Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen

Synopsis

-- Brings together the best criticism on the most widely read poets, novelists, and playwrights

-- Presents complex critical portraits of the most influential writers in the English-speaking world -- from the English medievalists to contemporary writers

Excerpt

Ibsen's vast range is allied to his uncanny ability to transcend genre; in both respects he is like Shakespeare, the dominant though frequently hidden influence upon his work.Shakespeare wrote his 38 (or so) plays in a quarter century; Ibsen composed for 50 years, and gave us 25 plays. His masterpieces, in my judgment, include Brand, Peer Gynt, Emperor and Galilean, in the period 1865-1873, with Hedda Gabler as a great postlude in 1890. Peer Gynt and Hedda Gabler retain their popularity, but do not seem so frequently performed as what are taken to be Ibsen's "social dramas": A Doll's House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck, and the earlier Pillars of Society. His final period, after he turned sixty, gave us four great visionary plays: The Lady from the Sea, The Master Builder, John Gabriel Borkman, and When We Dead Awaken. Yet all of Ibsen is visionary drama; he inherited Shakespeare's invention of the human, characters capable of overhearing themselves, and his mastery of inwardness is second only to Shakespeare's. I will confine myself, in this Introduction, to brief accounts of only two plays: Brand and Hedda Gabler, or rather to the two sublime characters who give their names to these dramas. Since this volume contains my essay on Peer Gynt, my Introduction seeks to supplement that essay by extending some of its concerns from Peer Gynt to Brand and to Hedda Gabler.

Ibsen, who could be caustic, had a powerful aversion to Strindberg. "I have always liked storms," he wrote in a letter to his sister, a fondness that helps explain his purchase of a large portrait of Strindberg, which he hung on the wall of his study. Under the baleful gaze of his enemy, whom he considered "delightfully mad," Ibsen was spurred on to even more exuberance in his final plays, John Gabriel Borkman and the apocalyptic . . .

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