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A Doll’s House

A Doll’s House

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A Doll’s House

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  1. 35 A Doll’s House Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

  2. Introduction • A Doll’s House premiered on December 21, 1879 in Copenhagen, Denmark. • Two weeks before the production, A Doll’sHouse was printed in book form and sold 8,000 copies within two weeks. • A Doll’s House was a hit in Scandinavian countries, but it would not be produced in other parts of Europe until two years after its premiere. • A Doll’s House opened in London in 1889 after a ban against its production had been lifted. It opened in New York in 1894. • The play was adapted for film several times. The two most famous were both released in 1972. One directed by Joseph Losey, starring Jane Fonda, David Warner, and Trevor Howard, and the other directed by Patrick Garland, starring Claire Bloom, Anthony Hopkins, and Ralph Richardson.

  3. Controversy • When it was first staged, A Doll’s House was controversial, even scandalous, as it questioned the conventional roles of the husband and wife in the sacred institution of marriage, arguing, it seemed, for the liberation of women. • Many saw Nora’s act of leaving her family as a selfish abandonment of her duties as wife and mother. • Others argued that her embarkation on a journey of self-discovery would not only make her a more independent and stronger individual but also a better mother. • Ibsen said that he was arguing not for women’s rights but for justice for all humanity. • For the play’s German debut, Ibsen was forced to write an alternative ending, one in which Nora looks at her children before she is about to leave, collapses to the floor, and decides to remain. Ibsen later called the ending a “barbaric outrage.”

  4. The Author – Henrik Ibsen • Henrik Ibsen was born in Skien, Norway, a small town, in 1828. • His childhood was not easy. The family became impoverished when he was six and the family business failed. His father became depressed and alcoholic. Eventually, his mother left his father. • As a teenager, he worked as an apprentice to an apothecary and considered studying medicine. Instead, he decided to devote himself to writing and working in the theater. • By his early twenties, Ibsen earned a living by writing and directing plays in various Norwegian cities. He became the director of the Norwegian Theatre in Bergen, Norway’s second largest city.

  5. Ibsen continued… • In 1858, he became the creative director at the National Theater in Christiania (later, renamed Oslo). He married a year later. • He once told a friend that to understand him one needed to understand the severe northern Norwegian landscape, in which the winters left people isolated and inclined to introspection and perhaps brooding. Many thought Ibsen cold and aloof. Henrik Ibsen´s home in Norway • In 1864, Ibsen left Norway for virtually a twenty-seven year exile. However, all his plays would be set in Norway.

  6. Ibsencontinued… • He once commented, “Never have I seen my homeland so fully, so clearly, and at such close range, as I did in my absence when I was far away from it.” • Ibsen returned permanently to Norway 1891, where he was celebrated as a national treasure, honored by theater-goers, scholars, and royalty. He had been the first Norwegian author to gain widespread acclaim outside his native country. • Ibsen’s health deteriorated after a series of strokes in 1900. He died in 1906, leaving a profound mark on the world theater.

  7. “After Shakespeare, without hesitation, I put Ibsen first.” ― Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), Italian dramatist and novelist and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934.

  8. Ibsen’s as Dramatist • While his reputation might have waned over the years, Ibsen’s achievement is still widely acclaimed. His plays continue to be performed, read, celebrated, and discussed. • Ibsen was a prolific playwright who wrote histories (Emperor and Galilean, 1873, e.g.), verse dramas (Peer Gynt, 1867), experimental dramas (The Master Builder, 1892), philosophical dramas (When We Dead Awaken, 1899), and more. • However, he is best known for his plays of social commentary and psychological realism, like A Doll’s House, Ghosts (1881), An Enemy of the People (1882), The Wild Duck (1894), and Hedda Gabler (1890), among others. • Through these and other plays, his influence on the development of the modern theater cannot be underestimated. He has been referred to as the “Father of Modern Drama.” Title page in the manuscript of When We Dead Awaken Title page in the manuscript of Ghosts Title page in the manuscript of Hedda Gabler Title page in the manuscript of The Master Builder

  9. Realism in the Theater • The movement toward Realism in the theater began in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century through playwrights like Ibsen, August Strindberg, and George Bernard Shaw. A Doll’s House played a significant role in the movement. Realism reached America later, finding its fullest expression in Eugene O’Neill. • Realism began as a reaction to the excessively contrived, sentimental, and didactic melodramas that dominated drama in nineteenth-century Europe and America. • Realists take a mimetic approach to theater, striving to create the illusion of everyday life on stage, with the audience’s eavesdropping on a slice of life. • Realists tend to depict the middle, lower, and lower-middle classes: their work, family life, language, dress, and problems.

  10. Realism in the Theater continued… Realists prefer contemporary settings. In a direct response to melodrama, realists strive to create complex characters, to make internal conflict as dramatic as external conflict. They prefer the open ending, which does not resolve all the play’s questions and sometimes leaves in doubt the future of the protagonist. The resolution or denouement is generally short in realistic dramas and virtually non-existent sometimes. Do we know, for instance, what happens to Nora once she leaves her home?

  11. Well-Made Play While Ibsen’s use of realist techniques and his frank discussion of social issues were innovative, he drew his form for A Doll’s House and other plays from the nineteenth-century “well-made” play. The well-made play is a carefully crafted work, neat in structure and obviously contrived in its numerous plot twists and turns. The emphasis is on plot not character development. The first act of a well-made play introduces the problem; the second act complicates it, and the third resolves it.

  12. Well-Made Play continued… • The characters tend to be types, the overly concerned parent, the straying child, the corrupt businessman. Characters are uncomplicated and easily identified as hero and villain, good guy and bad guy. • The well-made play relies on standard devices: exposition conveyed through gossipy servants, plot complications from lost or forged documents, and resolutions from the entrance of an absent family member or the recovery of letters and documents. • The most famous author of well-made plays was Eugène Scribe (1791-1861) who wrote hundreds of plays, several of which Ibsen directed.

  13. Ibsen as Individualist • While his politics and radicalism were indefinite, Ibsen was a staunch advocate for individual freedoms and rights. “I think that all of us have nothing other or better to do than in spirit and sincerity to realize ourselves. That, to my mind, is the real liberalism.” • He once said that the state “is the curse of the individual.”

  14. Ibsen and Writing Plays • “Always I proceed from the individual; the stage-setting, the dramatic ensemble, all that comes naturally and causes me no worry, once I feel sure of the individual in every aspect of his humanity. I must penetrate to the last wrinkle of his soul.” • Ibsen made at least three major drafts of his plays. In the first, he said that he knew the characters like people on a railway journey; in the second, he knew them as one knows someone after four weeks at the same spa, and in the third, as intimate friends. Henrik Ibsen paa Verdens-Theatret : 1898 Caricature by Alfred Schmidt in Hver 8. Dag.

  15. Marriage in A Doll’s House • A Doll’s House raises many questions about the institution of marriage, questions which many nineteenth-century audiences found disturbing. • In the opening scene, Torvald treats his wife as a child, addressing her with nauseating pet names, forbidding her sweets, and educating her, so he thinks, with moralistic platitudes: “No debt, no borrowing. There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt.” • Soon afterwards, we see that Nora is not as submissive as Helmer thinks or as we first thought: She lies to him about eating candy and she keeps secrets. What does this suggest about Nora? • What is your impression of the Helmer marriage after Act One? • Does your impression change as the play proceeds? Why or why not? • The play suggests that marriage should be conceived as a partnership of equals.

  16. Nora Helmer • At first, Nora appears to be a conventional, nineteenth-century middle-class housewife. She cares for her children and buys them gender conventional Christmas presents, supervises the running of the home, and accepts her husband’s authority. Willingly subservient to her husband, she accepts his seemingly demeaning pet names for her. • Soon, however, we realize that Nora holds secrets, that she lies to her husband, and that she is capable of manipulating him. Nora commits minor acts of subversion that foreshadow her much larger rebellion at the end of the play. • In Act One, we discover that Nora is capable of great courage, sacrifice, responsibility, and decisiveness. She saved her husband’s life through forgery, using the money for a necessary trip to the warmer climates of Italy. She has worked diligently to repay the loan. • Through the forgery, Ibsen raises a question with social implication: Why couldn’t Nora or a woman in her position secure a legal loan? • Similarly, why does Nora not have a key to the family’s mailbox?

  17. Nora continued … • After Torvald’s response to her forgery, Nora transforms. No longer a flighty, submissive housewife or a panicky suicidal criminal, she becomes coldly rational, perceptive, defiant, and, perhaps most importantly, autonomous. • Shaped by first her father and then her husband, Nora has developed according to their image and precepts, which follow social convention. Nora has been more of a doll or a puppet than an individual. • Nora realizes that she must venture on a journey of self-discovery. To be a good mother, she must first establish her own identity and individuality. • Nora’s decision to leave represents a triumph of the individual over social convention and a personal past. • Do you consider Nora’s action at the end to be brave? Necessary? Selfish? Cruel?

  18. Does Nora return to her family? • Ibsen was asked several times. Once, he said, “Certainly, she does.” • But, on another occasion, he responded, “How do I know? It is possible that she returns to her husband and children, but also possible that she becomes an artiste in a traveling circus.” • The play, of course, keeps the ending open. We cannot say with any certainty what the future holds for Nora or her family.

  19. Torvald Helmer • Torvald is not an attractive character. He is domineering, egocentric, condescending, arrogant, and thrifty. He may be successful at work, but he is also moralistic, explosive, and status-conscious. • Torvald does not change by the end of the play, but he does seem capable of changing in the near future. He understands that Nora has just left him, a possibility he could not have imagined until it occurred. • Nora’s leaving has jolted Torvald and could lead to his transformation. Significantly, he repeats her phrase (“the most wonderful thing of all”) for his closing words, suggesting that he has not ignored what she has said and that he will consider her words seriously. This holds out the possibility of change.

  20. Secondary Characters • Most of the secondary characters are functional. Krogstad, for instance, is the agent of the necessary conflict between Nora and Torvald. He has committed the same crime as Nora and has lived the kind of humiliation exposure will bring her. He becomes transformed by love, perhaps suggesting a possibility for Torvald’s and Nora’s transformations if their love for one another is genuine. • Mrs. Linde’s functions are also clear: • ─ She brings out exposition concerning Nora’s efforts to save her husband’s life. • ─ As an independent woman who has struggled to survive, she serves as a foil and model for Nora. • ─ She is responsible for the climax of the play and the surfacing of the truth as she stops Krogstad from retrieving his letter. • ─ She points out the theme concerning the need for honesty and openness in marriage: “… they must have a complete understanding between them, which is impossible with all this concealment and falsehood going on.”

  21. Themes • The two major themes of A Doll’s House might be stated as, 1. The restraints imposed on individual development and self-fulfillment by society’s conventions. 2. The effects on individual development of our pasts (including the influence of parents, upbringing, and genetic inheritance).

  22. The Influence of the Past on the Present • Ibsen works out different facets of this theme through his characters. Dr. Rank, for instance, has his life cut short as he pays for the sins of his father. Rank inherited venereal disease from his father – yes, an impossibility, but in Ibsen’s time many thought the disease could be inherited. • Nora’s father encouraged her to remain a “little person,” passing her from his home to her husband’s. More importantly perhaps, she has “inherited” her father’s “want of principle,” as Torvald calls it: “No religion, no morality, no sense of duty.” Of course, her and her father’s “want of principle” might not be so corrupt. We do not know her father’s motivation, but Nora’s forgery saved Torvald’s life. • The poor health of Mrs. Linde’s mother forced the daughter into an undesirable marriage that redirected her life. In addition, because of years spent caring for her mother, Mrs. Linde has developed a desperate need to be needed, a need to take care of others.

  23. The Past continued … • Krogstad is aware of how his reputation affects his children: “My sons are growing up; for their sake I must try and win back as much respect as I can in this town.” Torvald takes an extreme view of Krogstad’s effect on his children, believing his moral breakdown is infectious: “Each breath the children take in such a house is full of germs of evil.” • While we do not hear about his parents or his upbringing, Torvald makes some strong statements about the moral influence of parents on children: “Almost everyone who has gone to the bad early in life has had a deceitful mother.” When he learns of Nora’s forgery, Torvald works out a plan for his wife to live in the house, but she must not see the children: “I dare not trust them to you.” • Since Torvald is hardly an admirable character, how should we interpret his comments? Do you think Ibsen intends for us to consider them as truths?

  24. Symbols Ibsen uses several symbols in A Doll’s House to reveal character, to foreshadow events, and to create drama and suspense: • Christmas tree: the tree sets the time of year, a time of happiness and birth, a birth of a new Nora occurs at the end of the play. Like the tree, Nora is little more than a decoration in her own home. • Macaroons: signifies a small rebellion that foreshadows Nora’s larger rebellion at play’s end. Eating the macaroons and lying about them give Nora a sense of power over Torvald; the macaroons are a small representation of her larger “secret.” Note the following lines from Nora: “It’s perfectly glorious to think that we have – that Torvald has so much power over so many people. … Dr. Rank, what do you say to a macaroon?” • Mending/knitting: Mrs. Linde does the mending of Nora’s costume, but more significantly she mends Nora’s life by allowing the truth about the loan to surface. She also mends Krogstad’s life when she declares her love for him.

  25. Symbols continued … • Black Crosses: Rank uses two crosses to announce his death. One, however, symbolizes the death of an old Nora. The cross might also tie in with the theme of human liberation, as individuals all bear cultural, societal, and parental influences or crosses that sometimes need to be lifted before liberation into individuality. • Tarantella: a frantic dance, which Nora dances “as if [her] life depended on it.” It is a parting gift for her husband, for whom she plans on committing suicide, rather than let him assume the blame for her criminal act. With its ferocious energy, Nora’s tarantella reflects her agitated state of mind. • Title: The title suggests that all the characters are puppets playing conventional roles with little free will. They are more like dolls or puppets than individuals.

  26. For Further Consideration • Who is the villain in the play? (Torvald is too simple a response.) Explain. • Does Nora make the right decision to leave her family? Why or why not? • Discuss the significance of the title. How would you, as a scenic designer, stage the play to take maximum advantage of the symbolism implied by the image? • Some critics have contended that the play is outdated. That the women’s liberation movement of the twentieth century has provided more options for women. Do you agree that the play is outdated? Why or why not? • Interpret the events in the play from the point of view of one of the Helmer children who is now an adult looking back at this significant time in his/her childhood. • Write a review of one of the film adaptations of A Doll House. Consider the actress playing Nora. Did she present a different Nora than you expected? Consider other character portrayals and issues. For instance, how effective were the liberties that the film takes with Ibsen’s text?