History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Scandinavian Realist
The largest figure-head of 19th century Scandinavian theatre belongs to Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), whose major plays include "Et Dukkehjem" (A doll's house, 1879), "Gengangere" (Ghosts, 1881), "En Folkefiende" (An enemy of the people, 1882), "Vildanden" (The wild duck, 1884), "Rosmersholm" (1886), and "Hedda Gabler" (1890).
Ibsen uses the method of piecemeal revelation where details from the past are added gradually; these details of the past have an effect on the current action, so that the momentum of the play moves forward. Other dramatists reveal too much all at once and while details of the past reveal character, they have no impact on the current action, so that the momentum of the play is blocked.
Lewisohn (1916) quoted Ibsen in a letter written in 1870: "The principal thing is that one remain veracious and faithful in one's relation to oneself. The great thing is not to will one thing rather than another, but to will that which one is absolutely impelled to will, because one is oneself and cannot do otherwise. Anything else will drag us into deception." "It was against such deception that Ibsen's cold and analytic wrath was turned to the end of his career- deception that was fostered, in Bjornson's words 'in small souls amid small circumstances who develop wretchedly and monotonously like turnips in a bed'. By 1870, then, Ibsen's impulse of protest against Norwegian society had crystallised into a doctrine of extraordinary power and import: 'The great thing is not to will one thing rather than another.' In these simple words he shifts the whole basis of human conduct, denies the supremacy of any ethical criterion, social or religious, sweeps aside the conception of absolute guilt and hence undermines the foundations of the historic drama in its views of man. From this negative pronouncement he proceeds at once to the positive. The great thing is 'to will that which one is absolutely impelled to will, because one is oneself and cannot do otherwise. Anything else will drag us into deception.' It is to be observed that Ibsen, who began as a romantic writer, does not greatly stress, theoretically or creatively, the positivistic limitations of the human will. He desires that will to act in utter freedom, guided by no law but that of its own nature, having no aim but complete sincerity in its effort after self-realisation. This doctrine which, embodied in play after play, stirred and cleansed the spiritual atmosphere of Europe, is not as anarchic as it may superficially appear. For Ibsen desires the purest and most ideal volitions of the individual to prevail. His great and grave warning is not to let these volitions be smothered or turned awry by material aims, by base prudence, by sentimental altruism, or by social conventions external to the purely willing soul. For every such concession leads to untruth which is the death both of the individual and of society. It follows almost inevitably— for Ibsen was nothing if not tenacious and single of purpose— that his plays are a series of culminations, tragic culminations of the effects of untruth born of some impure or materialised or basely intimidated will. And it is almost equally inevitable that this perversion of the will is often illustrated through the relation of the sexes in which law and custom, prejudice and social pressure, have most tragically wrenched the impulses of the free individual. Thus Ibsen, adhering with iron consistency to his central belief, inaugurates all the basic problems and moral protests of the modern drama" (Lewisohn, 1915 p 10-12).
"Until Ibsen had freed himself from the influence of the French school, he continued to employ the purely synthetic treatment, in which the action develops itself before the audience...The method is employed even in one of the later dramas, An Enemy of the People, a singular circumstance which may be explained by the fact that it was a polemic piece, a play of external action...A blending, a harmonization of the two methods is employed in The Pillars of Society, A Doll's House, The Lady from the Sea, Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder, Little Eyolf, and When We Dead Awaken; the past and the present play nearly equal parts in conditioning and controlling the outcome. But in Ghosts, Rosmersholm, The Wild Duck, and John Gabriel Borkman, all the fundamental facts have already transpired before the opening of the play and those episodes which appear before us are the necessary consequences of the earlier events. These dramas of explication, sometimes entitled the drama of the ripened situation, are masterpieces in the peculiar technic which Ibsen perfected: the unveiling, during the course of the dramatic development, of the entire soul-histories of the characters through their mutual confessions; and the disclosure by this means of the entire fabric of the past as the determining and omnipotent force" (Henderson, 1914 pp 76-77). Even better, when the past is disclosed, the drama still moves forward, unlike the method used by most dramatists when explaining the past leads to a halt in dramatic progression. “Is the implication that the playwright believes that a democratic society necessarily flourishes only amidst corruption, that the majority must always be wrong?...Corruption kept under cover ultimately rises to the surface…But the lesson must be taught with patience, with humility, with understanding, and detachment, qualities Dr Stockmann- unfortunately for the community he wished to serve, unfortunately himself- did not possess” (Goldstone, 1969 pp 20-21).
"It is Nora as an individual cheated of her true rights that the dramatist depicts, for her marriage, as she discovers in the crisis, has been merely material and not that spiritual tie Ibsen insists upon as the only happy one in this relation. So she goes away to find herself, and her going was the signal for almost a social war in Europe...that slammed door reverberated across the roof of the world" (Huneker, 1905 p 65). Matthews (1907) remarked that "character is never made over in the twinkling of an eye; and this is why the end of the 'A doll's house' seems unconvincing. Nora, the morally irresponsible, is suddenly endowed with clearness of vision and directness of speech. The squirrel who munches macaroons, the song-bird who is happy in her cage, all at once becomes a raging lioness. And this is not so much an awakening or a revelation, as it is a transformation; and the Nora of the final scenes of the final act is not the Nora of the beginning of the play. The swift unexpectedness of this substitution is theatrically effective, no doubt; but we may doubt if it is dramatically sound. Ibsen has rooted Nora's fascination, felt by every spectator, in her essential femininity, only at the end to send her forth from her home, because she seemed to be deficient in the most permanent and most overpowering of woman's characteristics— the maternal instinct. It may be that she did right in leaving her children; it may even be that she would have left them; but up to the moment when she declared her intention to go, nothing in the play has prepared the spectator for this strange move. Ibsen has failed to make us feel when the unexpected happened that this, however unforeseen, was exactly what we ought to have expected" (pp 257-258). Brustein (1964) likewise faulted “A doll’s house” for its unconvincing ending. However, one can argue that the matter of leaving her children is indeed prepared. As Chandler (1914) pointed out, when Tolvald discovers Nora's crime, "instead of allowing for her inexperience and pure motive, he reproaches her for having disgraced his name. She is not fit, he declares, to bring up their children. For the first time, she perceives that their marriage has been unreal and a lie, an impression that is strengthened when Helmer, as soon as the danger of publicity in the matter is past, forgives her magnanimously and seeks to reestablish their relations upon the old footing. But Nora is no longer the unthinking plaything of her husband. She must leave him and leave her children also; she must go forth alone and learn to be herself before she can expect to take intelligent part in any situation in life" (p 17-18). “It is a mark of Ibsen's human insight, as well as of his artistic detachment, that, in Nora, he reveals the New Woman still deeply rooted in the old Eve. She still employs all the arts of cajolery, of waywardness, of personal fascination for securing her own ends...From the tragic spectacle of Dr Rank, Nora first grasps the principle of hereditary responsibility; and her spiritual development springs from the fixed conviction that she can become responsible for the welfare of her children only by gaining responsibility for herself and acquiring knowledge of society through contact with the great world. Environment, the treatment she has received from her father and her husband, has cultivated in her all the weaker and none of the stronger elements of her nature” (Henderson, 1913 pp 123-124). “Undeniably, the one unitary theme of the play is the need to leave sheltered lives which keep them in ignorance and dependency. Yet little of this has as much cogency as the shattering of Nora’s romantic expectation that, rushing to her defense when she is accused of a promissory note, her husband would prove a Launcelot in mufti by claiming her guilt as his” (Gassner, 1968 p 214). “Torvald’s very diction is that of someone for whom existence is organized into categories and whose feelings are shaped according to received ideas of fitness and acceptability” (Gilman, 1999 p 65)."The final scene between Nora and Torvald is not so much a discussion as a declaration...Torvald attempts to dissuade Nora, but his objections do not seem to be made in any substantial personal way. There is a conflict between Torvald's absolute values versus Nora's relative values. Nora underlines the importance of personal experience in forming opinions. When asked about the value of religion, she mentions of their pastor: 'I will see whether what he taught me is right, or, at any rate, whether it is right for me'" (Williams, 1965 pp 67-68). The critical element in "A doll's house" is that "Helmer's rage over Nora's crime subsides the moment the danger of publicity is averted— proving that Helmer, like many a moralist, is not so much incensed at Nora's offense as by the fear of being found out. Not so Nora. Finding out is her salvation. It is then that she realizes how much she has been wronged, that she is only a plaything, a doll to Helmer" (Goldman, 1914 p 23). "Helmer can't bear to see dress-making; he suggests embroidery, which is pretty, in place of knitting, which is ugly and 'Chinese'. He notices the red flowers on the Christmas tree...He looks upon Rank's sufferings as a cloudy background to the sunshine of his own happiness, whilst Rank will not have him in his sickroom, [because] ‘Helmer's delicate nature shrinks so from all that is horrible'. The scene after the dance is one of the most searching things on the stage. Helmer is drunk, or at least, he has had a good deal of champagne, and the whole scene seems intended to show that Nora was never a wife, never more than a legaHsed mistress. Helmer has not the brains to realise this when he is sober, and he masks his unsuspected self with all the egregious cant about sheltering wings that Mr Shaw gave us again in Morell. On this interpretation Helmer is quite convincing, and his rage at discovering his mistress-wife more fool than knave is perfectly reasonable” (Agate, 1922 pp 89-90). Brustein (1964) was also critical of the play's “Scribean machinery” of “incriminating letters rattling around the mailbox”. However, this amounts to denying chance occurrences in everyday life. “For Shaw, the modern drama actually began when Nora compelled her husband to sit down and discuss their marriage...when...the dramatic form...began to be altered…by analysis” (Gassner, 1956 p 41).
Agate (1947) cited Clement Scott, reviewer in The Daily Telegraph March 14, 1991 of "Ghosts": 'Realism is one thing, but the nostrils of an audience must not be visibly held before a play can be stamped as true to nature. It is difficult to expose indecorous words—the gross, and almost putrid, indecorum of this play of Ghosts. Suffice it to indicate that the central situation is that of a son exposing to a mother—herself, in past days, a would-be adulteress— his inheritance of a loathsome malady from a father whose memory the widow secretly execrates while she publicly honours and consecrates it' (p 38). In “Ghosts”, "Ibsen gives his terrible answer to the question: ‘Do the children really benefit by the mother's surrender in living a lie in marriage?' The conditions of Nora Helmer and Helen Alving are by no means identical; nor were any such disastrous consequences prophesied for the children of the morally upright Helmer as fell to the lot of the son of the dissolute Chamberlain Alving. Nor is it at all clear that Helen Alving was acting with poise and entire sanity in throwing herself at the head of Pastor Manders. But it is perfectly clear that Helen Alving, by remaining in the hideous bonds of a bargain-and-sale marriage forced upon her by the pressure of her mother, her two aunts and her minister, committed a great wrong” (Henderson, 1913 p 125). Matthews (1907) described the play as "that drastic tragedy of a house built on the quicksands of falsehood, that appalling modern play with the overwhelming austerity of an ancient tragic drama, that extraordinarily compact and moving piece, in which the Norwegian playwright accomplished his avowed purpose of evoking 'the sensation of having lived through a passage of actual life'. A few years only before Ibsen brought forth his 'Ghosts', Lowell had asserted 'that Fate which the Greeks made to operate from without, we recognize at work within, in some vice of character or hereditary disposition' and Greek this play of Ibsen's is in its massive simplicity, in the economy of its bare structure with five characters only, with no change of scene, with no lapse of time, and with an action that rolls forward irresistibly with inevitable inexorability" (pp 258-259). Brustein (1964) remarked that “by pouring Captain Alving’s fortune into this building, Mrs Alving hopes to satisfy opinion, ease her guilty conscience, hide her husband’s past, throw off the Alving inheritance, and preserve Oswald’s pure memories of his father, but it is too much for that delicate structure to bear.” Instead of being an extension of herself, Oswald has become an extension of his father...Like Oedipus, she has discovered that the past is unredeemable” (p 69). The social significance of the play was underlined by Goldman (1914). "Not only does this pioneer of modern dramatic art undermine in 'Ghosts' the Social Lie and the paralyzing effect of Duty, but the uselessness and evil of Sacrifice, the dreary Lack of Joy and of Purpose in Work are brought to light as most pernicious and destructive elements in life" (p 25). ”There was almost as much contrivance in Ghosts as to the well-made play of intrigue and emotional feeling that Shaw the critic scorned so heartily that he dismissed their technique….as ‘sardoodledom’. The sole difference was that…Ibsen contrived dramatic events in order to invalidate, rather than support, convention, and in order to achieve irony rather than heroics or sentiment” (Gassner, 1968 p 104).
In "An enemy of the people", critics tend to focus on the comedic aspect of the play, even considering it as "highly amusing", and Dr Stockmann’s character as “boyishly lovable” (Wilson, 1937 p 165) or a "Don Quixote in a frock-coat" (Gassner, 1954a p 373), without directly taking on his rhetoric, or else considering the people’s reaction as a mere manifestation of “obvious shortcomings in a society that has made a rather paltry fetish of the concept of majority rule” (Gustafson, 1947 p 13). Not only offended at Dr Stockmann’s anti-democratic sentiments, some criticize him in that he diagnoses the problem but fails to cure it without specifying what he should have done (Shepard-Barr, 2006, p 157). Goldman (1914) remarked on the character of Hovstad that "editors of the stamp of Hovstad seldom dare to express their real opinions. They cannot afford to 'scare away' their readers. They generally yield to the most ignorant and vulgar public opinion; they do not set themselves up against constituted authority. Therefore the People's Messenger drops the 'greatest man' in town when it learns that the [mayor] and the influential citizens are determined that the truth shall be silenced" (p 38).
According to Huneker (1905), "The wild duck" "has several drawbacks, the chief being the confusing mixture of satire and tragedy; the satire almost oversteps the limitations of satire, the tragic emphasis seems to be placed at the wrong spot" (p 80), but these figure as the most appealing traits in late 20th century post-modern criticism where the comic and tragic intermingle. Among its dramatic characters, Roberts (1912) pointed out that Gregers Werle "is a man who generalizes immediately...He has no notion of things in concrete at all; he deals solely with abstract virtues and vices, and so blunders immediately in his relations with human beings" (p 130). “Gregers Werle is the classic embodiment of the misguided reformer. Hjalmar Ekdal is Ibsen's most striking embodiment of the pitiable moral bankrupt, self-deceiving, self-deceived- grotesquely failing to live up to standards inconsiderately applied from without. He is the tragic figure of the average sensual man, betrayed by ideals he has not really made his own- feeding upon his illusions, those illusions by which his very peace of mind, his happiness, are conditioned. Gina Ekdal, without any ideals save the eminently materialistic, eminently prosaic desire to preserve the comfortable status quo, is irresistibly natural and likable- perhaps because she is so utterly of the earth earthy. The gentle Hedwig, tender, appealing, young enough to make a hero of her selfish father, too young to detect his glaring faults, is Ibsen's most poetic feminine figure” (Henderson, 1913 pp 134-135). Many critics have pointed out that the “claim of the ideal” advocated by Gregers Werle is presented to the wrong man, the “egotistical sentimentalist” Hjalmar Ekdal (Gustafson, 1947 p 15). Some critics hammer more into Hjalmar than his friend. Hjalmar “has been compared with Micawber and also with Harold Skimpole of Bleak House for his fluttering artist’s bow and his naive egoism…the life lie by which he exists is that he is an exceptional person, and his real talent is for dramatizing his own existence. A trifle is enough to cast him down from the heights of bliss to the depths of sorrow, but throughout he maintains his expansive gestures and his complacency” (Lamm, 1952 pp 124-125). "After presenting himself to Gregers Werle as the devoted son who sacrifices all his energies into brightening the last days of his ‘poor, white-haired father’, a few minutes later he disowns his father to Werle’s evening guests because he is ashamed of him. Whilst Hjalmar cannot find enough words to express his love for and care of Hedvig, he forgets to bring her something from the evening out which he greatly enjoyed. The man who, according to his own statement, is ‘crushed’ by fear for Hedvig’s sight, is glad to allow her to retouch the photographs so that he can be free of a tedious job. The appearance of a devoted son and loving father which Hjalmar creates around himself in great detail stands in opposition to his actions as a cowardly, lazy and amoral egotist" (Fischer-Lichte, 2002 p 249). Some critics have even less sympathy with secondary characters. One can “empathize [more] with the deeply flawed Hjalmar Ekdal than the insightful Dr Relling who can see what is wrong with people and with society but has no power to change or heal them” (Shepherd-Barr, 2006, p 158). “Seeing that his friend and neighbor, Molvik, is a guilt-ridden alcoholic, Relling, a physician, does nothing to alleviate his condition, but encourages it instead by convincing Molvik that he is not responsible for his actions and need feel no guilt because he is a ‘diabolic’. Seeing that Hjalmar is a self-indulgent and conceited simpleton who thinks photography is beneath him, Relling encourages him to believe that he will reform the profession with a great invention” (Wellwarth, 1986 p 91). "The detestable Hialmar, in whom, by the looking-glass of a disordered liver, any man may see a picture of himself; the pitiable Gregers Werle, perpetually thirteenth at table, with his genius for making an utter mess of other people's lives; the vulgar Gina ; the beautiful girlish figure of the little martyred Hedvig- all are wholly real and living persons" (Gosse, 1907 p 174). As for the symbolized figure of the wild duck itself, Williams (1965) wrote "that the wild duck is an explicit figure for broken and frustrated lives" (p 76). It can be said to correspond more obviously to Hedvig, but also, in Hjalmar’s view, to Gina or the elder Ekdal. Chandler (1914) asked: "What is the moral of this seemingly cynical play? Is it a satire upon the claim of the ideal? It is rather a warning against obedience to any formula, a plea for subjectivism, for the right, nay the necessity, of individual judgment? More than that, it demonstrates the impossibility of imposing an ideal upon others from without"(p 24).
Davenport (1989) underlined resemblances between “Rosmersholm” and Zola’s “Thérèse Raquin” (1873). “In Raquin, Thérèse is married to the semi-invalid Camille when she falls in love with his close friend, Laurent- under the watchful eyes of Camille's mother- and becomes his mistress. The outsider, Laurent, conceives of a way to kill Camille who 'accidentally' drowns...In Rosmersholm...Rosmer was married to the semi-invalid Beata when Beata's close friend, Rebecca West, fell in love with him under the hovering attentiveness of his housekeeper, Madam Helseth. The 'third wheel', Rebecca, devised a plan to rid herself and Rosmer of Beata, telling Beata that she (Rebecca) was Rosmer's mistress and was pregnant with his child, driving Beata to drown herself...In both works, the surviving female completely loses all passion for the man she is now ‘free’ to marry and is horrified, even sickened at the mere suggestion of a possible marriage with the surviving male” (p 196). In “Rosmersholm”, tragedy occurs when people’s wills are unequal to their vision (Gustafson, 1947 pp 15-16). Rosmer is a victim of his "tender-minded conscience which, even in an atmosphere of pure scepticism, looks back to the revengeful standards of an Old Testament God...He has not made the thoughts and ideas of the new time his own; they have laid their hold on him, less by virtue of their own inherent logic and efficacy, than by reason of the influence of Rebekka West's artful insinuations...Rebekka West is Ibsen's most intense female figure- alike in the clarity of her vision, the scope of her purpose, and the development of her character. She stands under the curse of the past- the past which the white horse of Rosmersholm mysteriously symbolizes. She scornfully holds herself superior to the obligations of conscience; and even in the end, we feel that her spirit, not her conviction, is broken. She wields every weapon of intrigue, artifice and cunning to accomplish her purpose, all under the specious guise of a champion of freedom- the freedom of truth; and yet, at last, she goes to her doom because she feels that such freedom can only be attained by one whose soul is pure” (Henderson, 1913 pp 138-140). In contrast to Johannes Rosmer, “a man of mellow culture and genuine refinement”, Rebecca possesses a “wild instinctive pagan strength” shown by her ability to help him break with a conservative outlook. But her strength of will falls short of convincing her employer to adopt a liberal outlook after he discovers her involvement in his wife’s death. As a rational creature, he is set back by her seemingly irrational hypnotic-like powers. Some critics judge Rosmer as a "repulsively will-less character" (Roberts, 1912, p 142), worse than Rebecca's character guided by love, since many readers prefer the person who loves than the person who is loved. "Rosmer has changed Rebecca. Her frantic passion for him had, under his influence, changed into love, bringing with it a new sense of values. She asserts this with all the energy of a woman ready to die to convince him of it. And it was true. We have watched on the stage altruism and delicacy of feeling begin to have a meaning for her. We have seen her change; seen her reject her adored one because the words in which he urges her to take him prove it cannot be a marriage of true minds. We have heard her confess to him, in the presence of her bitter enemy, his brother-in-law; a confession which leaves not a rag to cover her hideousness in her lover’s eyes, in which she takes on herself the whole responsibility for Beata’s death, in order to enable him to live henceforth with self-respect, as himself— not the man she once hoped to make him, but as himself, with all his inborn moral scruples and aspirations. It is true, he had changed her. She has become an 'idealist', and presently she will die to prove it" (MacCarthy, 1940 p 97). “The play’s primal theme is the one which always took first place in Ibsenite denunciation- the imposition of ideals upon other people. This is split up into two subsidiary themes- the superstition of expiation by sacrifice, and that attitude towards life which may possibly mean purification, but certainly kills joy. These two themes come together again in Ulrik Brendel’s last-act pronouncement: ‘All the wisdom of the world consists in being capable of living one’s life without ideals.’ Then add all those minor themes which make up the texture of this play— the connivance of Rosmer’s world at what it believed to be his secret sins because of the damage resulting to the Party from an injury to the figure-head, the silence of the Opposition because it hoped to bring Rosmer over, the storm of personal rancour which was raised by Rosmer’s defection in the abstract matters of religion and politics. Properly speaking, these are incidents, but their significance raises them to the dignity of themes. Add again the great figure of Rebecca. Rebecca begins as a mere adventuress, who is shaken first by the new breeze of feminine emancipation, and second by the old wind of sexual passion, both of which die down to give place to the settled calm of the higher love. This is the point which so much perplexed the critics of the early performances of this play. They did not deny the possibility of spiritual love which, nevertheless, they knew better when it was called settled affection. They did not, for example, boggle at Beata’s possession of that quality; what they found difficult to swallow was the subjugation by Rebecca of her all-conquering egotism” (Agate, 1947 pp 68-69). In regard to the double suicide, "Rosmer has certainly not planned to make any such proposal to Rebecca. Earlier in the scene he says that he has provided for her future; evidently he expects her to survive him. Second, even before making his proposal he is thinking of his own death...Third, the proposal as Rosmer first makes it is purely hypothetical. He has learned such a distrust of himself and of her that only the most desperate action can bring him around. Moreover, and this is highly important, Rosmer is really convinced that Rebecca could not logically do such a thing; it is the one thing that the 'emancipated' perfectly rational view of life would rule out. As he states the case to her, then, he is not so much making a serious suggestion as thinking aloud, commenting on his own desperation: it is impossible for me to regain confidence; I am at an impasse; your view of life makes impossible the one thing- an act like Beata's- that could restore my confidence in you. When he says: 'Never. You are not Beata. You are not under the dominion of a distorted view of life,' he is not taunting her with lack of character; he simply sees her as belonging to a different school of thought from Beata" (Brooks and Hellman, 1945 p 310). "Rosmer demands atonement from Rebecca, and although he is about to commit suicide himself, he separates for a moment his own case from Rebecca's, because he is not certain that Rebecca's expiation will actually take place. After the revelation of her past a total sacrifice appears to be doubtful to him. When he feels reassured, he unites the two lives again and follows Rebecca into death...Ulrik Brendel had his thoughts and ideals, but the trolls were too strong for him. These trolls were his own property, and he was careless with them, permitting them to gnaw away on his talents. He enters Rosmersholm as a pauper and asks for some clothes and a little money. He is just about 'to take hold of life with a strong hand', to step forth, to assert himself. He is about to lay his mite on the altar of Emancipation. His golden dreams and far-reaching thoughts he had bodied forth in poems, visions, pictures, but he never wrote anything down. Ulrik Brendel is the genius who allows his visions to be drowned by the troll of drink. When he makes his final appearance poorer and more desolate than before, he is not in need of clothes or money any longer...Brendel enters his last scene with an attitude of almost unbearable self-knowledge" (Reichardt, 1974 pp 135-141). "Kroll is a sturdy schoolmaster, an orthodox Conservative, settled in his conviction that the world was made for good churchmen with fat purses— by no means a ludicrous or a despicable character. As drawn by Ibsen, his is a massive personality,— sane, worldly-wise, a man who hates the things of the spirit just as he hates radicalism. But he doesn't know this. And it is the irony of his fate that he utters those smug phrases dedicated by usage to mat- ters spiritual, while he walks in the way of the flesh. A tower of strength, Kroll is more than the match for such a dreamer as Johannes Rosmer...The protagonist of Rosmersholm is Beata. She is seldom long absent from each of the four acts. She peers over the edges of the dialogue, and in every pause one feels her unseen presence. An appalling figure this drowned wife, with her staring, fish-like eyes! She revenges herself on the living in the haunted brain of her wretched husband, and she exasperates Rebekka, slowly wearing away her op- position until the doleful catastrophe. There is something both Greek and Gothic in this spectral fury, this disquieting Ligeia of the mill-dam" (Huneker, 1905 pp 86-92).
Williams (1965) quoted a letter by Ibsen, mentioning that "the title of the play is 'Hedda Gabler'. My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda, as a personality, is to be regarded rather as her father's daughter than as her husband's wife' (p 82). Clark (1915b) remarked that the play "is one of the finest examples of dramatic technique in existence. As a study in construction it repays many readings and much careful application. The play deals with the character of a woman out of harmony with her surroundings. All the skill of the dramatist is brought to bear upon a complete revelation of her past life, her thoughts, and the resultant acts. Everything in the play contributes to the psychological portrait of Hedda Gabler. The exposition is so deftly contrived that every word counts; in fact, the words 'I don't believe they are stirring' arouse curiosity, give some past history, and afford some indication as to the character of the speaker. The first two pages are so full of meaning that the reader— and certainly the auditor— must pay the strictest attention, or else lose important information. Up to George's entrance, we learn enough about him so that no time need be lost learning his further characteristics from himself. The presence of George varies the scene a little, and by the time the audience has seen him, it is ready for more information. Judge Brack is mentioned, then a little further action is introduced; farther on there is more exposition— telling us of the relations between Hedda and Miss Tesman. Little by little the details are piled up, until we know nearly all that is needful for a full comprehension of the remainder of the play.— Then Hedda makes her appearance” (pp 34-35). The Hedda Gabler character has been the subject of disparate viewpoints. The view of MacCarthy (1907) was entirely negative. "The whole of life appears to her mean and wretched, child-bearing a particularly odious humiliation, love a fraud, and even an illicit intrigue too 'banal' to have any attraction. She prides herself on her boredom, lassitude and disgust, taking them for signs of an aristocratic spirit, which the experiences of vulgar souls can never satisfy. Living in a permanent condition of sulky conceit, her only pleasure is in swaggering; and since her circumstances are too narrow for display, she falls back on inflicting petty humiliations on those in her power, like her aunt Nora. It follows from this sullen arrogance that the one thing she cannot bear the thought of is humiliation; hence her dread of scandal, of being mixed up in anything shameful and sordid, like Lovborg's death; hence the power of Judge Brack's threat to involve her in it; hence her preference for suicide to remaining at his mercy; hence, too, the explanation of her never having yielded to an attraction for Lovborg or for any other man. Her ruling passion prevents her ever giving herself away. She could only marry a man she despised. This stupid, sullen conceit is like a wall dividing her from life; she cannot throw herself into anything without dispelling her cherished illusion of superiority; since is only safe in acting upon others from a superior height. She is envious and loves power; she therefore drags Lovborg down out of a kind of cold malignity, warmed by a little jealousy of Mrs Elvsted, much as Iago's dispassionate hatred is just touched by a little lust for Desdemona. Like lago, she is a kind of inarticulate playwright, too stupid to imagine, who gratifies at once a longing for power and a love of excitement by using human beings as puppets. This is the source of Hedda's impulse to make Lovborg drink, that she may see him "with vine-leaves in his hair" and to shoot himself that she may know that "beautiful actions" are possible" (pp 42-43). Gustafson (1947) also found Hedda merely repulsive, “as inwardly empty and limited as she assumes her whole environment to be” (p 17). In contrast, Grein (1905) viewed Hedda as possessing a genuinely aristocratic temperament. "We see clearly why this lofty character, placed in juxtaposition to puny personalities in narrow circumstances, yearns and battles and clamours for deliverance. This Hedda cannot thrive, nor breathe, nor live in the stifling atmosphere vitiated by memories of the past, deadly by reason of the smallness of any thought that is uttered. And thus this Hedda, a Magdalene in countenance, a weary soul in a languid, worn-out body, stands before us, a doleful picture of woe, a sympathetic victim of circumstances" (p 310). Likewise, Gassner (1954a) opined that "the daughter of General Gabler belongs to the aristocracy by birth, but hers is no aristocracy of the spirit. Vague aspirations agitate her, but these are sterile and lead to no valid course of action. At the same time, like so many of her sisters, she is basically a philistine; wanting comfort and security, she plays safe. She marries the plodding scholar Tesman and covets a university position for him even while she resents the narrow professional world in which she finds herself. She dreams of a gloriously intoxicated life but cannot venture the experience; she likes a garland of 'vine-leaves' so long as someone else wears it and pays the price for it. Lacking courage for experience and being too much the egotist and frigid woman to give herself to love, she naturally feels frustrated. Pregnancy, which she detests, only exacerbates her sense of frustration" (p 377-378). "Hedda Gabler condemns the old order, in its dulness, its stifling mediocrity, but she is unable to adapt her energy to any wholesome system of new ideas, and she sinks into deeper moral dissolution. She hates all that has been done, yet can herself do nothing, and she represents, in symbol, that detestable condition of spirit which cannot create, though it sees the need of creation, and can only show the irritation which its own sterility awakens within itself by destruction" (Gosse, 1907 256-257). In the view of Roberts (1912), she represents a "pagan figure who, but for the social cowardice that is the gift of the time and age, can stand with those sinister, conscienceless creatures of the Jacobean drama" (p 156). Hedda’s “tragedy is that her self-enslavement to tradition and convention prevents her from deciding tom follow the lead of her deepest desires and instincts and causes her to experience Loveborg only vicariously; and later to submit herself to a life-stifling but respectable relationship with Tesman” (Wellwarth, 1986 p 95). Loveborg “is the self-destructive creator, the one who, inadequate to the richness of his own intellect, turns his violence inward in an effort to escape responsibility” (Gilman, 1999 p 67). "Hedda and Thea, in their contrast to each other, are, in a manner, familiar figures. It has been remarked before that from the very first Ibsen was fond of placing a strong masculine character between two women, one fierce and one gentle, one a valkyrie, the other a ministering spirit" (Brandes, 1899 p 105).
"A doll's house"
Time: 1870s. Place: Norway.
Torvald Helmer hears his wife, Nora, enter in their house. "Is that my lark twittering out there?" he asks. His "little featherheard" has been spending more money than usual for Christmas presents, for which, though to some extent justified in view of his new position as bank manager, he condescendingly scolds her. Nora receives the visit of an old school-friend, Christine. Fallen on hard times, she asks Nora to use her influence on Torvald to obtain a position for her at the bank. Nora accepts. When Nora describes her own troubles, she is ruffled by her friend's condescending tone. "But I have not told you the important thing," she announces. A few years ago, Torvald was sick and strongly recommended to recuperate in sunny Italy, but they lacked money for this, so that, without his knowledge, she saved his life by borrowing a large sum of money. When asked about Christine's request, Torvald accepts to hire her, at which Nora childishly claps her hands. However, her joy is considerably diminished after learning that the man from whom she borrowed the money, Krogstad, is about to be dismissed in Christine's place. When Torvald learns of Nora's loan, he informs her that she is guilty of fraud for naively signing her father's name after his death as security for it. Krogstad threatens to expose her unless he keeps his position. Though Nora tries to convince her husband to keep him, she is unable to, he being particularly irritated by the man's familiar manner as an old school-friend. She thinks of asking Dr Rank, a family friend for a loan, but, although dying of a spinal disease, he reveals his love for her, and she finds she cannot. Krogstad is dismissed and leaves a letter explaining the entire matter to her husband. In preparation for a ball and to distract her husband from opening the letter box, she dances wildly the tarantella, to her husband's consternation. Christine guesses who loaned the money, and, during the ball, confers with Krogstad, an old love of hers. They decide to renew their relation, but she feels the letter should remain where it is, since there should be no such secrets between a wife and husband. When Torvald discovers the letter, he is devastated on its consequences for him, lying under the power of such an unscrupulous fellow. He angrily tells Nora he will temporarily remove their three children from the influence of such an unfit mother, but is then relieved to learn from Krogstad's second letter that he need fear no blackmail. Yet Nora takes him at his word. She feels herself to be indeed unfit as a mother and no more than a doll wife to him, and so leaves husband and children.
Time: 1880s. Place: Norway.
After living in Paris as a painter, Oswald Alving returns home to live with his widowed mother. Pastor Manders is satisfied of this decision, for "a child's proper place is and must be the home". He is also satisfied about the role he himself played many years ago in convincing Mrs Alving to return to her husband despite his adulteries and drinking bouts. With Manders' help, Mrs Alving is setting up an orphanage in her husband's name, to blind society all the more, hypocritically, though feeling all the while she is a coward. Since this is the work of heaven, Manders suggests not insuring the orphanage, which she reluctantly accepts. After their discussion, her blood runs cold on hearing sounds in the next room whereby it is obvious that Oswald is seeking to seduce her servant, Regine: "Ghosts!" she cries out. The pastor is abashed on learning that her husband never ceased his debaucheries, Regine being his daughter in an adulterous relation with their previous servant, Joanna. Manders is angry at Regine's father, Engstrand, for not informing him of this, but is soothed by his declaring he used Joanna's money for Regine's education, at which Mrs Alving calls the pastor "a great big baby". One day, Oswald tells his mother he feels sick. Mrs Alving is all the more distressed when he tells her that a doctor informed him that his symptoms may result from a debauched father, as if "worm-eaten at birth". But at least he is comforted by the thought that Regine will know what to do when the time comes. Suddenly, there is the terrible news of a fire at the orphanage caused by Manders' carelessness. In view of Oswald's statements, Mrs Alving no longer delays their knowing the nature of her servant's birth. Regina immediately wishes to leave. Oswald's symptoms worsen. He begs his mother to give him morphine at euthanasic doses should his symptoms get even worse, which she does in the throes of anguish. When Mrs Alving opens the curtains to let in the morning sun, he, at the early stage of syphilitic blindness and dementia, asks to see the sun. Mrs Alving screams and tears her hair with both hands as Oswald repeatedly asks for the sun.
"An enemy of the people"
Time: 1880s. Place: Norway.
Doctor Thomas Stockmann learns that the waters of his little spa town are contaminated and communicates these news to the newspaper editor of the local paper, Hovstad, along with his printer, Billing. As a liberal, Hovstad sees this as an opportunity to criticize and eventually bring down the more conservative elements of the town, whose planning of the conduit-pipes is responsible for the pollution. Thomas' brother, Peter, mayor of the town, informs him that the cost of eliminating the contamination is prohibitive, and so the matter must be hushed up. Dr Stockmann is scandalized at his brother's opinion and refuses to cooperate. When Dr Stockmann informs this piece of news to Morten Kiil, his wife's adoptive father and owner of the factory most responsible for the pollution, the latter is glad of the trouble occasioned to the city's authorities. A worried Peter informs Hovstad, Billing, and Aslaksen, owner of the newspaper, of the situation. Aware of the economic consequence on their own purses, they selfishly switch sides, to the great displeasure of Dr Stockmann, who promises to divulge what he knows to the townspeople at a public meeting at Captain Horster's house. The townspeople choose to believe the mayor and pronounce Dr Stockmann an enemy of the people, at which time he violently counters with a series of Nietzschean-type statements, notably that the "majority is never right". His trousers are rent and stones are thrown at his house. He, his daughter, and Horster all lose their positions. He concludes that "one should never wear one's best trousers when fighting for freedom and truth". To console him, Peter informs him that nothing need be irreversible, that, taking into account the people's mutability, he can choose to return once all this business blows over provided he admits that his conclusions are incorrect. Having bought shares of the Baths at a cheap price, Morten tells Dr Stockmann that his family will obtain the profits provided once again he admits he is wrong. Otherwise, they get nothing. Aware of Kiil's doings, Hovstad and Aslaksen agree to put the paper at Dr Stockmann's disposal should he reverse the pollution problem, at which time he chases them out with an umbrella. Instead of leaving town, Dr Stockmann decides to remain, move into Horster's house, act as the schoolteacher to his two young sons, and write against liberal and conservative alike, concluding that "the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone".
"The wild duck"
Time: 1880s. Place: Norway.
Two old schoolmates, Gregers Werle and Hialmar Ekdal, meet after an absence of sixteen years during a party at the estate of Werle senior, a wealthy merchant. Hialmar informs him that he has received several benefits from Werle senior since his father was imprisoned for illegally selling timber, notably financial help in setting up a photographer's shop. He also informs him that he married Gina, once a servant at Werle's house, and that Ekdal senior, since his release from prison, receives help in the form of copying tasks. Suspecting the worst motives on the part of his father, once old Ekdal's business partner, Gregers confronts him about his role in Ekdal's arrest but obtains no satisfactory answer, so that he angrily leaves the paternal home and heads towards Hialmar's. Their conversation is interrupted by Ekdal senior, who shows him a garret where several types of poultry are kept, including a wild duck, shot down by Werle senior and recovered from the depths of the water by his hunting dog. Knowing that he will never agree with his father, Gregers is pleased to discover Hialmar possesses a room to let. To his old comrade's surprise, he asks to stay there. Despite Gina's anxieties at this suggestion, Hialmar accepts. The next day, Hialmar desultorily retouches photographs but is tempted by his father to care for the poutry instead, leaving Hedvig, his 13-year old daughter, to finish a task uncongenial to one with an incurable eye disease and soon to be become blind. When Hialmar returns, he informs Gregers of an invention he is working on without specifying what it is. Having heard enough of his friend's moral blindness, Gregers becomes the hunting dog to retrieve his duck-friend from the depths of the morass, a project disapproved of by Relling, a physician living in a room just below Gregers', whose diagnosis is that the would-be savior suffers from "rectitudinitis". After Hialmar returns from a walk with his friend, he is determined to contribute more extensively in the photographic business, but is stunned on learning from Gina of the importance of his father's copying work to the household finances and even more so on learning of her amorous relation to Gregers senior at the time she was employed by him. Her lack of honesty contrasts with Bertha Sorby's attitude, who, after a dubious past, receives an offer of marriage from Gregers senior. But worst of all is the thought that Hedvig might be Gregers senior's child, not his. Terribly shaken by his wife's inability to state who the father is, he leaves the house, to Greger's discomfiture, who expected his friend to forgive, not condemn. To help Hialmar think well of his daughter again, Gregers proposes that she kill her favorite pet, the wild duck, for her father's sake. She reluctantly agrees to ask her grandfather to kill it. Having gone no farther than to Relling's apartment, Hialmar returns to say he intends to leave the house with his father. To Hedvig's despair, he repulses her. Gina attends to practical matters of Hialmar's departure while he munches bread and butter. Gregers is distressed on seeing him prepare to go, but on hearing a pistol shot inside the garret, is elated over Hedvig's determination until learning she lost heart and shot herself rather than the wild duck.
Time: 1880s. Place: Norway.
Rebecca West, housekeeper at Rosmershom, notices that Johannes Rosmer still avoids the footbridge leading up to his house, from which his wife, Beata, plunged in the millstream to commit suicide. They receive a visit from the headmaster of the local school, Kroll, brother to Beata, who asks Johannes to help him fight against certain tendencies beginning to prevail in the town, notably those encouraged by Mortensgaard, editor of a liberal newspaper. Rebecca chortles at this request, because over the course of several years Johannes has become progressively more liberal in his views. Kroll is stunned and angry at this piece of news, specifying that their long-standing friendship is now likely to end. Nevertheless, Kroll returns with his own bit of news. Shortly before her death, a "tormented and overwrought" Beata had visited him to express grief at her husband's apostasy. Johannes had thought that his views were kept secret from her. In addition, Kroll mentions that a few days before her suicide, she had said: "They can expect to see the white horse at Rosmersholm again soon," in reference to a fabled creature appearing shortly before a person's death. She also said: "I haven't much time left, because now Joannes must marry Rebecca at once." Johannes is astonished and resents Kroll's suspicion that an adulterous relation existed between him and Rebecca. For his part, Mortensgaard is glad to receive Johannes join his ranks, but yet advises him conceal that he no longer is a Christian, for that would reduce his effectiveness as the promoter of liberal views. Wondering how Beata might have guessed about his apostasy, Johannes is tormented by a sense of guilt and can find only one way out: marry Rebecca at once. At first, she cries out in joy, but then falls back, specifying that if ever he proposes again, she will go "the way Beta went". His sense of guilt is all the heavier to bear. "Oh, you must put everything out of your mind but the great and splendid task you have dedicated your life to," Rebecca cries out. However, he is unable to. Resenting Rebecca's role in Beata's death, Kroll delves into her past, suggesting that she indulged in sexual relations with her adopted father, which she hotly denies. Yet to both men she admits that she lured Beata to the path of the millstream. She decides to return home up north. Left without her aid, Johannes recants his liberal views and reconciles himself with his conservative friends. He sees only one way to regain his faith in Rebecca, to go the way Beata went. Watching Rebecca's resolve to commit suicide, he loses hope and follows her over the footbridge.
Time: 1890s. Place: Norway.
George and Hedda Tesman have just returned from a 5-month-old honeymoon vacation. His aunt, Julie, confesses to him that she participated financially in the house he is occupying, expensive relative to his income, but no less would do for General Gabler's daughter. He has hopes of obtaining a professorship to pay her back. Hedda exclaims on seeing a hat lying about, pretending it is a servant's when it is Aunt Julie's, who leaves in a huff. The newly married couple receive a visit from Hedda's old school-friend, Thea Elvsted, who pretends to speak to Hedda on behalf of Eilert Lovborg, the former tutor of her husband's children, when actually it is on hers, because she is in love with him and wishes to leave her husband. The Tesmans later learn from Counsellor Brack, their common friend, though mostly Hedda's, that the professorship will be available after a competition, one of the candidates being Eilert, who has recently written a successful book. Hedda must get used to her modest condition. For the moment, her only amusement is to shoot with the general's pistols. She scares Brack in the garden by pointing one at him and shooting over his head. She then admits to him that she was "awfully bored" during the wedding trip, George being a specialist and working at his notes. When he enters, she and Brack gently mock his specialist characteristics, unnoticed by him. The Tesmans next receive the visit of Eilert, who reveals to George's astonishment the subject of his next book, a bolder one, the state of civilization in the future. To George's relief, he will not compete for the professor's position. When Thea comes back, Hedda sits between them and reveals her friend's harried state on her previous visit, a piece of treachery in the latter's mind. Eilert leaves with George and Brack for a men's party at the latter's home, Eilert promising to return to escort Thea to her house, but he never does as a result of his excessive drinking bouts. The next morning, George tells Hedda he found the only copy of Eilert's manuscript in the street after it was drunkenly dropped. He wants to alert Eilert but is distracted by the news that his Aunt Rina is dying. Brack enters to tell the story of last night's escapades, Eilert winding up at Miss Diana's house, a disreputable place, shouting for something he has lost, with violent interchanges till the police were summoned. Because of this scandal and because Brack appreciates his visits to Hedda in the form of a triangle (with her inconsequential husband), he advises her to drop Eilert. After he leaves, Eilert arrives in a desperate state. He announces to Thea that their relationship does not make sense anymore because he has torn his manuscript. Thea is devastated. "I, too, had a part of that child," she moans. "Now, everything is black before me." Hedda remains silent. After Thea leaves, she requests him never to return and gives him one of her pistols. "Will you take care that it is done beautifully?" she asks. After he leaves, she burns his manuscript. Following Aunt Rina's death, George learns to his horror what his wife did with the manuscript. She also begins to reveal she is pregnant, but is unable to finish the sentence. Brack returns with news that Eilert is dying. Thea and George grieve at this event, yet, since she has found his notes, both agree on attempting to piece them together though it may take years. Alone with Hedda, Brack discloses Eilert is already dead and that the pistol may be traced to her. Unhappy with her marriage, disgusted at her pregnancy, disillusioned by Eilert's end, afraid of scandal, in Brack's power, Hedda retires behind a curtain and shoots herself. Half-fainting, Brack cries out amazed: "But one doesn't do such things."
The second large figure-head in Scandinavian drama is August Strindberg (1849-1912), whose major plays include "Master Olof" (1872), "Fröken Julie" (Miss Julie, 1888), and "Brott och brott" (Crimes and crimes, 1900). The plays present important changes in technique, including the non-linear dialogue and the tight dramatic construction. In non-linear dialogue, a character continues his previous thought without considering what the other character has just said, a procedure no other 19th dramatist had used so successfully and is almost absent in Ibsen. Conflicting views are rampant in Strindberg’s female characters. Some critics are repulsed by them, taking them for example as “a curious gallery of female half-men” (Gustafson, 1947 p 17). Such critics fail to grasp the breadth of female psychology developed by Strindberg. Strindberg also wrote a more minor drama, potent at times, “The father” (1887), in which a cavalry officer and his wife, Laura, are in violent conflict over who should be the main educator of their daughter. To mitigate the captain’s influence, she insinuates that he is not her biological father till he is progressively reduced with the help of his mother-in-law and nurse to helplessness and madness.
"Master Olof" describes the life of Olaus Petri (1493-1552) during the reign (1523-1560) of King Gustav I Vasa (1494-1560). Olof, “the man who had had the conviction and the courage, the desire and the dedication to accept Martin Luther’s religious ideas and to force through their acceptance in his native Sweden...the great Swedish reformer had not been not only a heroic idealist who dared break with authority but also a very human being who had succumbed to the temptation of compromising with authority when confronted with the danger of losing his life” (Johnson, 1976 pp 131-132). Gustafson (1947) pointed out two aspects of the main character: 1) vacillation between determination and reflective thought, 2) a “tendency to think in relativistic rather than in absolute terms” (p 24).
In "Miss Julie", “there is a constant awareness of the basic animal nature of human beings, problems arising from instincts and desires, the individual’s urge to live, the struggle for existence, and natural selection...On the one hand, Julie...has been urged and ‘trained’ to become a man-hater...by a mother and, on the other...has been encouraged to become an aristocrat by her nobleman father...Jean has the endowment to become a superior being in an amoral world of rugged individualism...He has, moreover, no scruples except about what may hurt him: he fears the count, for example, because he is still under his control” (Johnson, 1976 pp 144-145). "When Jean kills the bird which Julie wants to rescue from the ruins of her life, it is not so much out of real cruelty, as it is because the character of Jean was molded in the relentless school of necessity, in which only those survive who have the determination to act in time of danger" (Goldman, 1914 pp 59-60). Brustein (1964) pointed out that “her father's weakness has taught her to despise men and the influence of her mother, an emancipated woman, has encouraged her to dominate and victimize them.” The couple have “conflicting views of the sexual act”, Julie with “platonic ideals”, Jean as an “animal act”. Julie represents “a combination of haughtiness and the urge to lower herself” (Lamm, 1952 p 140). Gustafson (1947) pointed out that Julie’s way to suicide is made “in a kind of trance” (p 31), under the influence of Jean’s stronger will, also influenced by her aristocratic upbringing, based on a rigid conception of lost honor, lost because, having permitting herself a sexual relation to a man not only below her on the social scale but unworthy, she is nevertheless expected to follow him. She also despairs at becoming the subject of a man in finding herself against her mother’s teaching that a woman should be superior. “This suicide is not brought about by anything inexorable in the working of the plot...Julie kills herself for much the same reason that Hedda Gabler does...she cannot live…she lacks a principle of coherence...Jean is finally seen...as the agency of her self-knowledge, as she is his” (Gilman, 1999 pp 102-103).
“Crimes and crimes” “is a curious blend of realism and fantasy, gravity and mockery, near-tragedy and comedy. Reality seems simultaneously close and distant in this quasi-naturalistic but also quasi-expressionistic work… Crimes and Crimes is a tantalizing and troubling play. It is a subtle tragi-comedy in which Strindberg is ambivalent toward the entire race of man, which is both indicted and absolved or forgiven by the author. This work is dual in tone, haunting in feeling, and diabolically penetrative…Only when apprehended as a work of multilayered fancy, imagination, and theatricality does this deceptively realistic play reveal its true worth. It then proves to be a masterpiece of irony…In observing human deviousness in Crimes and Crimes, Strindberg is mordant but also amused, saturnine but also playful” (Gassner, 1972 pp 219-220). "Crimes and crimes" is a worthy continuation of the naturalistic style of Emile Zola's novels. Clark (1915b) remarked that “the play shows that the greatest crimes are the spiritual crimes done against oneself, one's higher nature, and that the law has nothing to do with them. Given so abstract a theme as the struggles of a conscience, what is the best way to write a play illustrating it? To allow the personages in a play to talk about and around a theme is obviously only a makeshift, for in that case the drama is not the true medium of expression for the author. In a play we demand action, it is the prime requisite. In this play, however, the author shows in terms of actuality the result of a mental attitude, and not merely talks about it or permits his characters to do so. Maurice says: 'if we had to answer for our thoughts, who could then clear himself?' and, as if to test this statement, Strindberg places Maurice in a position where his thoughts really do result in acts, and shows how he succeeds in clearing himself. That is the play" (pp 81-82). At the end, "Maurice has rejected the world and given himself up to prayer and asceticism; but the curtain does not go down on this touching scene. On the contrary, a friend arrives ('enter a messenger') and announces that Maurice is not such a failure in worldly respects as he has been supposing. His reputation has been cleared. His play is on again at the theater. He is popular and will soon be rich. If Strindberg intends a religious play, this clearly is the moment for the rich young ruler to give up all and follow Swedenborg. Maurice, however, immediately starts rearranging things with the abbot. He is of course too clever to throw him over completely. 'Tonight,' he tells the abbé, 'I will meet you at the church to have a reckoning with myself; tomorrow evening I go to the theater.' Everyone, including the abbé, is pleased by the compromise, and the protagonist accepts both God and Mammon, like the religionists of Butler's Erewhon" (Bentley, 1955 pp 175-176). The play “has touches of both humor and irony, a vital group of characters, and, perhaps as important, universally and timelessly applicable ideational content: the problems of the individual’s responsibility for his thoughts and wishes and for carelessly putting both into words” (Johnson, 1976 pp 160-161).
Time: 1520-30s. Place: Strängnäs, Stockholm, Sweden.
Because the city has failed to pay its tithes, Mans Sömmar, bishop of Strängnäs, closes the church on Pentecost eve. In sympathy towards the people who came to enter there, Master Olof, canon of the church, prays with them, but, to their surprise, not in Latin, in Swedish, so that he is accused of Lutherism. Hearing about this matter, the bishop of Strängnäs and Hans Brask, bishop of Linköping, warn Master Olof that he will punished for disobedience. However, King Gustav I Vasa intercedes by sending the cannon to Stockholm as secretary of the city council to mitigate the raging conflict existing between Lutherans and papal authorities. At a Stockholm tavern, a crowd angrily pursues a whore hiding under a nun's veil, but she is rescued by Olof. When a Dominican priest, Father Marten, reminds them of Olof's excommunication from the church, a troup of Anabaptists rush in. Their leader, Knipperdollink, points out the abomination of their maintaining a tavern within the precincts of a church building. On hearing who Olof is, they prepare to attack him, but he is saved by Gert, once a bookprinter and sent to a lunatic asylum for encouraging the reformation, who announces that their true enemies are the Dominicans, so that the Anabaptists shower blows on Father Marten and another priest. Despite being excommunicated and his mother's belief he is a heretic, Olof preaches the reformation to the people. Some throw stones at him so that he emerges from it with a bloody forehead but is consoled by Gert's daughter, Katrina, who says she believes in him. When he proposes marriage to her despite canon law, she accepts. At the royal castle, the marshal, Lars Sparre, warns the king that Bishop Brask is negotiating the introduction of the Inquisition into Sweden, so that he should support the aristocracy against the church's power. After many struggles against the church, the state wins. The king takes possession of the bishops' castles and the lords repossess some of their estates, but, in Olof's mind, he is a traitor, for the church is not declared Lutheran. Sick with the plague, Olof's mother repulses Katrina and her other son, Lars, from her death-bed, calling on Father Marten's ministrations. She gives him a bag of money, but before he can administer the rites of extreme unction, Olof pushes him out of the room. He hears the people grumble outside, who feel that the plague is their punishment for the ascendancy of the new faith. Olof, Gert, and others conspire to kill the king, but are captured before their plot can be achieved. When Katrina beholds her husband held by the guards, she faints. He and Gert are first kept in the pillory and then condemned to die. Sparre commands Gert away, but offers Olof freedom should he retract his seditious words against the king, emphasizing that many people still expect good things from him. Olof accepts, but when an old friend, convinced he did not retract, arrives with encouraging words, he collapses in despair.
Time: 1880s. Place: Sweden.
A count's servant, Jean, is surprised at the behavior of his daughter, Miss Julie, who seems to have no regard for her social position, hobnobbing loosely with servants and villagers, even dancing with them on midsummer eve. "That's what happens when aristocrats try to act like common people: they become common," he snorts contemptuously. Miss Julie asks Jean to dance with her, but he promised the next one with his intended, Kristin. Moreover, he wonders whether it is wise for her to be seen that way, at which she flares up, annoyed at having a servant criticize her behavior. Their discussion is so prolonged that Kristin falls asleep on a chair and eventually slogs off towards bed. When Jean feels something enter his eye, Miss Julie removes it, then asks to be kissed on the hand. Jean considers she is playing a dangerous game. "What incredible conceit!" she exclaims. But when he boldly tries to embrace her, she slaps his face. She nevertheless expresses the desire to be rowed across the lake, which once again Jean considers foolish, considering her position relative to his. When he advises her to go to bed, she is affronted. As servants and villagers approach dancing, they feel compromised and decide to flee, with nowhere to go except into his room. She hesitates to go. "Will you promise me-" she begins to ask tentively. He cuts her short by saying: "I swear." As the dancing ends, Miss Julie and Jean re-enter, but on a very different footing. Miss Julie is distressed, Jean confident. She feels she is heading downward, he moving up. When asked what they should do, he suggests that they run away and open a hotel, but she has no money on her own, which dashes his ambitions. Miss Julie feels they cannot stay, unwilling to be the mistress of a servant, having lost confidence in her ability to spurn and avoid his physical attractions. He serves her his father's burgundy. "And I drink beer!" she exclaims, to which he comments: "That shows your taste is not so good as mine." Excessive drinking initiates detailed descriptions of her family background, how her parents warred for supremacy until her mother burned down the estate, then helped her husband rebuild by letting him borrow from her lover along with her own money. Her father found out and misery followed, Miss Julie being taught from her mother to "mistrust and hate men". Jean points out that this explains why her fiancé broke off their engagement, which she denies, she having dismissed him. But now what are they to do? Kristin returns and guesses the truth, though still willing to marry him. Jean grimaces at the thought of foregoing his ambitions, but when the count returns and rings for him, Jean cringes like a menial, body and soul, and can only propose that Miss Julie use his razor to end it all. She takes it and walks off firmly.
"Crimes and crimes"
Time: 1900s. Place: Paris, France.
Adolphe, a painter, has sought to prevent his girlfriend, Henriette, a sculptress, from meeting his friend, Maurice, a playwright, but they meet accidently, at first without speaking to each other, though her presence lingers in his mind. In particular, one of Maurice's fingers hurts as if pricked. "She has pins in her dress," he imagines, "she is one of those who stick you." After sitting down with them, Henriette recalls a dream of hers in which she "calmly dissected Adolphe's pectorial muscles". She has long wanted to sculpt a bust of Maurice, which she promises to do if his next play is successful. That night, Maurice and Henriette celebrate the play's success at an inn, but Adolphe is absent because of a mix-up as to their meeting place. Elated, Maurice asks her: "Have you ever been happy?" "No," she responds. "How does it feel?" As an emblem of the poet's victory, she places a laurel wreath on his brow and kisses his forehead, but this frightens him, excessive happiness being often followed with excessive sorrow in his mind. Henriette discovers she loves Maurice better than Adolphe so that for her sake the former is ready to abandon his friend, Jeanne, with their 5-year-old daughter, Marion. Henriette throws his tie and a pair of gloves, gifts from Jeanne, into the fire, embraces him, and goes with him to an expensive restaurant, where they continue to celebrate up to dawn. Adolphe at last shows up, but, sensing the new relationship between his friends, withdraws quietly. Maurice and Henriette plan their future, where it is apparent that his love for Marion becomes their main obstacle. "How much better if she had never been born!" exclaims Maurice. "We must do away with-" a frustrated Henriette blurts out, to Maurice's dismay. Adolphe is now aware he has lost not one but two friends. "And I have learned that adversity reveals one's true friends," he says, "while success brings nothing but false friends." A priest tells him that Marion has suddenly died for no apparent reason, Maurice being the last person to see her. The inspector covering the case discovers that Maurice and Henriette were overheard by waiters at the restaurant and at the inn expressing suspicious comments about the child. Although not believing in their guilt, he nevertheless questions the couple. "From the triumphal chariot to the police waggon!" exclaims Maurice. Despite the lack of incriminating evidence of murder, Maurice's play is withdrawn and he becomes the subject of harsh criticism in the papers as well as the public's view for abandoning woman and child, it being presumed that the child died of sorrow. "There are crimes not listed in law-books, the very worst," Adolphe reflects, "for these crimes we ourselves must punish, and no judge is so severe as ourselves." Frustrated, Maurice at first blames Henriette for this mess, an unrevealed unpunished crime of hers having been a subject in their conversation that fatal night, which he then retracts. Back at the inn, a detective walks over to Henriette and mistakes her as a prostitute. He also arrests Maurice who has no money to pay for their bill. Although released from custody, the couple begin to doubt their senses and become suspicious of every friend they have, including each other. Henriette threatens to tell the police about a lie told by Maurice the night before Marion died, but is dissuaded from that by Adolphe. She then decides to leave the city. For his part, Maurice begins to believe Henriette may be the murderess, all the more so after discovering a friend of hers died during an abortion she had arranged. When Maurice receives a package containing the tie and gloves Jeanne recuperated from the fire, he has the sensation that "everything comes back". After promising to visit the priest at his church, he unexpectedly learns that his play will be staged after all.
Another Norwegian figure of merit, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1859-1942), wrote plays of social impact, and, like Ibsen, with a feminist bent, notably "De Nygifte" (The newlyweds, 1865), "Leonarda" (1879), and "En Handske" (A gauntlet, 1883). Though weaker than the towering Ibsen, these dramas are strong by most standards. Bjornson also wrote "Beyond our power part 1" (1883) about the consequences of a rumored miracle on the local clergy and “Beyond our power part 2" (1895) about the consequences of a discovered error in engineering on the discover’s friends and family.
“The newlyweds” “is really a proverb in the style of Musset, as Georg Brandes pointed out in a contemporary review” where Axel struggles against the influence exerted by his parents-in-law on his wife. As a result of their overprotectiveness, the wife is immature in her marriage state, treating her husband like a doll, the same pattern as in Augier’s “A fine marriage” (1859) and the reverse pattern of Ibsen’s “A doll’s house” (1879) (Lamm, 1952 p 81). The problem exposed in “The newlyweds” is twofold: “in the first place, how shall Axel escape from the domination of his wife's parents? In the second place, how shall he awaken in his bride a passionate response to his love? To force Laura away from her father and mother will go far toward affording a solution of both problems...The husband must learn patience, the wife the obligations of marriage, the friend the joy of self-conquest after jealousy, and the parents the central doctrine that the newly married should be left alone to work out their own destiny” (Chandler, 1914 pp 185-186). "The subject of the little play, The Newlyweds, is a simple, everyday event in human life— the separation of the young bride from her parents' home, the struggle in her soul between the inborn, firmly established love to father and mother, and the new, still feeble love to her husband— a revolution or evolution which takes place with the natural necessity and suffering of a spiritual birth. In ordinary circumstances this break in a woman's life does not stand out so sharply, because it is accepted as something inevitable, and because it not unfrequently has more the character of a deliverance than of a rupture. But let the circumstances be conceived as somewhat less normal, let the parents' affection be unusually egotistical or unusually tender, and the well-brought-up daughter's love to the man of her choice much less strongly developed than her filial affection, and we at once have a problem, a dramatic collision, a conflict with an uncertain issue. The idea is a simple and excellent one. Several faults may be found with the execution. To begin with the chief: How can Axel, who has had the greatest difficulty in persuading Laura to tear herself away from her home, be weak and stupid enough to allow that home, in the person of Mathilde, to follow her on their journey? Without her everything would have gone more smoothly and easily. We are certainly told at the end of the play that without her the two would never have found each other; but this is not self-evident, and in any case it is an unfortunate complication. The author's aim should rather have been to show how the two became truly one without extraneous help; it is a clumsy expedient to make a 'dea ex machina' write an anonymous novel, with a description of the couple's own situation which so alarms them that it drives them into each other's arms" (Brandes, 1899 pp 146-147). Because this critic is more interested in the man-woman relation that the woman-woman relation, he misunderstands the importance of the Mathilde character.
Clark (1915b) commented favorably on the construction at the beginning of "Leonarda". “Good exposition, we have observed, is that which seems natural and at the same time gives valuable information while not appearing to do so. The first scene between Hagbart and Leonarda is good exposition, because the latter's questioning of Hagbart gives us full details, and the important points on an essential bit of past history; shows Leonarda's relations with and attitude toward Hagbart, and their feeling in turn for Aagot and all with perfect naturalness. The entire scene is not only lifelike, it seems inevitable” (p 43).
Early critics misconceived the interpretation of "A gauntlet" with its main theme of the double standard with different rules for men and women's fidelity in marriage as a social if not biological necessity. For example, Lewisohn (1915) declared that "the double standard has not been established by an act of the human will; it is the result of vast and ancient forces, biological, moral and economic, which have been operative throughout human history and are operative to-day. Hence, to deal with the problem it is necessary to betray a consciousness, at least, of these forces, and to discuss their possible deflection. Bjornson does nothing of the kind. He has discovered a wrong, an apparent lack of equity in human life, and he proceeds to demolish it outright. Alfred Christensen, despite the fact that he has had a mistress, declares that he loves Svava truly and faithfully. And Svava's mother asks: 'Suppose a woman, under the same circumstances, had come and said the same thing— who would believe her?' And Bjornson was quite oblivious of the fact that the problem had not even been touched until one had accounted for the immemorial instincts and traditions, common to all mankind, which would dictate the answer to Mrs Riis's question. Such doctrinaire dealing with life is really a remnant of the old romanticism on its side of social and ethical theorizing" (pp 25-26). Clark (1915b) outlined limitations on the play as "one of the most clearly defined examples of the thesis play. The author wishes to show that a woman has the right to demand the same prenuptial chastity from her fiancé as he demands of her; it is a plea for the abolition of the 'double standard'. The fault with most thesis plays is that the thesis occupies too prominent a place, and that violence is done to the plot and characters, owing to the fact that the author must first of all establish and prove his case, at the expense of verisimilitude. A Gauntlet is open to this criticism. The gauntlet, being written primarily for the sake of the lesson, is unlike the Ibsen plays we have considered. Ibsen always put into his writings an idea, but rarely does he allow us to see that he wrote a play for the idea itself. In A Gauntlet everything points toward and supports the central idea, every scene stands independently as some phase of the theme, or else prepares the way for such a scene” (pp 44-46).
Time: 1860s. Place: Norway.
Because Laura's mother coughed all night, she and her parents decide to forego going to a ball, though organized especially in her honor along with her husband, Axel, who feels discontented at this decision, a sign that his child-wife is closer to her parents than to him. He requests her friend, Mathilde, to help stir up her love towards him, while he prepares to take up a legal practice. His parents-in-law are stunned at his decision to work for a living. The father strongly disapproves. "Generation after generation, from time immemorial, the heads of our family have been lords of the manor, not office seekers or fortune hunters," he declares. Axel explains he is dissastisfied in having only one third of his wife's affections, which her parents consider mere jealousy. Moreover, he intends to take her away from her parents' house, to her father all this seeming like "an evil dream". Although Laura feels she has no choice but to follow her husband, Mathilde disagrees with this move, insisting that she must be allowed to live with them. "I don't know you and I don't trust you, but I shall watch over her," Mathilde nevertheless promises Axel. Seemingly loyal to Axel's interest, Mathilde reads to Laura from a book entitled "The newly married couple", concerning a child's duty to her parents being transfered to her husband. However, Mathilde specifies that she disagrees with this opinion. "Its whole train of thought offends me," Mathilde avers. In the book, the husband does not get what he wants, but is eventually comforted by another woman, "content with the aftermath of love". Though Mathilde has been a comfort to Axel, yet he continues to struggle with Laura's attitude towards him and her parents. One day, Mathilde decides leave their house. "Mathilde is not my friend," Laura declares to her husband, a statement which surprises him. Laura further says that Mathilde's opinions have led her into misery. In Axel's view, Mathilde is made into a scapegoat in this affair. When Laura's father and mother arrive at their house, they are pleasantly surprised at discovering how the newly married couple have turned it into an almost exact copy of theirs. Now they can truly feel that they dare trust Axel, who, in turn, discloses that Laura has changed for the better. "I was conscious of her presence in a hundred little touches in my room," he declares, but Laura says this is untrue. Axel explains that their happiness was threatened by a book, but it eventually drew them together. "Then, all at once, all the doors and windows flew wide open," he avers. "I saw well enough you were fond of me, but I was afraid it was only as you would be fond of a child," she specifies. To her parents' surprise, she requests to be left alone with her husband, and, turning thankfully towards Mathilde, says: "I know I would never have got Axel but for you."
Time: 1870s. Place: Norway.
Leonarda, the owner of a company selling construction materials, receives the visit of Hagbart, a man who once spoke of her as a "woman of doubtful reputation". He explains that all that belongs to the past and that he now arrives on a new footing, being in love with her niece, Aagot. She rudely sends him away, but is then astonished to learn that Aagot reciprocates this love. Aagot relates that after first learning of his marriage proposal, she panicked. "I screamed, ran, got home, packed my trunk, and got on board a boat as quickly as she could," she confesses to her mother. However, she eventually became ashamed of her conduct. Hagbart's uncle, a bishop, warns him that, because of her loose past, Leonarda will never be received inside his house. She married under suspicious circumstances and divorced abroad, never attends church, and receives in her house General Rosen, "a dissolute fellow," in the bishop's opinion. His nephew points out that he, too, receives Rosen. The bishop retorts that the matter is very different, Rosen having distinguished himself in military service and being connected with important members of society. For his marriage project, Hagbart's only support is his grandmother, who feels Leonarda is "much as girls were in her day". When Chief Justice Röst and his wife hear that Leonarda intends to force her way in the bishop's presence, they hurry off to avoid meeting her. Leonarda requests the bishop to say to his congregation that "people should be judged not by their mistakes but by their achievements". Though the grandmother approves, the bishop does not. After hearing that her adopted mother was turned out by the bishop, Aagot is extremely disappointed, all the more so when it was apparently done with Hagbart's consent, defending himself weakly at her accusation. A distraught Aagot thinks to have guessed the truth about Leonarda. "Do you love him?" Leonarda asks her. "I no longer do'" she answers. "If you love him, aunt, I'll give him up." Leonarda's response on this critical matter is vague. His relation with Aagot being compromised, Hagbart now recognizes that he loves Leonarda, not her. "I have grown old," Leonarda demurs. "Each year will invest you with new beauty, new spiritual power," he counters. Nevertheless, Leonarda returns to the bishop to say she will marry Rosen and leave town, donating to Aagot a deed of property so that she may marry Hagbart. Satisfied about this decision, the bishop acknowledges that he has done Leonarda a grave injustice.
Time: 1880s. Place: Norway.
Text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7366 https://archive.org/details/agauntletbeingn00edwagoog https://archive.org/details/plays00bjgoog https://archive.org/details/cu31924026306039 http://www.readbookonline.net/plays/
As the daughter of a rich man, Svava Riis has initiated the creation of charitable kindergartens. Her childhood friend, Alfred Christensen, arrives with a donation for her. She now sees him with new eyes, as they share the same opinion on important subjects, especially that "luxury is immoral". They decide to marry. One day, Svava receives the surprise visit of a stranger. He shows her letters from a man who had committed adultery with his dead wife. When she sees the stranger exchange certain looks with Alfred, she screams and hurries out in a violent outburst of weeping. After learning that her daughter intends to annul the marriage, Mrs Riis attempts to soothe her, feeling that she should make allowances even on important points. "Isn't it for the sake of our self-development that we marry?" Svava counters. Mrs Riis and her husband face the fact that the powerful Christensen family will never accept Svava to divorce their son for such a reason, forcing the Riis family to leave the city. However, Svava has no intention of changing her mind. "One would think that marriage is a superior sort of wash-house for men," she comments. "It is before marriage that a marriage is marred." Svava's uncle, Dr Nordan, also tries to convince her that she is wrong, but fails, though hinting that her father has a special reason to leave the city which may be disclosed should she persist. The Christensens arrive to settle this matter one way or the other. Mrs Christensen expresses the opinion that "a betrothal is equivalent to a marriage" and that a husband is "given authority over us...whether he acts well or ill". Alfred does not acknowledge he is guilty of any wrongdoing in any way, but expresses pain that his mere word to become an honorable husband was not believed. Mrs Riis is suddenly struck by the thought that, were the situation reversed, Svava would not be believed, which Alfred, as a man of honor, admits is true, at which point Svava moves towards him and throws her glove on his face. Hoping to edge her towards leniency by disclosing her husband's adultery many years ago, Mrs Riis sees her strategy backfire, as Svava now desires to move away to her kindergartens. "You have quite changed to my eyes, too, you see," she confesses. Later, Mr Riis enters with the happy news that Mr Christensen has backed down from his threats and there is therefore no longer any reason to leave the city. Svava tells him it is against her parents that she now throws the gauntlet. "All life seems now unclean to me, my nearest and dearest all soiled and smirched," she says despondently, yet when Alfred pleads with her to hold out any sign he will one day be allowed to see her, she holds out her hands to him, turns, and embraces her mother.