History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Scandinavian Realist
- 1 Henrik Ibsen
- 2 August Strindberg
- 3 Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson
The large figure-heads of 19th century Scandinavian theatre are Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) of Norway and August Strindberg (1849-1912) of Sweden. Major Ibsen 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).
Lewisohn (1915) says: "Ibsen declared 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 wjiich 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."
Matthews (1907) remarks: "Character is never made over in the twinkling of an eye; and this is why the end of the '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.
Brustein (1964) also faults “A doll’s house” for its unconvincing ending. He is also critical of its “Scribean machinery” of “incriminating letters rattling around the mailbox” This amounts to denial of the influence of chance in everyday life.
"No fault of this kind can be found with 'Ghosts,' Mathews says. "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 thru a passage of actual life." A few years only before Ibsen brought forth his 'Ghosts,' Lowell had asserted that "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. As there was something Æschylean in 'Brand' so there is something Sophoclean in 'Ghosts'; altho Ibsen lacks the serenity of the great Greek and Sophocles had a loftier aim than that of evoking "the sensation of having lived thru a passage of actual life." There is no echo in 'Œdipus' of the cry of revolt which rings thru 'Ghosts,' and yet there was a strange similarity in the impression made on at least one spectator of the actual performances of these tragedies, the ancient and the modern, the one after the other, at a few days' interval here in New York,—an impression of deepening horror that graspt the throat and gript the heart with fingers of ice.
The most obvious resemblance between the Greek tragedy and the Scandinavian social drama is in their technique, in that the two austere playwrights have set before us the consequences of an action, rather than the action itself. Here Ibsen has thrown aside the formula of the "well-made play," using the skill acquired by the study of Scribe in achieving a finer form than the French playwright was capable of, a form seemingly simple but very solidly put together. The structure of 'Ghosts' recalls Voltaire's criticism of one of Molière's plays that it seemed to be in action, altho it was almost altogether in narrative. Ibsen has here shown a skill like Molière's in making narrative vitally dramatic. Ibsen has none of Molière's breadth of humor, none of his large laughter, none of his robust fun; indeed, Ibsen's humor is rarely genial; grim and almost grotesque, it is scarcely ever playful; and there is sadly little laughter released by his satiric portrayals of character. But the Scandinavian playwright has not a little of the great Frenchman's feeling for reality, and even more of his detestation of affectation and his hatred of sham. The creator of Tartuffe would have appreciated Pastor Manders, an incomparable prig, with self-esteem seven times heated, engrossed with appearances only and ingrained with parochial hypocrisy."
As Brustein (1964) remarks: “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 his father...Like Oedipus, she has discovered that the past is unredeemable.”
Clark (1914) remarks: ““ Hedda Gabler " 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 be- tween 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.”
Matthews (1907) remarks: "In 'Hedda Gabler' as in the 'Enemy of the People' Ibsen gives up the Sophoclean form which was exactly appropriate for the theme of 'Ghosts.' With admirable artistic instinct the playwright returns to the framework of the "well-made play" or at least to that modification of the Scribe formula which Augier and Dumas fils had devised for their own use. The action has not happened before the curtain rises on the first act; it takes place in the play itself, in front of the spectators, just as it does in the 'Demi-monde.' The exposition is contained in the first act, clearly and completely; the characters are all set in motion before us, Hedda and her husband, Mrs. Elvsted and Eilert, and the sinister figure of Inspector Brack in the background. This first act, even to its note of interrogation hung in the air at the end, might have been constructed by Augier,—just as the scene in the second act between Hedda and Brack recalls the manner of the younger Dumas, even in its lightness and its wit. Yet we may doubt whether any of the modern French playwrights could have lent the same curt significance to this commonplace interview between a married demi-vierge and an homme-à-femmes;—of their own accord these French terms come to the end of the pen to describe these French types.
Interesting as 'Hedda Gabler' is on the stage and in the study, suggestive as it is, it cannot be called one of Ibsen's best-built plays. Technically considered it falls below his higher level; it does not sustain itself even at the elevation of the 'Demi-monde' or of the 'Effrontés.' It does not compel us to accept its characters and its situations without question. It leaves us inquiring, and, if not actually protesting, at least unconvinced. We might accept the heroine herself as an incarnate spirit of cruel curiosity, inflicting purposeless pain, and to be explained, even if not to be justified, only by her impending maternity,—which she recoils from and is unworthy of. But I, for one, cannot help finding Hedda inconsistent artistically, as tho she was a composite photograph of irreconcilable figures. For example, she shrinks from scandal, yet she burns Eilert's manuscript, she gives him one of her pistols, and finally she commits suicide herself, than which nothing could more certainly provoke talk. The pistols themselves seem lugged in solely because the playwright needed to have them handy for two suicides,—just as Brack walks into Hedda's house in the early morning, not of his own volition, but because the playwright insisted on it. So at the end Mrs. Elvsted could not have had with her all the notes of Eilert's bulky book, tho she might have had a rough draft; and she would never have sat down calmly to look over these notes instead of rushing madly to the hospital to Eilert's bedside. Again, Inspector Brack, when he hears of Eilert's death, has really little or no warrant in jumping to the conclusion that Hedda is an accessory before the fact; and even if she was, this would not give him the hold on her which she admits too easily. More than once, we find a summary swiftness in the motives alleged, for things done before the spectators have time to grasp the reasons for these deeds, which therefore appear to be arbitrary. There is a hectic flush of romanticism in this play, not discernible in any other of Ibsen's social dramas, a perfervidness, an artificiality, which may not interfere with the interest of the story but which must detract from its plausibility at least and from its ultimate value."
"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 of 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 him "a great big baby". One day, Oswald tells his mother he feels sick. Mrs Alving is all the more distressed wheh he tells her that a doctor told him his symptoms may result from a debauched father, as if "worm-eaten at birth". But at least he is comforted by the thought 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 case worsens. 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 the morning sun in, he, at the early stage of syphilitic blindness and dementia, asks for the sun. Mrs Alving screams and tears her hair with both hands as she hears Oswald repeatedly asking for the sun.
"An enemy of the people"
Time: 1880s. Place: Norway.
In a little spa town, Doctor Thomas Stockmann learns that the waters are contaminated. He communicates these news to the newspaper editor fo the local paper, Hovstad, along with his assistant, 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 and refuses to cooperate. When he informs this news to Morten Kiil, his wife's adoptive father and owner of the factory most responsible for the pollution, he 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 to their own purses, they selfishly change 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 tells him that nothing need be irreversible, that, taken into account the people's mutability, he can choose to come back once all this blows over provided he admits he is wrong. 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 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 animal, 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 water to commit suicide. They receive a visit fom 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. Because of this, he says that their long-standing friendship is likely to end. Nevertheless, Kroll returns with his own 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 himself and Rebecca. Mortensgaard is glad to have Johannes join his ranks, but advises him not to reveal he is no longer 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, but you must put everything out of your mind but the great and splendid task you have dedicated your life to," Rebecca cries out, but 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 go away. 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. When he sees her resolute to do so, 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."
Major Strindberg plays include "Master Olof" (1872), "Fröken Julie" (Miss Julie, 1888), and "Brott och brott" (Crimes and crimes, 1900). "Master Olof" describes the life of Olaus Petri (1493-1552) during the reign (1523-1560) of King Gustav I Vasa (1494-1560). "Miss Julie" is a potent play with important changes in technique, including the non-linear dialogue and the tight dramatic construction. "Crimes and crimes" is a worthy continuation of the naturalistic style akin to Emile Zola's novels. Clark (1914) remarks: “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."
Strindberg also wrote “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.
With respect to “Miss Julie”, Brustein (1964) points out: “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 “animal act” (Brustein, 1964) "
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 sends 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 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. He 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 newly married couple, 1865), "Leonarda" (1879), and "En Handske" (A gauntlet, 1883). Though weaker than the towering Ibsen, these dramas are strong by most standards. Concerning "Leonarda", Clark (1914) remarks: “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.”
Clark (1914) remarks: “"A Gauntlet " is 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.”
The criticism is open to criticism. Early 20th century critics misconceived the interpretation of the double standard in "The gauntlet". For example, Lewishohn (1915) declares: "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 Chris tensen, 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."
Bjornson also wrote “Over Ævne I” (Beyond our power part 1, 1883) about the consequences of a rumored miracle on the local clergy and “Over Ævne 2” (Beyond our power part 2, 1895) about the consequences of a discovered error in engineering on the discover’s friends and family.
"The newly married couple"
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 adopted daughter, Aagot. She rudely sends him away, but is then astonished to learn that Aagot reciprocates this love. On first learning of his marriage proposal, Aagot 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, afterwards, she was ashamed of her conduct. Hagbart's uncle, a bishop, warns him that, becquse of her 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" according to him. The 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. She 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?" she asks her. "I no longer do. 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 has decided to marry Rosen and to leave town, leaving to her adopted daughter a deed of property so that she and Hagbart may marry. Satisfied about this decision, he acknowledges he has done her 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. On 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 therefore there is 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.