Ondertexts
Henrik Ibsen
Search

Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen Henrik Ibsen[2†]

Henrik Johan Ibsen (March 20, 1828 - May 23, 1906) was a major Norwegian playwright and theatre director of the late 19th century[1†][2†]. He introduced to the European stage a new order of moral analysis that was placed against a severely realistic middle-class background and developed with economy of action, penetrating dialogue, and rigorous thought[1†].

Early Years and Education

Henrik Johan Ibsen was born on March 20, 1828, in Skien, a small port town in Telemark county of Norway[3†][4†]. He was born into one of the most prominent families of the town[3†]. His father, Knud Ibsen, was a respected merchant in the community until 1836, when he suffered the permanent disgrace of going bankrupt[3†][1†][4†]. As a result, the family sank into poverty[3†][4†].

At the age of 15, Ibsen moved to Grimstad[3†][1†][4†][5†]. There, he worked as an apothecary’s apprentice while studying nights for admission to the university[3†][6†][4†][5†]. This period of his life was a lonely one, and the young Ibsen soon turned to writing, especially poetry[3†][6†].

In 1849, Ibsen entered the university at Christiania (now Oslo), but he soon dropped out due to lack of money[3†][6†]. His life was hard for many years[3†][6†].

Career Development and Achievements

At the age of 23, Ibsen got himself appointed as a director and playwright to a new theatre in Bergen[7†]. In this capacity, he had to write a new play every year. This period was a significant stepping stone in his career, providing him with much experience as a stage manager, in-house playwright, and artistic director[7†].

In the beginning, Ibsen wrote verse dramas on themes from Norwegian history[7†]. His patriotic spirit and support for the 1848 revolutions were evident in his early works[7†].

Ibsen’s career took a significant turn in 1877 with the social drama, "The Pillars of Society". This play marked a new phase in his career and was soon followed by one of his most famous works, "A Doll’s House".

Ibsen is often considered the father of modern theater and one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre[3†]. His plays introduced a new order of moral analysis against a severely realistic middle-class background[1†][3†]. His works developed with economy of action, penetrating dialogue, and rigorous thought[1†][3†].

His masterpieces include ‘Brand’, ‘Peer Gynt’, ‘An Enemy of the People’, ‘Emperor and Galilean’, ‘A Doll’s House’, ‘The Wild Duck’, and many others[3†]. These works have had a profound influence on European literature, and Ibsen is often ranked as one of the greatest playwrights since Shakespeare[3†].

After 27 years of self-imposed exile, he returned to Norway at the age of 63, continuing to write until a stroke left him incapacitated at the age of 72[3†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Henrik Ibsen’s body of work is extensive and has had a profound impact on theatre and literature. His plays often broke new ground, introducing a level of realism that was unprecedented at the time[8†][2†]. Here are some of his main works, along with information about their first publication:

Each of these works has contributed to Ibsen’s reputation as one of the most influential playwrights in world literature[8†][2†]. His plays have strong and challenging characters that live on outside of their plays’ intrigues[8†][9†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Henrik Ibsen’s works are renowned for their realism and exploration of social issues. His distinct literary style, with a blend of satire, irony, and realism, separates him from other writers[10†]. The recurring thematic strands in most of his writings are poverty, hardships of life, feminism, religious intolerance, self-realization, and the clash between the individual and societal pressures[10†].

Ibsen’s plays often broke new ground, introducing a level of realism that was unprecedented at the time[10†][11†]. In “A Doll’s House”, Ibsen employs the themes and structures of classical tragedy while writing in prose about everyday, unexceptional people[10†][11†]. It is widely considered a landmark in the development of what soon became a highly prevalent genre of theater—realism, which strives to portray life accurately and shuns idealized visions of it[10†][11†].

His plays have strong and challenging characters that live on outside of their plays’ intrigues[10†][11†]. In his later work, Ibsen moved away from realistic drama to tackle questions of a psychological and subconscious nature[10†][11†]. Accordingly, symbols began to gain prominence in his plays[10†][11†]. Among the works he wrote in this symbolist period are “The Wild Duck” (1884) and “Hedda Gabler” (1890)[10†][11†].

Ibsen’s plays, often set in Norway and reminiscent of his hometown of Skien, are known for their critical eye and free inquiry into the conditions of life and issues of morality[10†][12†]. His work has had a profound influence on other playwrights and novelists such as George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Harley Granville Barker, Arthur Miller, Marguerite Yourcenar, James Joyce, Eugene O’Neill, and Jon Fosse[10†][12†].

Personal Life

Henrik Ibsen was born into the merchant elite of the port town of Skien and grew up as a member of the Ibsen – Paus extended family[13†]. His father was a respected general merchant in the community until 1836, when he suffered the permanent disgrace of going bankrupt[13†][1†]. As a result, the family sank into a querulous penury, which his mother’s withdrawn and sombre religiosity did nothing to mitigate[13†][1†].

In 1858, Henrik Ibsen married Suzannah Thoresen, and they had a child - Sigurd[13†][14†]. His son later became a government minister and a lawyer[13†][14†]. At the beginning of their marriage, the couple lived in impoverished circumstances[13†][14†]. Although most of his plays are set in Norway—often in places reminiscent of Skien—Ibsen lived for 27 years in Italy and Germany and rarely visited Norway during his most productive years[13†][2†][13†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Henrik Ibsen’s playwriting career did not end with “Rosmersholm”, but thereafter he turned toward a more self-analytic and symbolic mode of writing that is quite different from the plays that made his world reputation[15†]. Among his later plays are “The Lady from the Sea”, “Hedda Gabler”, “The Master Builder”, “Little Eyolf”, “John Gabriel Borkman”, and "When We Dead Awaken"[15†]. Two of these plays, “Hedda Gabler” and “The Master Builder”, are vitalized by the presence of a demonically idealistic and totally destructive female[15†].

Ibsen wrote plays about mostly prosaic and commonplace persons, but from them he elicited insights of devastating directness, great subtlety, and occasional flashes of rare beauty[15†]. His plots are not cleverly contrived games but deliberate acts of cognition, in which persons are stripped of their accumulated disguises and forced to acknowledge their true selves, for better or worse[15†]. Thus, he made his audiences reexamine with painful earnestness the moral foundation of their being[15†].

During the last half of the 19th century, he turned the European stage back from what it had become—a plaything and a distraction for the bored—to make it what it had been long ago among the ancient Greeks, an instrument for passing doom-judgment on the soul[15†]. Ibsen represented various historically-based distortions (idealism, unbearable guilt, abuses of the will to power, moral corruption) of our being-free[15†][16†]. He believed that free will could be safeguarded, regardless of dehumanizing phenomena[15†][16†].

In conclusion, Henrik Ibsen is regarded as a revolutionary playwright whose dramatic contributions have permanently altered the landscape of both theater and literature[15†][17†]. He greatly influenced European theatre and is regarded as the founder of modern prose drama[15†][18†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Henrik Ibsen: Norwegian dramatist and poet [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Henrik Ibsen [website] - link
  3. The Famous People - Henrik Ibsen Biography [website] - link
  4. Britannica - What was Henrik Ibsen’s childhood like? [website] - link
  5. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Henrik Ibsen Biography [website] - link
  6. Britannica Kids - Henrik Ibsen [website] - link
  7. Yale University - The Modernism Lab - Henrik Ibsen [website] - link
  8. ThoughtCo - Complete List of Henrik Ibsen Works [website] - link
  9. visitnorway.com - Henrik Ibsen [website] - link
  10. Literary Devices - Henrik Ibsen [website] - link
  11. SparkNotes - Henrik Ibsen Biography, Works, and Quotes [website] - link
  12. eNotes - Henrik Ibsen Analysis [website] - link
  13. Wikiwand - Henrik Ibsen - Wikiwand [website] - link
  14. SunSigns - Henrik Ibsen Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  15. Britannica - Henrik Ibsen - Later plays and legacy [website] - link
  16. Springer Link - Humanizing Business - Chapter: How Could Henrik Ibsen’s Plays Contribute to Humanizing Business and Nurturing the Development of Ethical Leadership? [website] - link
  17. Thinking Literature - Henrik Ibsen as a dramatist [website] - link
  18. Britannica - Henrik Ibsen summary [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.