Drama: From Ibsen to Eliot

By Raymond Williams | Go to book overview

I
Henrik Ibsen

(i)

"FAME," said Rilke, "is the sum of misunderstanding which gathers about a new name." The English, indeed the European, fame of Ibsen is perhaps a case in point. It is very widely believed that his main concern was to write plays about the social problems of his day, and that his typical dramatic manner is that of the conversational play, in which every character is provided with a family, and every room with heavy furniture, a certain stuffiness in the air, and a Secret mouldering in the corner cupboard. These ideas spring from a mistake of emphasis, which, in England, began with the London performances of A Doll's House in 1889, and of Ghosts and Hedda Gabler in 1891. These plays--Ghosts in particular--were hysterically abused by a "compact majority" of the reviewers and right-thinking men of the day. "This new favourite of a foolish school," wrote Clement Scott, in a "Daily Telegraph" leading article drawing attention to his own review of Ghosts, ". . . this so-called master . . . who is to teach the hitherto fairly decent genius of the modern English stage a better and a darker way, seems, to our judgment, to resemble one of his own Norwegian ravens emerging from the rocks with an insatiable appetite for decayed flesh." Ghosts was compared to "an open drain; a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly; a lazar-house with all its doors and windows open." Scott's outbursts are distinguished from others only by the lack of restraint encouraged by a fluent pen and a waiting press.

It is best, in such cases, if no attempt is made at defence. Since the attacks are irrelevant, defence will only give away the artist's case. For Ibsen, unfortunately, there were too many defenders. Ibsenism and Ibsenites sprang up everywhere. Mr. Shaw wrote The Quintessence of Ibsenism, having, it seems, decided quite firmly in advance what the plays ought to mean. What Shaw expounded in his book was hardly what Ibsen had written in his plays. But the Ibsenite emphasis on subject, as something which could be considered apart from the words of

-41-

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Drama: From Ibsen to Eliot
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 11
  • Part I 39
  • I - Henrik Ibsen 41
  • 2 - August Strindberg 98
  • 3 - Anton Chekhov 126
  • 4 - Bernard Shaw 138
  • 5 - J. M. Synge 154
  • 6- Two Social Plays 175
  • 7 - Luigi Pirandello 185
  • 8 - Jean Anouilh: a Comment 196
  • Part II 203
  • I - W. B. Yeats 205
  • 2 - T. S. Eliot 223
  • 3 - Some Verse Dramatists 247
  • 4 - Criticism into Drama 269
  • Index 279
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