A famous Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet, Henrik Ibsen is often considered as “the father” of modern theater and one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre. Ibsen is often ranked as one of the greatest playwrights in the European literature, also perhaps the greatest playwright since Shakespeare. When European theatres were expected to show strict mores of family life and propriety, his plays were considered scandalous as they revealed the reality that was hidden behind many facades. At the young age, Ibsen was greatly influenced by the famous Norwegian poet and playwright, Henrik Wergeland and other Norwegian folk tales particularly collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jorgen Moe. His important works include, Brand (1865), Peer Gynt (1867), Emperor and Galilean (1873), A Doll's House(1879), Ghosts(1881), An Enemy of the People (1882),The Wild Duck (1884), Hedda Gabler (1890) and The Master Builder (1892).
Henrik Ibsen Childhood & Early Life
Henrik Ibsen was born on March 20, 1828 in Skien, Norway. His parents were Knud Ibsen and Marichen Altenburg. Ibsen was a descendant of some of the oldest and most distinguished families of Norway. Shortly after his birth, the financial condition of his family dwindled down. His father went in the state of depression whereas his mother took solace in spirituality. Ibsen was fifteen when he was forced to leave the school. He moved to the small town of Grimstad, took an apprentice job at a pharmacist and began writing plays. When he was 18, a liaison with a servant produced him an illegitimate child. Ibsen had to pay for the child’s upbringing till the boy grew into his teens, although Ibsen never saw him. In 1850, Ibsen went to Christiania (now Oslo) intending to matriculate at the university. But his earlier attempts of entering the university were failed as he couldn’t clear the entrance exams. As a result, he dropped the idea of matriculation at the university and committed himself to writing. The same year, he published his first play, the tragedy Catiline under the pseudonym “Brynjolf Bjarme”. His first staged play was “The Burial Mound” (1850) which didn’t receive much attention. Despite of numerous unsuccessful plays, Ibsen remained determined to be a playwright. When Ibsen was young, Norwegian author Henrik Wergeland was the most acclaimed, and widely read Norwegian poet and playwright. Wergeland, along with other Norwegian folk tales, particularly collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, inspired Ibsen to write more plays.
Career and Writings
For the next several years, Ibsen worked at Det norske Theater (Bergen), where he was involved in the production of more than 145 plays as a writer, director, and producer. No individual plays came from him during this period. His failures to achieve success gave him immense experience at the Norwegian Theater, which proved to be very helpful for him in the future. In 1858, he returned to Christiania and became the creative director of the Christiania Theatre. On 18th June 1858, he married Suzannah Thoresen. The couple had a son, Sigurd born on December 23, 1859. They had to face poor financial circumstances, which made Ibsen disillusioned with his life in Norway. He left Christiania in 1864 and went to Sorrento in Italy. His play, “Brand” (1865) brought Ibsen critical acclaim, along with considerable amount of financial success. The success of Brand was followed by another successful play, “Peer Gynt” (1867). The famous Norwegian composer and pianist Edvard Grieg composed incidental music and songs based on this play. The success of these plays brought confidence in him and encouraged him to introduce more of his ideas and beliefs into the drama.
The next phase of Ibsen’s life is considered as his Golden Age, as he reached the height of power and influence and became the centre of dramatic controversy across Europe. In 1868, he moved from Italy to Dresden, Germany and spent the next few years in writing his most important work, “Emperor and Galilean” which was published in 1873. This play was based on the life and times of the Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate. In 1875, Ibsen moved to Munich and published his next play, “A Doll's House” in 1879. It was followed by another play, “Ghosts” in 1881. The next year in 1882, he came with another controversial play, “An Enemy of the People”. His early plays were controversial to a small scale of individual households. But in “An Enemy of the People”, the antagonist was the whole community. His next play, “The Wild Duck” (1884) is often considered as his finest work and also the most complex of his works. In the later years of his literary career, his dramas turned more introspective, less denouncing of society's moral values. In later plays like “Hedda Gabler” (1890) and “The Master Builder” (1892), Ibsen explored the psychological conflicts that transcended a simple rejection of current conventions.
Many readers, who consider anti-Victorian didacticism as dated, simplistic or banal, will find these plays more interesting for their hard-edged, objective consideration of interpersonal confrontation. “Hedda Gabler” is the most performed play of Ibsen. The title role of the play is still one of the most challenging and rewarding role for an actress. His plays, “Hedda Gabler” and “A Doll's House” were based on female protagonists whose almost demonic energy proves both attractive and destructive for people around them. Ibsen changed the rules of drama with his elements of realism, which was later adopted by Chekhov and others. His forward, challenging and direct approach to issues made the plays an art rather than mere entertainment. Ibsen returned to Norway in 1891, which had changed considerably then. He did play a prominent role in the changes that had happened across society.
Ibsen married Suzannah Thoresen on June 18, 1858. They had a son, Sigurd born on 23 December 1859.
Ibsen suffered a series of strokes in March 1990. He died on 23rd May, 1906 in his home at Arbins gade 1 in Christiania (now Oslo). He was buried in Vår Frelsers gravlund ("The Graveyard of Our Savior") in central Oslo.