Henrik Ibsen


Henrik Ibsen Essay, Research Paper

Henrik Ibsen was born at Skien in Norway on March 20, 1828. When he was

eight, his father went bankrupt. This event made a deep impression upon

him. After they went bankrupt, his family moved to a small farm north

of the town where they lived in poverty. Henrik was forced to attend a

small local school. He received a substandard education. In 1843, the

family returned to town. Unfortunately they were still poor. Ibsen came

from a very dysfunctional family. His domineering father was an

alcoholic who found solace in alcohol. His quiet mother found comfort

in religion. He used them as a model for his plays. The blend of an

overbearing husband and a submissive wife made appearances in his

plays Brand, A Doll’s House, and Ghosts. The bitter character of

Hjalmar Ekdal in The Wild Duck was based on Ibsen’s father. When he

was sixteen, he moved to Grimstad to work for a druggist. He had

wanted to become a doctor, but game up on the idea after he failed

Greek and Math on his! University entrance exams. Medicine was not his

only ambition. He also wanted to be a painter.

In 1850, Ibsen entered the first of his three writing periods. His

romantic period went from 1850 to 1873. The greatest works from this

period are the Brandand Peer Gynt Most of the plays that he wrote

during these years are romantic historical dramas. Lady Inger of

Ostraat was a romantic drama with intrigue. The Vikings of Helgeland

was a simple and sad tragedy. The last play of the Romantic period was

Emperor and

Galilean. It is similar to Ibsen’s other play Catiline because it

showed his impatience with traditional attitudes and values. In both

plays he showed sympathy for historical characters who were famous for

being rebellious.

Ibsen became the stage manager and playwright of the National Stage in

Bergen in 1851. He worked there for six years. In 1857, he moved to

Christiania (Oslo), where he became director of the Norwegian Theatre.

He neglected both writing and the theatre. He plunged into social life

with his literary friends and drank heavily. In 1858, Ibsen married

Suzannah Thoresen, with whom he had one child, Sigurd Ibsen. This was a

marriage that was often as misunderstood as the marriages of Ibsen’s

dramas. At the age of thirty, Ibsen saw his first performances of

Shakespeare in Copenhagen and Dresden. Shakespeare’s work convinced

Ibsen that serious drama must strive toward a psychological truth and

form its basis on the characters and conflicts of mankind. Ibsen and

his friend Bjrnstjerne Bjrnson founded “The Norwegian Company” in 1859.

After the Norwegian Theatre went bankrupt in 1862, Ibsen was depressed

and broke. As a result, he was sometimes seen drunk on the streets of


a. His success with The Pretenders in 1863 inspired him to write

several poems. Ibsen became bitterly disappointed with current

political events, especially Norway’s failure to help the Danes in

their war against Prussia. In 1864 he left Norway. After he left, he

spent most of his time in Rome, Dresden and Munich. He was supported by

a pension from the Norwegian state and income from his books. In 1866,

he had a significant breakthrough with his play Brand. In his speech to

Christiania students in 1874, Ibsen said, “All I have written, I have

mentally lived through. Partly I have written on that which only by

glimpses, and at my best moments, I have felt stirring vividly within

me as something great and beautiful. I have written on that which, so

to speak, has stood higher than my daily self. But I have also written

on the opposite, on that which to introspective contemplation appears

as the dregs and sediments of one’s own nature. Yes, gentlemen, nobody

can poetically present that to which he has not to a certain degree and

at least at times the model within himself.” In 1877, Ibsen entered his

second period of writing with his play Pillars of Society. Ibsen wrote

a series of plays dealing with social problems, such as A Doll’s House

and Ghosts. He also wrote a series of plays dealing with psychological

problems, such as The Lady from the Seas and Hedda Gabler. He wrote

eight plays during of this period and both originated and perfected the

problem play. The term “problem play” refers specifically to the type

of drama which Ibsen wrote beginning with Pillars of Society in 1877.

In these plays, the emphasis is on the presentation of a social or

psychological problem. These plays deal with contemporary life in

realistic settings. The symbolism that existed in Brand and Peer Gynt

is almost gone. Ibsen presents his themes or “problems” to the audience

with realistic characters and straightforward plots. In his plays,

Ibsen deals with the theme of individuals trying to find themselves in

the face of established conventions. Two examples of thi! s are Nora

in A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler. Ibsen also used a “retrospective”

approach in A Doll’s House and. The major events occur before the

curtain goes up. The plays concern the way the characters dealt with

these past events. The themes in A Doll’s House made Ibsen the enemy

of conservatives everywhere. The idea of a play that questioned a

woman’s place in society and suggesting that a woman’s self was more

important than her role as wife and mother, was unprecedented. The play

caused outrage in many government and church officials. Some people

felt that Ibsen was responsible for the rising divorce rate. Some

theaters in Germany refused to perform the play the way Ibsen had

written it. He was forced to write an alternate “happy” ending in which

Nora sees the error of her ways and doesn’t leave. The play became

popular in Europe despite its harsh criticism. It was translated into

many languages and performed worldwide. The controversy surrounding his

play made Ibsen! famous. Hedda Gabler was another experiment for

Ibsen. Instead of presenting a social problem, he presented a

psychological portrait of a fascinating and self-destructive woman.

After a twenty-seven-year self-imposed exile, Ibsen returned to Norway

in 1891. In October 1893, Ibsen’s wife Suzannah, returned to Italy due

to a recurring problem with gout. While she was gone, Ibsen found a

young lady companion. She was a pianist named Hildur Andersen. Hildur

became a constant companion on visits to theatres, lectures, and

galleries. He later gave her a diamond ring as a symbol of their union.

He wrote to her after his wife returned home from Italy. Ibsen and his

wife had marital problems after she returned. He discussed his marriage

with an old friend Elise Auber. According to Halvdan Koht, “[Ibsen] was

clearly disturbed about his own marriage and spoke to Mrs. Auber about

it. He had many conflicts with his wife at this time, and on occasion

his anger was so extreme that he threatened to leave her. These

outbursts were only momentary, and he knew that they would never


Ibsen’s third period of work started after he returned to Norway. It

was referred to as the Symbolist Period. The plays in this period

contain elements of defeat. The Master Builder deals with an aging

architect who succumbs to defeat. John Gabriel Borkman is about a man

who sacrifices his love to become rich. Ironically, the title of

Ibsen’s last play was When We Dead Awaken. In 1900, Ibsen suffered a

stroke. He never completely recovered from his stroke and was an

invalid for the rest of his life. Despite his medical setback, he was a

fighter until the end. When he was coming out of a coma in 1906, the

nurse commented that he appeared slightly better. Ibsen replied “On the

contrary!” Sadly, he died a few days later.

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