Norwegian dramatist and poet. His realistic and often controversial plays revolutionized European theatre. Driven into voluntary exile (1864–91) by opposition to the satirical Kjærlighedens komedie/Love's Comedy (1862), he wrote the symbolic verse dramas Brand (1866) and Peer Gynt (1867), followed by realistic plays dealing with social issues, including Samfundets støtter/Pillars of Society (1877), Et dukkehjem/A Doll's House (1879), Gengangere/Ghosts (1881), En folkefiende/An Enemy of the People (1882), and Hedda Gabler (1890). By the time he returned to Norway, he was recognized as the country's greatest living writer.
In his ‘social problem’ plays, Ibsen went beyond simply dealing with contemporary social issues and attitudes. He returned persistently to themes that had preoccupied him in Brand and Peer Gynt: the gulf between the ideal and the actual; the struggle to achieve personal integrity and fulfil one's vocation; the influence of the past and its ‘inheritance of sin’ on individuals and society generally. Nor did he reject symbolism, though he used it with great subtlety in the works written abroad, so that it did not jar with his naturalistic portrayal of contemporary life. After his return to Norway in 1891, he made a more overt use of symbolism to dramatize the confrontation of tortured and aspiring souls with their ultimate destinies, in the plays Bygmester Solness/The Master Builder (1892), Lille Eyolf/Little Eyolf (1894), John Gabriel Borkman (1896), and Naar vi døde vaagner/When We Dead Awaken (1899). His influence on European and American theatre in the 20th century has been profound.
Ibsen was born in Skien, southern Norway. After the failure of his father's business, he became an apothecary's assistant. The unhappiness and frustration of his early years influenced him for the rest of his life, as did his hatred of the narrow puritanism and hypocrisy of Norwegian provincial middle-class life. His first play, Catilina (1850), was a romantic melodrama inspired by current revolutionary politics and his reading of Latin literature for the entrance examinations at Christiania (Oslo) University. He never went to the university, however, becoming in 1851 dramaturg (resident dramatist) at Ole Bull's Theatre in Bergen and in 1857 director at the Norske Theater (Norwegian Theatre) in Christiania. After leaving Norway, except for a few brief visits back to his homeland, he lived in Italy and Germany.
Before his self-imposed exile, Ibsen wrote a number of romantic historical dramas in verse, including Fru Inger til Østeraad/Lady Inger of Østeraad (1855), Gildet paa Solhaug/The Feast at Solhaug (1856), and Hærmændene paa Helgeland/The Vikings at Helgeland (1858), as well as the bitter Love's Comedy. In these plays he was still under the influence of the popular romantic drama. It was not till the publication of the poetic tragedy Brand that he won widespread notice, and received royalties and a state pension which gave him some financial independence. His next play, Peer Gynt, is a comic fantasy about a dreamer who, in his efforts to live entirely self-sufficiently, discovers that he has never really lived according to his true self.
De unges forbund/The League of Youth 1869 and Kejser og galilæer/Emperor and Galilean (1873) preceded Pillars of Society, the first of the plays about contemporary Norwegian bourgeois life which established Ibsen's international reputation and changed the course of European dramatic history. These are A Doll's House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, Vildanden/The Wild Duck (1884), Rosmersholm (1886), Fruen fra Havet/The Lady from the Sea (1888), and Hedda Gabler.
Ibsen, Henrik (Johan)
Wild Duck, The
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