Henrik Ibsen


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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