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Ibsen’s Drama

Ibsen’s Drama: Author to Audience

Einar Haugen
Copyright Date: 1979
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Ibsen’s Drama
    Book Description:

    “A dramatist for all seasons” Einar Haugen calls Henrik Ibsen in this series of lectures given in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Norwegian playwright’s birth. Using a modified version of the communications model developed by linguist Roman Jakobson, Haugen provides a readable, succinct analysis of Ibsen’s thinking and dramaturgy. He examines the ways in which Ibsen the author communicated with his nineteenth-century audience and is able, still, to move and inform playgoers today. Haugen brings to this work a lifetime of familiarity with Ibsen in Norwegian and in translation, and he draws upon his own experience as a theatergoer and as an observer of student and audience reaction to the plays. Ibsen’s Drama will bring pleasure and a deeper understanding of the playwright to students and playgoers alike. Einar Haugen is Victor S. Thomas Professor of Scandinavian and Linguistics, emeritus, at Harvard University. He is author, editor, or translator of many books and articles in linguistics, literature, and immigrant history, notably The Norwegian Language in America (1953), The Scandinavian Languages (1976), and Land of the Free (1978).

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6283-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Prologue
    (pp. vii-x)

    This book is based on a series of lectures given in 1978 at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota. They were conceived as an attempt to answer a question that had puzzled me in the years I taught courses in Ibsen to university and college students. This went back to my first years of teaching in the 1930s at the University of Wisconsin. On the one hand, I encountered academic scorn for Ibsen’s “lack of poetic vision” (after all, he wasn’t Shakespeare) and Marxist contempt for his “bourgeois individualism” (Plekhanov had spoken). On the other hand, to my students (and me) he...

  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Introduction: A Dramatist for All Seasons
    (pp. 3-15)

    There are few if any theatrical seasons in which one or another play by Ibsen is not being performed somewhere around the world. Dramatists come and go; they strut their little hour on the stage and vanish. But Ibsen bids fair to go on, at least for as long as the theater we know continues to exist. His position as an enduring piece of theatrical property seems secure.

    Let us carry the metaphor of the seasons a step farther. Ibsen had his own seasons of varying creativity. The spring of his life was chilly, but bracing, coinciding with the spring...

  5. A Model for Communication
    (pp. 16-18)

    The model that will be used as the framework for our discussion is a modification of the one developed by Roman Jakobson, renowned scholar in linguistics and poetics. This model presents a generalized conception of how people communicate in everyday life. It applies also to the sending of messages by telephone and telegraph, and it can easily be adjusted to fit the work of poet and writer, trying to communicate something beyond bits of information.

    In any act of communication there is anaddresserand anaddressee,also known assenderandreceiver, sourceandtarget.In conversation the addresser...

  6. 1 Who Was Henrik Ibsen?
    (pp. 19-36)

    On the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1898, Ibsen declared his intention of writing a book “that will link my life and my writings together into an explanatory whole.”² Happily for his many interpreters, he never fulfilled this intention. Nor is it really necessary: the man stands out clear and strong in the works he left behind. One could almost write his biography by using as a source the message that is his work.

    For writers of earlier ages the lack of sources makes this a necessity: of Homer’s life we know nothing, of Virgil’s little, of Chaucer’s something,...

  7. 2 Topics of the Times
    (pp. 37-52)

    Early English (and American) commentators on Ibsen’s plays were fond of calling the author “provincial.”² It is hard today to recapture exactly what they meant by this, though it seems to suggest a certain lack of sophistication. Even Henry James, who came to admire him, used the term.³ It implies certain limitations, which hardly apply, for example, to a work likeHedda Gabler.

    It may be bold to suggest that it was the critics who were provincial rather than Ibsen. The mainstream of British tradition was more insular than continental. Ibsen himself was firmly planted in the cultural tradition of...

  8. 3 The Play’s the Thing
    (pp. 53-72)

    That Ibsen’s chief medium or channel for expression was thedramais beyond argument. In his youth he wrote a great deal of verse, he painted extensively, and he was prolific as a literary and dramatic critic. Even then the writing of plays was his chief ambition, and soon after he began his exile in 1864 and achieved success as a dramatist, he gave up his other pursuits, devoting himself with single-minded intensity to playwriting. His technique was founded on a combination of dramaturgic theory and practical theater experience that no other dramatist of his day could equal. We have...

  9. 4 Under the Surface
    (pp. 73-94)

    Readers and viewers of Ibsen’s plays, especially his later ones, have often come away from the experience with a feeling akin to that of young Hedvig after her conversation with Gregers. Some early critics were so baffled that they tended to be belligerent about it. WhenThe Master Builderwas first performed in London in 1893, one critic wrote, “What this extraordinary piece of work may mean, Dr, Ibsen alone can know.”² Another flatly declared that when the play “is not prurient, it seems to be meaningless.”³ Predictably more perceptive, Henry James wrote that “the mingled reality and symbolism of...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. 5 Poetry in the Round
    (pp. 95-109)

    In a moment of unusual candor, when he was angered by critic Clemens Petersen’s claim thatPeer Gyntwas not poetry, Ibsen wrote to Bjørnson: “My work is poetry; and if it is not, it shall become so. The concept of poetry in our country, in Norway, shall come to conform with this book.”² His prediction, which must have seemed rash to Bjørnson, has been fulfilled. It has increasingly been recognized, not only forPeer Gyntand not only in Norway, that hewasa poet, not only in verse but also in prose. This development sustains his own judgment,...

  12. 6 Ibsenites and Ibsenism
    (pp. 110-122)

    We have now pondered the major aspects of the message Ibsen issued to the world in his often controversial but still enduring plays. What can we say about the audience that received his message and how does it relate to the aspects we have discussed?

    In the first chapter I noted that we could reconstruct much of Ibsen’s inner life by studying his work carefully. In the same way we can deduce a good deal about his intended audience. Like attracts like, and we may guess that those who, like him, were social outsiders, inwardly divided, rebellious about conventions could...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 123-124)

    Ibsen repeatedly emphasized that he was concerned only with portraying men and women and that he had no message or doctrine to proclaim (as Mencken insisted). Yet we have had the temerity to claim that his entire production was a message to the world. It is the ultimate paradox of Ibsen’s drama that he wrought single-mindedly for half a century to communicate the doctrine that all doctrines, including his own, are lies. The inescapable conclusion is that communication is impossible. But Ibsen was fascinated by the “impossible”: his imagination was stirred, as he put it inBrand,by incongruous combinations—...

  14. Appendix 1: Chronology of Ibsen’s Life
    (pp. 127-128)
  15. Appendix 2: Plot Summaries of Ibsen’s Plays
    (pp. 129-148)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 151-162)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 165-174)
  18. Index
    (pp. 177-185)