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Mythic Patterns in Ibsen’s Last Plays

Mythic Patterns in Ibsen’s Last Plays

Orley I. Holtan
Copyright Date: 1970
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttt115
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    Mythic Patterns in Ibsen’s Last Plays
    Book Description:

    Until recently critics have tended to regard Ibsen principally as a social dramatist, one who was concerned primarily with the political, social, and moral questions of his time. Radical though he was in the Victorian era, his ideas, with the passage o time, ceased to be avant garde, and for this reason many critics have dismissed him as outdated. Professor Holtan examines a major portion of Ibsen’s work, his last eight plays, in a new perspective, however, and finds much that is of lasting significance and interest. Ibsen’s initial impact came with the publication in 1879 of A Doll’s House, the play which seemingly advocates a woman’s right to leave her husband and children. His reputation as a social dramatist was only furthered by the appearance of his next two plays, Ghosts and An Enemy of the People. But Professor Holtan’s study of the plays which came after these identifies in the later plays values which transcend the social problems of their time, penetrating questions of the human spirit itself. The eight last plays which Professor Holtan examines in this study are The Wild Duck, Rosmersholm, The Lady from the Sea, Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder, Little Eyolf, John Gabriel Borkman, and When We Dead Awaken. In these plays he identifies a mythic pattern and unity based in elements of symbolism and mysticism which have puzzled or annoyed readers and critics for years. In his mythic vision Ibsen’s lasting contribution far exceeds that of his invention of the social-problem drama, Professor Holtan concludes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6299-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
    O. I. H.
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION AN APPROACH TO IBSEN
    (pp. 3-5)

    Henrik ibsen’s greatest initial impact on the drama, both inside and out of Scandinavia, came with the publication ofA Doll’s Housein 1879. Within months he had achieved a kind ofsucces de scandaleby ostensibly advocating the right of a woman to walk out on her husband and children, undermining thereby the traditional bases of marriage. His two following plays,GhostsandAn Enemy of the People, only furthered his reputation as a social problem dramatist, a propagandist who attacked the social ills of his time without caring whom or what he offended. Ibsen was regarded as the...

  5. MYTH AND LITERATURE A DEFINITION AND A RELATIONSHIP
    (pp. 6-14)

    The termmythalmost immediately calls to mind a fantastic tale involving gods, heroes, or supernatural beings, a tale closely related to the ritual and to the religious and social order of a people or a culture. Myth is thus distinguished from folk or fairy tales and from other narratives that serve chiefly for entertainment, and from history, which is a true account of a national or a cultural past. This is essentially the distinction discovered by Malinowski in his research among the Trobriand islanders.¹ Myth, he says, functions “to establish a belief, to serve as a precedent in ceremony...

  6. IBSEN’S EARLIER CAREER FROM MYTH TO SOCIAL REALISM
    (pp. 15-34)

    Critics have traditionally divided the body of Ibsen’s work in two ways, into two parts and into three. Some of those who employ the two-part division take their cue from his famous letter to Björnson, in which, angered by Clemens Petersen’s reaction toPeer Gynt, he says, “If I am no poet, then I have nothing to lose. I shall try my luck as a photographer.”¹ Thus, they classify the plays throughPeer Gyntas “poetry” and those which follow, beginning withThe League of Youth, as “photography” or realism.² Certainly, there is a clear break in both form and...

  7. THE WILD DUCK AND ROSMERSHOLM THE RE-ENTRY OF THE MYTHIC
    (pp. 35-63)

    Though myth dominates some of Ibsen’s earlier plays and can be found to be implicit even in those of his “realistic” period, it does become displaced behind a facade of direct concern with social problems in the plays fromThe League of YouththroughAn Enemy of the People(with the exception ofEmperor and Galilean).An Enemy of the Peoplewas, however, the last play in which Ibsen dealt directly and primarily with a social problem; it can be regarded as the last of his polemical plays.¹ It is perhaps significant that the playwright has Dr. Stockmann specifically reject...

  8. THE LADY FROM THE SEA AND HEDDA GABLER MYTH AND PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDY
    (pp. 64-96)

    In the writing ofThe Wild DuckandRosmersholmIbsen had still made use of the social problem as a kind of framework upon which to build a larger and more significant action. The question that lies behind the problem of the “true marriage” in the former is no less than, How can man manage to live in the world? Behind the relatively insignificant local political struggle of the latter there is the same cosmic conflict between opposed principles that had animatedEmperor and Galilean. In his next two plays he was to turn from the social problem and embark...

  9. THE MASTER BUILDER PROMETHEUS AND THE DYING KING
    (pp. 97-114)

    Traditionally there have been two ways of approachingThe Master Builder, the biographical and the psychological. In some cases the two have been applied together. Thus, the play is commonly seen as a kind of capsule autobiography of Henrik Ibsen, with parallels between Solness’ meeting with Hilda Wangel and Ibsen’s acquaintance with Emilie Bardach, and between Solness’ churches, homes for human beings, and castles in the air and Ibsen’s early dramas of high idealism, his plays of social realism, and his later plays of poetic symbolism.¹ The problems of Solness — his sense of guilt, his fear of the younger...

  10. LITTLE EYOLF THE MYTH OF SACRIFICE AND REDEMPTION
    (pp. 115-133)

    IfThe Wild Duckmarks, roughly, the beginning of a gradual attempt on Ibsen’s part to interweave myth into realistic form and to set it in a contemporary context,The Master Builderrepresents the nearly perfect combination of realistic form and mythic content.¹ InLittle EyolfIbsen continues to conceal under the apparently realistic surface a layer of mythic import. The combination here, however, is not such a happy one. The post-Victorian critic must question whether the obviously moralistic conclusion of the play can be taken seriously, given the character of the persons involved. This has led at least one...

  11. JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN AND WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN MYTHS OF DEATH AND RESURRECTION
    (pp. 134-176)

    The introductory chapter of this book indicated that underlying all myth there is a basic pattern or Ur-myth which recounts the combat between the god and another force, depicts the suffering and death of the god, and, ultimately, his resurrection.¹ Frye designates this basic pattern the “quest myth.” It is closely related to the natural cycle of life and death, waking and sleeping, light and darkness which man shares with the rest of nature.² This cyclical pattern is divided into a number of stages, each corresponding to a phase of the myth, to a portion of the natural cycle, and,...

  12. CONCLUSION IBSEN IN PERSPECTIVE
    (pp. 177-184)

    In the twentieth century the sense of rootlessness, meaninglessness and absurdity has become a common experience, first among artists and intellectuals and later among the ordinary men in the street.Alienated manandfragmented manhave become popular terms to describe the modern individual as he struggles to find a place in an indifferent cosmos. In the following passage William Barrett summarizes man’s progress into the modern world, a journey that had its beginnings in the Renaissance and was greatly accelerated during the nineteenth century.

    Thus, with the modern period, man . . . has entered upon a secular phase...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 187-200)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 201-204)
  15. Index
    (pp. 207-213)