History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Scandinavian Realist

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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). Another Norwegian figure of merit, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1859-1942), wrote plays of social criticism, 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. "Fröken Julie" (Miss Julie, 1888) is a strong Strindberg play with important changes in technique, including the non-linear dialogue and the tight dramatic construction. "Brott och brott" (Crimes and crimes, 1900) is a worthy continuation of the naturalistic style akin to Emile Zola's novels. "Master Olof" (1872) describes the life of Olaus Petri (1493-1552) during the reign (1523-1560) of King Gustav I Vasa (1494-1560).

Henrik Ibsen wrote many plays of high social impact. Etching by an unknown artist

"A doll's house"[edit]

"A doll's house". Time: 1870s. Place: Norway.

"A doll's house" text at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Doll%27s_House

Nora has a plan to test her husband's love, but it backfires. Played by Vera Komissarzhevskaya (1864-1910), 1904

Torvald Helmer thinks he 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. She tells her troubles, but is ruffled by her friend's condescending tone. "But I have not told you the important thing," she says. A few years ago, Torvald was sick and strongly recommended to recuperate in sunny Italy, but they lacked funds for this, so that, without his knowledge, she saved his life by borrowing a large sum of money. When asked about the position, Torvald accepts, at which Nora childishly claps her hands. However, her joy is considerably diminished after learning that Krogstad, from whom she borrowed the money, is about to be dismissed in Christine's place. Torvald informs Nora that she is guilty of fraud for naively signing her father's name after his death as security for the loan. He 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 them.


"Ghosts". Time: 1880s. Place: Norway.

"Ghosts" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2467

Mrs Alving has reasons to feel anguish at the incipient syphilis of her son, Oswald. Played by Hedvig Winterhjelm (1838-1907) and August Lindberg, respectively, 1883

After living in Paris as a painter, Oswald Alving returns home to live with his widowed mother. Pastor Manders is satisfied about 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 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 the 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 extremely distressed on learning a doctor told him his symptoms may result from a debauched father, he appearing "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 then begs his mother to give him morphine at euthanasic doses should his symptoms get worse, which she does in the throes of anguish. When Mrs Alving opens the curtains to let the morning sun in, Oswald, at the early stage of syphilitic blindness and dementia, asks for the sun. Mrs Alving screams and tears at her hair with both hands as she hears Oswald repeatedly asking for the sun.

"An enemy of the people"[edit]

"An enemy of the people". Time: 1880s. Place: Norway.

"An enemy of the people" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2446


Dr. Stockmann is disheartened at the attitude of the people towards his scientific discovery. Played by Egil Eide (1868-1946), 1915

In a little spa town, Doctor Thomas Stockmann learns that the waters are contaminated. He communicates these news to Hovstad, newspaper editor, and 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. His brother the mayor, Peter Stockmann, informs Dr Stockmann 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 Dr Stockmann 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. Peter Stockmann 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 inform the townspeople of these events 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, 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". Nevertheless, the mayor arrives to tell his brother 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 Kiil 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 escaping, Dr Stockmann decides to stay in town, 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"[edit]

"The wild duck". Time: 1880s. Place: Norway.

"The wild duck" text at http://www.onread.com/book/The-collected-works-of-Henrik-Ibsen-298272/

Hedvig takes care of a wild duck at her home but is prepared to sacrifice it for her father's sake. Played by Betzy Holter (1893-1979), Nationaltheatret, 1928

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 has 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 house 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 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 he 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. Though hesitant, she 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' 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.


"Rosmersholm". Time: 1880s. Place: Norway.

"Rosmersholm" text at http://www.onread.com/book/The-collected-works-of-Henrik-Ibsen-298272/

Johannes Rosmer has conflicting feelings concerning his servant, Rebecca. Rosmersholm, Lessing Theatre, 1906

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 him to help him fight against certain tendencies beginning to prevail in the town, notably 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, he returns with his own news. Shortly before her death, a "tormented and overwrought" Beata had visited him to express her grief at his 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 even more astonished and resents Kroll's suspicion that an adulterous relation had existed between them. 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 one last time, following her over the footbridge.

"Hedda Gabler"[edit]

"Hedda Gabler". Time: 1890s. Place: Norway.

"Hedda Gabler" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4093

Tormented at the thought of a meaningless married life, Hedda Gabler uses her dead father's pistol to shoot herself to death. Claire Bloom, Playhouse Theatre, New York, 1971

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 on the behalf of Eilert Lovborg, the former tutor of her husband's children, when actually it is on hers, as she confides to Hedda, 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 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 her 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 excessive drinking. The next morning, George tells Hedda he found the only copy of Eilert's manuscript in the streets after it was drunkenly dropped. He wants to alert Eilert but is distracted by 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 bcause 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."

August Strindberg was the dominant Swedish playwright of the 19th century, 1900s

"Miss Julie"[edit]

"Miss Julie". Time: 1880s. Place: Sweden.

"Miss Julie" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8499

Miss Julie is both amused and humiliated at the ambitions displayed by her servant, Jean. Played by Inga Tidblad (1901-1975) and Ulf Palme (1920-1993), respectively, at the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Stockholm, 1950s

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, at which she exclaims: "What incredible conceit!" When he boldly tries to go further and embrace her, she slaps his face. Yet soon she 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, asking: "Will you promise me-" 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 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 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 the menial he is, 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"[edit]

"Crimes and crimes". Time: 1900s. Place: Paris, France.

"Crimes and crimes" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4970

A painter, Adolphe, has sought to prevent his friend, Henriette, a sculptress, from meeting his other friend, Maurice, but they meet accidently, at first without speaking to each other, though her presence lingers in his mind. 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, 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 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?" to which she responds: "No. 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. Henriette discovers she loves Maurice better than Adolphe and Maurice is ready to abandon his friend, Jeanne, with their 5-year-old daughter, Marion, for her. 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 at dawn they continue to celebrate. Adolphe finally shows up and, sensing their new relationship, 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. A frustrated Henriette announces: "We must do away with-" to Maurice's dismay. Meanwhile, Adolphe becomes 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." He then learns from a priest that Marion had suddenly died for no apparent reason, Maurice being the last person to see her. An inspector discovers that Maurice and Henriette were overheard by waiters at the restaurant and at the inn making suspicious comments about the child. Although he does not believe in their guilt, he comes over to question them. "From the triumphal chariot to the police waggon!" exclaims Maurice. Although there is no incriminating evidence of murder, Maurice's play has been withdrawn and he 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. Adolphe reflects: "There are crimes not listed in law-books, the very worst, 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. A detective walks over to Henriette at the inn and takes her in as a prostitute. He does the same to 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 her crime: involuntary death of a friend during an abortion she arranged. When Maurice receives a package containing his 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, Maurice unexpectantly learns his play will be put back on after all. He nevertheless tells the priest he will keep his promise.

"Master Olof"[edit]

"Master Olof" Time: 1520-30s. Place: Strängnäs, Stockholm, Sweden.

"Master Olof" text at http://www.readbookonline.net/plays/

Illustration of King Gustav I Vasa, 1570s by Martin Rota (1540-1583)

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, begins to pray 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 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 Marten and another. Despite being excommunicated and his mother's belief he is a heretic, Olof preaches the reformation to the people, but they throw stones at him and 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, Lars Sparre, the marshal, 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. He, Gert, and others conspire to kill the king, but are caught. 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 to be saved, but when an old friend arrives with good words, convinced he did not retract, he collapses in despair.

Like Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote about changing social mores of the late 19th century. Photograph by Budtz Müller (1837–1884), 1860

"The newly married couple"[edit]

"The newly married couple". (1865) Time: 1860s. Place: Norway.

"The newly married couple" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7366

Because Laura's mother coughed all night, she and her parents decide not to go to a ball, though organized especially in honor of herself and her husband, Axel, who feels discontented at this decision, feeling his child-wife is closer to her parents than to him. He requests her friend, Mathilde, to help stir up her love towards him. He also intends to take up a legal practice. Her parents 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 not content in having only one third of her affections, which her parents consider mere jealousy. Moreover, he will take her away from her parents' house, to her father all this seeming like "an evil dream". Laura feels she has no choice but to follow. Mathilde also disagrees with this move, insisting 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," she promises Axel. Apparently true to Axel's interest, Mathilde reads to Laura from a book entitled "The newly married couple", about a child's duty to her parents being transfered to her husband. "Its whole train of thought offends me," she swears. 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 him, the past year has been a difficult struggle for Axel with respect to Laura's attitude. Mathilde decides to go away, at which Laura comments: "Mathilde is not my friend," a statement which surprises Axel. Laura further declares that it is through her advice that has led her into misery. Axel recognizes that Mathilde has been made into a scapegoat in this affair. Laura's father and mother arrive, pleasantly surprised at discovering how they have turned their house into an almost exact copy of theirs. Now they can truly feel they can 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 says, but Laura says this is untrue. While Axel explains that their happiness was threatened by a book, it eventually drew them together. "Then, all at once, all the doors and windows flew wide open," he says. This prompts Laura to say: "I saw well enough you were fond of me, but I was afraid it was only as you would be fond of a child." To her parents' surprise, she requests to be alone with her husband, and, turning thankfully towards Mathilde, says: "I know I would never have got Axel but for you."


"Leonarda". Time: 1870s. Place: Norway.

"Leonarda" text at http://www.readbookonline.net/title/2036/


Leonarda is an independent businesswoman selling construction materials. One day, she 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. He comes on a new footing, being in love with her adopted daughter, Aagot. She rudely sends him way, but is then astonished to learn Aagot reciprocates this love. She explains that when he proposed to her: "I screamed, ran, got home, packed my trunk, and got on board a boat as quickly as she could." But afterwards, she was ashamed of her conduct. Hagbart's uncle, a bishop, warns him that Leonarda will never be received inside his house. She suspiciously married 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. Hagbart has only the support of 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. 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. Later, Aagot is extremely disappointed to learn that her adopted mother was turned away by the bishop, apparently with Hagbart's consent, who defends himself weakly. 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 is vague on this subject. Alone with her, Hagbart recognizes it is she he loves, not her daughter. "I have grown old," she points out. "Each year will invest you with new beauty, new spiritual power," he counters. Aagot explains to her that she drew inspiration by watching a play by Scribe entitled "Battle of the ladies", in which a man chooses to marry "a stupid little thing" over a "strong-natured, handsome, spirited woman". Leonarda nevertheless 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. The bishop acknowledges he has done her a grave injustice.

"A gauntlet"[edit]

"A gauntlet". Time: 1880s. Place: Norway.

"A gauntlet" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7366

When Svava learns that her betrothed once engaged in adultery, she wants to cancel the marriage and return to the management of her charitable kindergartens, a decision strongly opposed by her parents. Drawing of a 19th century kindergarten

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. She sees him with new eyes, both being of the same opinion that "luxury is immoral". They decide to marry. One day, Svava receives the surprise visit of a stranger, showing her letters from a man who committed adultery with his dead wife. When she sees the man exchange certain looks with Alfred, she screams and hurries out in a violent outburst of weeping. Mrs Riis attempts to soothe her daughter, feeling that her intention to cancel the marriage with Alfred is too hasty, that she should make allowances even on important points. Svava counters by asking: "Isn't it for the sake of our self-development that we marry?" She and her husband quarrel that the powerful Christensen family will never accept her to refuse their son for such a reason, forcing them to leave the city. But 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, enters the scene and tries to convince her she is wrong, but fails, though hinting 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.