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Henrik Ibsen

In general, Ibsen's plays are noteworthy for the realism with which they portray social situations and conflicts between people. For example, in the play Brand, an idealistic priest ends up alienating others from him due to the rigor of his vision; and in A Doll's House, a woman abandons her family because they prevent her from being herself. In terms of frequency of performance, Ibsen's plays are only second in the world to Shakespeare's.  

Introduction & Background Information 

Henrik Ibsen was Norwegian, and lived from the years 1828 to 1906. He is primarily known as a playwright. 

Ibsen became quite controversial in his own time, due to the fact that his plays often violated the dominant conventions of morality that prevailed within the society of his day. 

Within the context of literary history, Ibsen has sometimes been compared to Shakespeare, with critics suggesting that his plays were the most profound since those of the latter. 

He received a few nominations for the Nobel Prize near the end of his life. 


Some of Ibsen's main plays include: Peer Gynt, The Master Builder, and A Doll's House. 

A Doll's House is a great example of how Ibsen provoked controversy within the society of his time. The play consists of a sharp critic of conventional standards of marriage, with Ibsen suggesting that the entire institution of marriage is such that it prevents a woman from truly becoming herself as a human being. 

It would seem that Ibsen himself, though, did not exactly consider himself to be a feminist. Rather, he simply considered himself to be a keen observer of society in particular and the human condition in general. 

Writing Style

Ibsen is known as one of the founders of realism within theatre. The main idea of realism is that art should be a faithful representation of actual human life within a given place and time, with the implication that exposure to such a portrayal can enhance the awareness and consciousness of the audience. 

Ibsen is also associated with the general movement of Modernism in art. James Joyce, for example, was influenced by Ibsen is his desire to portray the mundane with vivid and living detail, and thereby elevate the mundane into something close to the sublime. 

Additional Information

Ibsen can be credited with fundamentally transforming the idea of what theatre was and what it was meant to do. After Ibsen, for example, it was no longer possible to defend the notion that theatre was to merely "edify" the audience in terms of reinforcing the dominant morals and standards of society. Rather, the conception changed to one in which art was precisely art because of its willingness to speak the truth against such morals and standards. 

This revolution probably emerged from the basic realism of Ibsen's work. Perceiving society in a close way, Ibsen could not help but also perceive the basic hypocrisies and injustices that permeate any society. Ibsen's perception, for example, proved to be especially acute with respect to the predicament of women, which comes across clearly through the fact that some of his key works feature female protagonists. 

Likewise, Ibsen's work also helped to establish the line between entertainment and serious art within the domain of theatre. The former came to be seen as consisting of works that were meant to make the audience forget about society, whereas the latter came to be seen as consisting of works animated by moral purpose and compel the audience to look more closely at society. This ethos became quite important within all genres of modern art in general, even outside of the specific genre of theatre.

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