The Playwright

Henrik Ibsen, Norway's preeminent dramatist, is considered a realist, dealing objectively
with the problems confronting everyday people and looking at these problems without the
distortions of romanticism. Ibsen was certainly a prolific dramatist; his career as a playwright
lasted from 1851 until his death in 1906. Many of Ibsen's plays were written during a period
of nearly 30 years when he lived and worked primarily in Italy and Germany This long
exposure to different European cultures infuses his work with a sense of the universal. Ibsen
returned to Christiania (now known as Oslo) in 1891, and he lived there until his death.

Early in his career, he combined his love for poetry with his interest in drama, writing poetic
dramas. Peer Gynt is the most notable play from this early period. Its fame has been cemented
by the incidental music composed for it by Edvard Grieg, a fellow Norwegian. Ibsen's middle
career, during which he wrote his most famous plays (including A Doll's House) , showed his
discomfort with and disapproval of the empty social traditions that limited mankind's success.
One major theme of this period was the negative effect of treating women primarily as social
ornaments or vessels. Ibsen came to believe that women should have equal rights with men
and that, in fact, women had the potential to reform social institutions and create a better
world. The final phase of Ibsen's work emphasizes the use of symbolism; The Master Builder is
an example of his work from this period.

Ibsen's gravestone is carved with a hand holding a hammer. For many critics, this symbolizes
Ibsen's role in tearing down old dramatic forms and subjects and rebuilding the theater with
new norms and topics. Yet this summation narrows the understanding of Ibsen, who was a
poet as well as a playwright, and who wrote historical dramas, satire, work with supernatural
overtones, and symbolic plays as well as A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler, two plays that shine
a sharp light on the limited role allowed to women in Ibsen's day.

Critics often cite Ibsen as the father of modern drama because of his willingness to tackle
social questions from the role of women to the negative role of social conventions (Ghosts)
to social divisions themselves (An Enemy of the People). Like Shakespeare in Hamlet, Ibsen
emphasized character over plot. He recognized the power of psychological tension, both
within a single character and between two characters. Ibsen's use of psychological tension is
amply illustrated in A Doll's House, and tracing the psychological shifts of the major characters
is one way of understanding the play.

Born to a middle-class family whose economic stability was threatened during his childhood,
Ibsen used A Doll's House as one vehicle for questioning the importance-and the tyranny-of
wealth. This play comes from Ibsen's middle period, when his most radical ideas were presented.