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Henrik ibsen 1828-1906. Week 1: Hedda Gabler. Hedda Gabler , Almeida Theatre 2005, starring Eve Best. Hedda Gabler , Old Vic Theatre, 2012, starring Sheridan Smith. Sarah kane’s blasted: royal court theatre upstairs, 1995. “This disgusting feast of filth ” Daily Mail

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henrik ibsen 1828 1906

Week 1: HeddaGabler


HeddaGabler, Almeida Theatre

2005, starring Eve Best

HeddaGabler, Old Vic Theatre, 2012, starring Sheridan Smith

sarah kane s blasted royal court theatre upstairs 1995
Sarah kane’s blasted: royal court theatre upstairs, 1995
  • “This disgusting feast of filth” Daily Mail
  • “a gratuitouswelter of carnage” The Sunday Telegraph
  • “A sordid little travesty of a play”, The Spectator

“Facing something actual and true and ugly and painful” – Harold Pinter

“Blasted changed reality because it changed the means we have of understanding ourselves. It showed us a new way in which to see realty.” – Edward Bond

ibsen s open drain
Ibsen’s open drain
  • The London Daily Telegraph called Ghosts (1881) “an open drain; a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly; a lazar house with all its doors and windows open”.
  • Hedda was particularly controversial:
    • “Acrawl with the foulest passions of humanity” (Pictorial World, 1891)
    • “Things rank and gross in nature alone have a place in the mean and sordid philosophy of Ibsen” (Saturday Review, 1891)
    • “A horrid miscarriage of the imagination, a monster in female form to whom no parallel can be found in real life” (Morganbladet, 1891)
    • “We are all Hedda!” (A woman in the audience to the actress Elizabeth Robbins, London premiere, 1891)
    • G B Shaw, The Quintessence of Ibsenism, 1891
how ibsen changed theatre
How ibsen changed theatre
  • Theatre is not entertainment
  • Theatre as confrontational. Theatre that addresses the audience that it attacks.
  • Theatre that becomes defended and supported by radicals – G B Shaw, the Suffragettes, all of whom saw themselves as outside patriarchal bourgeois society (the dominant C19th class).
  • Ibsen is one of the first playwrights to become internationally known through print.
theories of naturalism
Theories of naturalism
  • Charles Darwin – The Origin of Species (1859)
  • Georg Brandes: Lecture in Copenhagen 1871: ‘For it is not so much our laws that need changing as it is our whole conception of society’.
  • 1872 – Main Currents in 19th Century Literature (six volumes).
  • ‘No more dangerous book could fall into the hand of a pregnant poet… In twenty years, one will not be able to comprehend how spiritual existence at home was possible before these lectures’. Ibsen, 1872
  • “Every man shares the responsibility and the guilt of the society to which he belongs…To write is to sit in judgement on oneself” Ibsen, 1880
tragedy or farce
  • ÉmileZola, Naturalism in the Theatre, 1881:
    • I believe that we must go back to tragedy… one deed unwinds in all its reality, and moves the characters to passions and feelings, the exact analysis of which constitutes the sole interest of the play.
  • “I felt pity and terror, as though the play had been Greek” Oscar Wilde on Hedda.
  • “The tragedy of a Hedda in real life is not that she commits suicide but that she continues to live!” G B Shaw.
  • Arthur Miller: ‘Tragedy and the Common Man’ 1949
ibsen s notes
Ibsen’s notes
    • Expects great things of life and the joy of life.
    • She really wants to live a man’s life wholly. But then she has misgivings. Her inheritance, what is implanted in her.
    • She marries Tesman but she devotes her imagination to EilertLovborg… In reality she does not have the courage to be a part of anything like that. Then she realises her condition. Caught! Can’t comprehend it!
    • Hedda, who drives him beyond all limits, draws back at the thought of a scandal.
    • Women have no influence on external matters of government. Therefore they want to have an influence on souls.
ibsen s notes1
Ibsen’s notes
    • The play shall deal with ‘the impossible’, that is, to aspire to and strive for something which is against all the conventions, against that which is acceptable to conscious minds – Hedda’s included.
    • The greatest misery in this world is that so many have nothing to do but pursue happiness without being able to find it.
    • They perceive that the times are full of missions worth devoting one’s life to, but they cannot discover them.
desperate housewives
  • I must disclaim the honour of having consciously worked for women’s rights. I am not even quite sure what women’s rights really are. To me it has been a question of human rights… My task has been the portrayal of human beings. (speech to the Norwegian Society for Women’s Rights 1898).
  • What I principally wanted to do was to depict human beings, human emotions, and human desires, upon a groundwork of certain of the social conditions and moral principles of the present day. (1890, a letter to his publisher)
beware of the vampire
Beware of the Vampire
  • Fin-de-siecle atmosphere: In literature it led to the characterisation of women as passive creatures of emotion and instinct or as dangerously attractive but ruthless dolls, whose instinct is to drag men down to their own biological level. … The attempt of such women to control or usurp male creativity was emblematized by the Decadents in vampires, sphinxes, maenads … but a particularly apt image was discovered in the symbolic castration.
  • Brian Parker, Modern Drama, 32 (1989)
the female hamlet
  • Eve Best – “nails all the paradoxes of this great role, creating a woman who is at once sexy yet frigid, reckless yet cowardly, bored yet excited, powerful yet vulnerable”. Charles Spencer, The Telegraph, 2005
  • "Richard says he always understood Hedda. I was nerve-racked by that, because I didn't at all. I kept reading it and she seemed quite unpindownable. I wrote a list of all the words you could use to describe her" - here Best frantically reels off a list of stark personality contradictions. "I thought: she's like a will o' the wisp!""She can be simultaneously forceful and fragile," she says. "That's a very rare combination. She can turn on a sixpence.” Eve Best, interviewed by Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph, 2005
naturalism in acting
  • The stichomythia of the Greek and French tragedians was lengthy in comparison with this unceasing display of hissing conversational fireworks, fragments of sentences without verbs, clauses that come to nothing, adverbial exclamations and cryptic interrogatories… This rapid broken utterance will give an extraordinary sense of reality. - Edmund Gosse, English translator of HeddaGabler, 1891.
ibsen and freud
Ibsen and freud
  • Freud is said to have learnt Norweigan purely to read Ibsen’s work.
  • Freud: On the psychical mechanism of hysterical phenomena, 1893. The interpretation of Dreams, 1900
  • “Our whole being is nothing but a fight against the dark forces within ourselves” Ibsen. An archaeologist of the modern psyche?
  • “I’m working on a poem”, he saw Hedda as a poetic drama. The poetry of the everyday. Not simply a naturalist – there are poetic and symbolic images.
a doll s house 1879
  • Act 3:
    • TORVALD – You’re talking like a child. You don’t understand, do you? You don’t understand religion or morality or responsibility or society. You don’t understand the society you live in.
    • NORA – I don’t even really know what society is. I don’t know if there’s any such thing.

“Ibsen’s greatest achievement was that by means of the theatre…he made people think” (Obituary, The Academy).