Sunday, November 03, 2013

Four Major Plays ( A Doll House, The Wild duck, Hedda Gabler, The Master builder) - Henrik Ibsen

My reading has many gaps, and insufficient reading plays and drama are one of the glaring short coming. To claim to have read a minimum understanding of this genre, it can't be achieved with out getting into the world of Ibsen. The master playwright of the late 19th century, is one of the foremost if not the best writers of this medium and his plays continue to attract crowd in the theater for their contemporary relevance and values. This collection comprising of his four major plays is thus a great step to my attempt to familiarise with Ibsen and enhance my pursuit into this area of literature. Written at various points of his illustrious writing career, this not only bring some of the best of his writing, but are also representative of his progression as a writer. The Doll House written in 1872 while he was in Italy, begins the collection and ending with The Master Builder, which was written in 1892.

A Doll house, for its revolutionary ending, which send ripples to the moralistic, conservative European society, where the lead character abandons her husband and their two children, for pastures of her dream to discover herself. So much was the controversy, that Ibsen had to re-write the ending for the adaptation in German Theaters. He called it disgrace to the original play and a 'barbaric outage'. The play starts with Laura, wife of Torvald Helmer, a mother of two, returns from her Christmas shopping,  Torvald is now appointed as the manager of the Bank and he expected to take charge pretty soon, bringing all the difficulties related to finance and blossoming a dream of better living. Torvald is what you call it as an ideal man. Perfect husband loving and caring, respected in society, with a job to envy for, a person hold high moral. When every thing seems to be in perfect setting, what is the cause of concern?  It was Nils Krogstad, who apparently working in the same bank in a low rank, a man with a shady past in the eyes of moralistic society, is threatened by dismissal by Torvald, to help Mrs Linden, Nora's friend. Krogstad is not a bad man, he has broken the law once, but is now trying to inch his way back to the social stream. The dismissal will further damage his reputation and his attempt to redeem himself and thus he fight back. Nora, has borrowed some money from Krogstad, towards the medical expenses of her husband in the past. A deal, where she forged the signature of her ailing father, a deal she kept secret from her husband. "If need be, I shall fight as though for my life to keep my little place in the bank. . . . It's not only for the money: that matters least to me. It's something else", assures Krogstad to Nora. The money affair is something Nora kept to herself for a long time and she saves money to pay back. Opening her secrets to her friend Nora asserts she had to save her husband by taking him to Italy and she is saving every penny to repay the debt,  "When Torvald gave me money for clothes and so on, I never used more than half of it; I always bought the simplest things." The threat from Krogstad is serious and fearing the status of her husband ( if a scandal breaks out), she pleads and tries all that she could to restrain her husband from dismissing Krogstad. As expected this has to explode, and when the final moment comes, Nora is ready and prepared. Despite her husbands harsh words, she was prepared to save him from the bad names by killing herself. It was then Nora realised that she was wrong, and her place in the household of Torvald is not that of a woman of equal strength, but that of a play thing, a doll. Her inner conflict and realisation was so strong when she says to Torvald 'You have never loved me. You only thought it amusing to be in love with me', before leaving him and the children. A phenomenal play, and there is no wonder about its ever growing popularity. A new adaptation of this ( the first being in 1923) with Ben Kingsly in the lead is expected in 2014,

The Wild Duck, is very disturbing and intriguing play.  Gregers Werle is back home after many years of self-imposed exile, on a day when his father is throwing a dinner. His mother is passed away long back, carrying a suspicion that her husband is having some relationship with other women, a suspicion Gregers continue to carry. He realises some of the back ground of his fathers growth in stature is also to do with his ill treatment of one of his friend and business partner, Lieutenant Ekdal, who is now doing few copying jobs for his father. It was also revealed to him that Ekdal's son and his classmate Hjalmar  is married to Gina, who was once his fathers associate. Refusing to live in the same house with his father, he decided to pursue a life of his own, rejecting the offer to divide the property into two halves  by his father. His father is known to have an affair with the care taker of the house,  Mrs. Sørby , which on a later scenes she confirms. Deciding to pursue this matter further, Gregers, leaves home and take shelter in the household of Ekdals. A complex household with an external calmness, wants Gregers to expose his father. He invites Hjalmar for a walk, and supposedly reveals the secret of his father to him. Hjalmar, returns home drunk, confronts his wife.  Mrs. Sørby's arrival with a letter from Gregers father, declaring pension for  Lieutenant Ekdal, which later extended to Hjalmar's daughter, increases his suspicion on his wife and his daughter. Dejected, he returns to his friends to drinking, In a tragic end, Hjalmar's daughter, in a symbolic gesture sacrifices herself by shooting herself ( instead of the wild duck) to the shock. A very sophisticated play, where the written text hide a lot more than what it reveals. There are many scholarly readings, symbolising the 'wild duck' and the attic where Hedwig and her grand father, spent the day.  Gregers is driven by idealism and his hatred towards his father. His attempt to reveal the truth to his friend, is largely directed towards his father, but his meddling of the affairs of Ekdal's family had destructive effect. The father might have done two crimes towards the Ekdal's , by impregnating the servant Gina and then marrying her off to Hjalmar, and sent the elder Ekdals to prison for his own wrong doing. Trying to rectify the guilt of his father, the step further by completely destroyed the Ekdals. Father did amends by restoring the Ekdals to some level of comfort by offering job to the elderly man, and by setting up a studio for the son. In an attempt to settle the score with his father for the death of his mother, the real victims happened to be the Ekdals and a young girl.

Hedda Gabler, probably isn't as grand as the other two. A young couple returns to their new house in Oslo, after six month honeymoon, which apparently did not go all well. George Tesman, is an academic and is interested in research of old manuscripts. Hedda returns in bad humour and she did not hide her displeasure in her interactions with Aunt Julie, who dropped in to welcome them. Mrs. Elvsted, a friend of Hedda,  arrives soon after announcing the return of Eilert Lovborg, to the town recovering from the alcoholism that saw him off for more than two years. Mrs.Elvsted makes a mention of her liking of Lovborg, despite being a married woman, but is aware that Lovborg did have a girlfriend and a possible break of that resulted in his notorious behaviour. Hedda wants to invite Lovborg to their place, and gets George to send the letter requesting his visit. Judge Brack, who came in and in the conversations let Tesman know that the new book published by Lovborg has been a huge success and there is a potential threat to George's dream of becoming the professor at the University. By now, it is clear to the readers that the long lost love of Lovborg is Hedda, which Hedda cut off by threatening to shoot him. Lovborg comes in with a manuscript of the new book, a continuation of his best seller, and wanted George to read them. Hedda, cleverly manages to send both her husband and Lovborg to a party thrown by Judge Brack. George return with the manuscript saying it was found abandoned in the pavement after Lovborg lost them, after an altercation post reckless drinking. However, Lovborg had a different story to tell, he did not loose it but shred the manuscript into thousand pieces. Hedda did not reveal her possession of the manuscript, instead send him to his possible suicide. He burns the manuscripts in an attempt to protect her husbands interest, but Mrs.Elvsted and George tries to rebuild the manuscripts from the notes written by Lovborg which Mrs.Elvstd possess. In the meanwhile Judge Brack returns with the news of the death of Lovborg, and identifies the pistol used by him belongs to Hedda. He also informs Hedda, while there might be circumstantial evidence that saves Hedda from influencing suicide,  only he can keep the secret from falling into the ears of the Police. Realising she has fallen into the hands of the Judge, Hedda goes into the next room and shoot herself.

Hedda comes out as a highly manipulative individual. We observe she continue to use her father's surname and not changed it to Tesman, post her marriage. Clarifiying this Ibsen wrote, "My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda as a personality is to be regarded rather as her father's daughter than her husband's wife". Hedda as a character is for drama in the true sense. Depending upon the interpretation ( apparently there was a version in an Australian production where Hedda is portrayed by a male), she can be portrayed as a victim of circumstances, a ideal feminist, a cruel manipulative villain or a devout heroine working towards the betterment of her husband.  It provides ample moments of character twists, and dramatic moments. Trapped in the constricts of the family after her wedding, Hedda is already bored and is in look out for options to shake herself free from the imposed clutches. She makes her intention clear to the judge that she wants a friend, not necessarily a lover, beyond her husband whose interests limits to his academic pursuit. Despite her rejection, she continue to have her sympathy for Lovborg and could not come into terms with Mrs.Elvsted's advances towards him. It is from this she manipulated the intricate threads of dependencies, to send both her husband and Lovborg to the party, waiting for their return in her room. It was this control she wanted over destiny, of hers her husbands and the rest, she pushed Lovborg towards committing suicide. It was the same thoughts that lead her to her own death, when she realised that her life will now depends on the Judge Brack, who guided by his profession,  could make in roads to the machinations of a intelligent mind.

The master builder, written in 1892, the first play after Ibsen's return to Norway, talks about the eventual fall of a master buider. A young 24 year old woman shows up dressed in mountain attire, with no change clothes, in the house of a middle aged builder of repute. Demanding the promise he made to her ten years ago, when he built a church tower in her home town, during which he supposed to have forced himself on the young girl calling her his princess and promising to return in ten years and build her a castle in the air. A story he did not remember or as expectedly ridiculed, but the young lady Hilda, manages to impose the story upon him through her seductive charm and flirt. Vulnerable, having an unremarkable married life with Aline, Master builder Soleness, fallen prey to her charm and was easy being manipulative. On the other hand, Soleness, worried for his place, as the young generations trying to advance in every aspect. To continue leading the front, he has recruited young architect under his wings, and refuses place and time for his personal growth as an independent architect. The arrival of the young women, saw him dismissing the young man from his clutches, allowing him to find a path for himself. We understand that he is building a new house on the land which once belonged to his wife and where they lost their kids around 13 years ago in a fire. Despite knowing his suffering form Acrophobia, Hilda encourages him to climb on the tower to the topmost to inaugurate the new house, as he has done in the past. As he climbs up to the ascend he looses foot and falls to eventual death amidst the large group of people gathered to see the new house.

Arguably a play which has the maximum autobiographical elements of Ibsen's life. The old architect, threatened by the young generation, an unhappy married life, a flirtatious affair with young women. He himself talked about his short lived affair with a young apprentice, who was later known for tis behaviour. He added, she did not use me, but I used her in my play. To me this play works in three planes. One the flirtatious middle aged mind easily vulnerable to the charms and manipulations of the young woman. The second the insecurities or the mid-life crisis that every professional undergo, as he watch the younger generation, threatening to take over from him and a fragile family life whose foundations were shaken with the death of the children. The mother soon withdraw to her own reclusive self, with blocking the two way communication, limiting to mundane daily grind. Ibsen brings all these three elements together with a brilliant proportion, adding his own personal experiences and inhibitions.

Four remarkable plays of Ibsen, selected from his later stages of his writing career, arguably the best representation of Ibsen. Non-absurdist, realistic plays taking on social issues and deep understanding of the inner thoughts and actions of the characters. Marvelous..

Four Major Plays - A Doll House (1879), The Wild duck (1884), Hedda Gabler (1890), The Master builder (1892)

 Henrik Ibsen ( translated from Norwegian by Rolfe Fjelde in 1965)

Signet Classic

384 Pages
Doll House :  Guardian, UCB, Wiki
The Wild Duck : Ibsen Voyages, wiki
Hedda Gabler : Shmoop , Wiki
The Master Builder : Guardian, Ibsen Voyages, , Wiki

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