the sailor didn`t show up for years, Ellida went off and married the more earth bound Doctor Wangel. And then the sailor returned.
  • A Fate Worse Than Death: When the Sailor is threatened with jail for the murder he commited, he immidiately produces a gun, ready to kill himself.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Ellida, Ellida... The Sailor is mysterious, exciting, new, and did we mention that he killed someone?
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: The Sailor proposed to Ellida, and she hardly resisted at all when he pressed the issue. And then he left for good.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Hilde Wangel, being the youngest of the Wangel girls. Also a Spoiled Brat.
  • Ascended Extra: Hilde Wangel went on to The Master Builder, where she had a fatal influence on the main character. The Master Builder seems to be somewhat of a Spiritual Sequel to The Lady from the Sea.
  • Author Avatar: Implied to be Lyngstrand. He is the one who relates the plot to Ellida, and thinks of making the story into a work of art. At an important turn of events, we see him Leaning on the Fourth Wall, as if he knew in advance what was coming.
    • In a rather ironic twist, he also relates the plot to Hilde, who is perceived to be his audience. And then she shows up later in another play to make things ... interesting for the main characters, once again interacting with a creator of some sorts.
  • Back from the Dead: That`s what Ellida initially thinks when the Sailor returns. He is presumed to have been lost at sea, and then shows up anyway. Whether or not he is actually alive, seems to be a moot point.
  • Berserk Button: Dr Wangel really doesn`t take it well when the Sailor is on familiar terms with Ellida from their first meeting in-play. He calls her by her first name, completely ignoring her status. That is not to the Doctor`s liking.
  • Blithe Spirit: The Sailor is a male variety of the trope. He stirs things up, quite rightly. He is also seemingly above the social rules.
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  • Chekhov's Gunman: Lyngstrand, who had shipped with the Sailor, tells Ellida of his encounter with him, and how he reacted when he read about Ellida`s marriage.
  • Courtly Love: The school teacher to Bolette. She complies to it.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Lyngstrand, artist and former sailor, suitor of Hilde.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: The play opens with the girls decorating for their mother`s birthday. Unfortunately, their mother is dead. Some characters, Lyngstrand especially, misinterpret the preparations to be on behalf of Ellida, who is chagrined by the effort. But she accepts the flowers.
  • The Drifter: The Sailor has some shades. He is a stranger, coming quietly into town, carrying a gun, and he is clearly on the run for a crime in the past. He is not evil, only determined, and is only interested in keeping his freedom.
  • Fiery Redhead: The Sailor, described as a man with "bushy red hair and beard".
    • Hilde is portrayed this way in at least one TV production, as an opposite to Bolette, who is blonde.
  • The Final Temptation: The last encounter between Ellida and the Sailor. She is quite close to invoke the trope literally. But in the end, she resists.
  • Fish out of Water: Ellida Wangel is certainly portrayed that way. Her background as the daugther of a lighthouse keeper is underlined, as is the location of her home, far inland at the bottom of a fjord. The title of the play also makes a point in this, almost making the trope literal.
    • The Sailor also fits the trope. As he is a Sailor, he doesn`t stay on land for long anyway...
  • Foil: Bolette to Hilde.
  • Freedom from Choice: Ellida seems to have been drifting into everything: The Sailor proposed to her, and she complied. Later, dr Wangel came along, and she complied yet again, making things extremely messy when her first suitor returned. Much of the play relates her agony when she eventually has to make a choice, and how that eventually gives her a new feeling of resolve and unity.
  • Having a Gay Old Time: Lyngstrand resides at the local midwife`s house. Hilde finds it ridiculous and giggles, while Bolette chides her for rude behaviour. Since when was "midwife" a naughty word? Somebody in 1888 may have thought so.
  • Heel Realization: When the Sailor threatens to take his own life, Ellida panics. Dr Wangel makes a Heel Realization and is willing to give her up to him, because she cares for him. When that happens, Ellida makes a similar realization, and decides to stay with her husband. The gun apparently did the trick for all three of them.
  • I Choose to Stay: Ellida chooses to stay with her husband.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Implied with the murder of the captain. The reason is never revealed, but Real Life sailors in 19th century Norway lived under terrible conditions, and Ibsen may have commented on this fact. A plausible reason why the Sailor refuses every attempt to arrest him. Understood this way, the Sailor is not a villain, but his captain may have harrassed him.
  • I Die Free: Invoked by the Sailor, on the mere mention of arrest. He also called himself "Freeman" the first time he met Ellida.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: The young artist Lyngstrand who tails Hilde. She leads him on, fully aware that his days are numbered.
  • The Ingenue: Bolette has some shades.
  • Intrinsic Vow: Ellida and the sailor gave their hearts to eachother and sealed it with throwing their rings into the sea at some point in her youth. Then he went away, and she presumed his ship had gone down with all hands. When he shows up anyway, she gets deeply disturbed.
  • Jack-of-All-Trades: Ballested, a dane living in the area, who seems to be at the center of everything. In turn, he is a painter, a director, a tourist guide, a dance teacher, a hair dresser, an actor, a decorator... and probably a Plucky Comic Relief.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Dr Wangel sets Ellida free by invoking this trope. It works out for him, because she decides to stay.
  • Kaleidoscope Eyes: The Sailor was said to have eyes which shifted like the colors of the sea. Even more disturbing when Ellida relates that her dead son had the same kind of eyes.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Arnholm, complimenting on Bolette, and changing the sentence when her father arrives: "that was really a pretty - two pretty girls..."
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Hilde and Lyngstrand comments on the dramatic developments in the life of Ellida as if they were watching a TV show:
    Hilde: For the faithless sailor`s wife - yes.
    Lyngstrand: Think of it, at midnight.
    Hilde: That will be exciting....
    • They seem to be commenting on scenes they were not actually present at. It is really a juxtaposition, as Lyngstrand relates a similar story to Hilde.
  • Love Triangle: Ellida, the Sailor, and dr Wangel. Also Ellida, dr Wangel and Arnholm. Or Ellida, Arnholm and the Sailor.
  • Male Gaze: Arnholm, the teacher, when he recognizes the Wangel girls.
  • May–December Romance: Bolette, in her early twenties, falls for her former teacher, at least ten years older than she is. And then there is Ellida, implied to be much younger than her husband the doctor.
  • Meaningful Name: Ellida is really the name of a legendary ship, underlining the heroine`s connection to the sea.
  • Mysterious Stranger: The Sailor. Although he is clearly described, he never actually reveals himself.
  • Missing Mom: The mother of Hilde and Bolette is dead. Ellida suffers for it, especially when Hilde chides her.
  • Nice Guy: Doctor Wangel. He really worries for Ellida, and gives her room to maneuvre. And eventually scores some points on it, as she stays with him.
  • The Nicknamer: Dr Wangel calls Ellida "the Mermaid" (almost a Title Drop in the original language, as a "mermaid" in Scandinavian languages is called a "sea-lady"/havfrue). This underlines her Fish out of Water position.
  • Noodle Incident: Why the Sailor killed the captain prior to the play (before the proposed to Ellida and then left) is never explained. Neither how he survived the shipwreck later.
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: Ellida plays it straight when she finally renounces the Sailor.
  • Property of Love: The Sailor argues that Ellida belongs to him, because of their Intrinsic Vow. Dr Wangel also argues that she is his wife in the same vein. Ellida on the other hand becomes even more disturbed when the two of them argue that way.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Ibsen based this story on the story of female author Camilla Collett, sister of Henrik Wergeland. The two of them had a number of talks and became friends over time. Her story was pretty similar: She fell in love with the dark and somewhat mysterious poet Welhaven, who actually didn`t stick to her, but she never got over him completely. Later, she married the rather sensible Jonas Collett, who adored her, and was a Nice Guy to a T. After her husband`s death, she reconciled with Welhaven, and later still, she related the whole thing to Ibsen. She did write her own version of the story - a book which is considered a breakthrough for feminist literature in Norway.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Hilde (red) and Bolette (blue).
  • Rich Boredom: It seems that Ellida has lost some of her purpose in life, and is bored out of her skull when the Sailor shows up. Hilde Wangel fits the trope as well, trying to find something to occupy her mind with, like a young, terminally ill artist who conveniently comes along.
    • While not exactly rich, country doctors in Norway belonged to the educated upper classes, and were well off. And a rural community could seem to be somewhat quiet...
  • Shadow Archetype: The Sailor, whose true name is never given (although he presents himself under different names). Ellida freaks out properly when he shows up. He is also a Moral Dissonance, said to have killed his captain.
  • Ship Sinking: The Sailor leaves without Ellida, and almost invokes the trope literally: "From now on, you are just another shipwreck in my life..."
    • To be fair, had this play spanned a TV series of several seasons, the fanbase would probably have shipped the Sailor and Ellida quite prominently...
  • Shout-Out: To some salt water ballads, like The House Carpenter, concerning a suitor returning from the "salt salt sea" to collect his bride.
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: The Sailor states that Ellida has to follow him on her own accord, and after her own will. It is also stated that he has some power over her. But the choice is hers. In the end, she states she is free, when she chose to stay.
  • Status Quo Is God: The play keeps up the status quo, with some insight for the main characters.
  • Stepford Smiler: Ellida at the beginning of the play.
  • Subverted Trope: The Wicked Stepmother. Poor Ellida. The trope is partly invoked by Hilde, but she is constantly called out on it by Bolette. To be fair, Ellida tries to be friends with her stepdaughters.
  • The Tease: Hilde Wangel, leading her suitor on, fully aware that nothing will ever come to be of it.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: The play contains a really long one from Ellida, covering most of it until the solution.
  • Tranquil Fury: Offstage. The Sailor got news that Ellida had married someone else, and silently ripped the newspaper into very tiny shreds. When Ellida hears of this, she is visibly shaken.
  • Tsundere: Hilde. Both towards Lyngstrand, and also towards Ellida. She chides Ellida from the start, but is visibly upset when she learns the possibility that Ellida might leave the household.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Arnholm towards Ellida. It turns out he was in love with her at some point. He was turned down because of the Sailor.

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