Jun 18, 2012

Quick Ibsen bio

A condensed biography of Henrik Ibsen

(source: wikipedia)

Henrik Johan Ibsen (1828 –1906) was a 19th-century Norwegian playwright of realistic drama. He is often referred to as the "father of modern drama." His plays were considered scandalous to many of his era, when Victorian values of family life and propriety largely held sway in Europe and any challenge to them was considered immoral and outrageous. Ibsen's work examined the realities that lay behind many facades, possessing a revelatory nature that was disquieting to many contemporaries.

Family and youth

Henrik Ibsen was born to a relatively well-to-do merchant family, in the small port town of Skien, Norway. Shortly after his birth his family's fortunes took a significant turn for the worse. His mother turned to religion for solace and his father began to suffer from severe depression. The characters in his plays often mirror his parents and his themes often deal with issues of financial difficulty as well as moral conflicts stemming from dark secrets hidden from society.

At fifteen, Ibsen left home. He moved to the small town of Grimstad to become an apprentice pharmacist and began writing plays. In 1846, together with a servant, he fathered an illegitimate child, whom he later rejected. While Ibsen did pay some child support for fourteen years, he never met his illegitimate son, who ended up as a poor blacksmith. Ibsen went to Christiania (later renamed Oslo) intending to matriculate at the university. He soon rejected the idea (his earlier attempts at entering university were blocked as he did not pass all his entrance exams), preferring to commit himself to writing. 

His first play, the tragedy Catiline (1850), was not performed. His first play to be staged, The Burial Mound (1850), received little attention. Still, Ibsen was determined to be a playwright, although the numerous plays he wrote in the following years remained unsuccessful.

Life and writings

Ibsen spent the next several years employed at the Norwegian Theater in Bergen, where he was involved in the production of more than 145 plays as a writer, director, and producer. During this period he did not publish any new plays of his own. Despite Ibsen's failure to achieve success as a playwright, he gained a great deal of practical experience at the Norwegian Theater, experience that was to prove valuable when he continued writing.

Ibsen returned to Christiania in 1858 to become the creative director of Christiania's National Theater. He married Suzannah Thoresen the same year and she gave birth to their only child, Sigurd. The couple lived in very poor financial circumstances and Ibsen became very disenchanted with life in Norway. In 1864, he left Christiania and went to Sorrento in Italy in self-imposed exile. He was not to return to his native land for the next 27 years, and when he returned it was to be as a noted playwright, however controversial.

His next play, Brand (1865), was to bring him the critical acclaim he sought, along with a measure of financial success, as was his next play, Peer Gynt (1867), to which Edvard Grieg famously composed the incidental music. Although Ibsen read excerpts of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and traces of the latter's influence are evident in Brand, it was not until after Brand that Ibsen came to take Kierkegaard seriously. Initially annoyed with his friend Georg Brandes for comparing Brand to Kierkegaard, Ibsen nevertheless read Either/Or and Fear and Trembling. Subsequently, Ibsen's next play Peer Gynt was consciously informed by Kierkegaard.[3][4]

With success, Ibsen became more confident and began to introduce more and more of his own beliefs and judgments into the drama, exploring what he termed the "drama of ideas." His next series of plays are often considered his Golden Age, when he entered the height of his power and influence, becoming the center of dramatic controversy across Europe.

Ibsen moved from Italy to Dresden, Germany in 1868, where he spent years writing the play he regarded as his main work, Emperor and Galilean (1873), dramatizing the life and times of the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate. Although Ibsen himself always looked back on this play as the cornerstone of his entire works, very few shared his opinion, and his next works would be much more acclaimed. Ibsen moved to Munich in 1875 and published A Doll's House in 1879. The play is a scathing criticism of the blind acceptance of traditional roles of men and women in Victorian marriage.

Ibsen followed A Doll's House with Ghosts (1881), another scathing commentary on Victorian morality, in which a widow reveals to her pastor that she had hidden the evils of her marriage for its duration. 

In An Enemy of the People (1882), Ibsen went even further. In earlier plays, controversial elements were important and even pivotal components of the action, but they were on the small scale of individual households. In An Enemy, controversy became the primary focus, and the antagonist was the entire community. One primary message of the play is that the individual, who stands alone, is more often "right" than the mass of people, who are portrayed as ignorant and sheeplike. 

As audiences by now expected of him, his next play again attacked entrenched beliefs and assumptions—but this time his attack was not against the Victorians but against overeager reformers and their idealism. Always the iconoclast, Ibsen was equally willing to tear down the ideologies of any part of the political spectrum, including his own.

The Wild Duck (1884) is considered by many to be Ibsen's finest work, and it is certainly the most complex. It tells the story of Gregers Werle, a young man who returns to his hometown after an extended exile and is reunited with his boyhood friend Hjalmar Ekdal. 

Interestingly, late in his career Ibsen turned to a more introspective drama that had much less to do with denunciations of Victorian morality. In such later plays as Hedda Gabler (1890) and The Master Builder (1892) Ibsen explored psychological conflicts that transcended a simple rejection of Victorian conventions. Many modern readers, who might regard anti-Victorian didacticism as dated, simplistic and even clichéd, have found these later works to be of absorbing interest for their hard-edged, objective consideration of interpersonal confrontation. 

Hedda Gabler and The Master Builder center on female protagonists whose almost demonic energy proves both attractive and destructive for those around them. Hedda Gabler is probably Ibsen's most performed play, with the title role regarded as one of the most challenging and rewarding for an actress even in the present day. There are a few similarities between Hedda and the character of Nora in A Doll's House, but many of today's audiences and theater critics feel that Hedda's intensity and drive are much more complex and much less comfortably explained than what they view as rather routine feminism on the part of Nora.

Ibsen had completely rewritten the rules of drama with a realism which was to be adopted by Chekhov and others and which we see in the theater to this day. From Ibsen forward, challenging assumptions and directly speaking about issues has been considered one of the factors that makes a play art rather than entertainment. Ibsen returned to Norway in 1891, but it was in many ways not the Norway he had left. Indeed, he had played a major role in the changes that had happened across society. The Victorian Age was on its last legs, to be replaced by the rise of Modernism not only in the theater, but across public life.

List of works

    * 1850 Catiline (Catilina)
    * 1850 The Burial Mound also known as The Warrior's Barrow (Kjæmpehøjen)
    * 1851 Norma (Norma)
    * 1852 St. John's Eve (Sancthansnatten)
    * 1854 Lady Inger of Oestraat (Fru Inger til Østeraad)
    * 1855 The Feast at Solhaug (Gildet paa Solhoug)
    * 1856 Olaf Liljekrans (Olaf Liljekrans)
    * 1857 The Vikings at Helgeland (Hærmændene paa Helgeland)
    * 1862 Digte - only released collection of poetry, included "Terje Vigen".
    * 1862 Love's Comedy (Kjærlighedens Komedie)
    * 1863 The Pretenders (Kongs-Emnerne)
    * 1866 Brand (Brand)
    * 1867 Peer Gynt (Peer Gynt)

    * 1869 The League of Youth (De unges Forbund)
    * 1873 Emperor and Galilean (Kejser og Galilæer)
    * 1877 Pillars of Society (Samfundets Støtter)
    * 1879 A Doll's House (Et Dukkehjem)
    * 1881 Ghosts (Gengangere)
    * 1882 An Enemy of the People (En Folkefiende)
    * 1884 The Wild Duck (Vildanden)
    * 1886 Rosmersholm (Rosmersholm)
    * 1888 The Lady from the Sea (Fruen fra Havet)
    * 1890 Hedda Gabler (Hedda Gabler)
    * 1892 The Master Builder (Bygmester Solness)
    * 1894 Little Eyolf (Lille Eyolf)
    * 1896 John Gabriel Borkman (John Gabriel Borkman)
    * 1899 When We Dead Awaken (Når vi døde vaagner)