Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

1828: Born in Skien to a merchant father . . .

1836: Father declares bankruptcy, family leaves mansion

1846: Supports his illegitimate child (mother, servant girl of employer)

1850-64: Works for Mollergate Theater in Christiania (Oslo)

1867: Peer Gynt

1879: A Doll's House (ET DUKKEHJEM)

1881: Ghosts; Autobiography (unfinished)

1887: Rosmersholm

1890: Hedda Gabler

1891: Returns to Norway

1900: Suffers a series of strokes that leave him unable to write

1906: Dies

A Doll's House in Context


Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women in England


Revolutions in Europe


Darwin's Origin of Species


Louisa May Alcott's novel, Little Women


Susan B. Anthony begins suffrage movement; John Stuart Mill's essay "The Subjection of Women" (UK) influences Norwegian feminist movement


Ibsen's A Doll's House (ET DUKKEHJEM)


First beauty contest in Spa, Belgium


Gerhart Hauptmann produces first play, Before Sunrise, at German Free Theater in Berlin


Independent Theater produces Ibsen's plays in London


Shaw writes The Quintessence of Ibsenism


Women permitted to vote in USA

The "Woman Question" ca. 1879:

- Are women human like men?

- Should women be given rights of citizenship
(right to hold property and money, right to vote,
ability to be educated in all fields)?

- Fear: if women are given their freedom,
they will give up their so-called sacred rights of mothers and wives?

Quotes from Ibsen: 

 1) "Whatever I have written has been without any conscious thought of making propaganda .... I am not even quite clear as to just what this women's rights movement really is."

Ibsen to the Norwegian League for Women's Rights in Christiania, 26 May 1898, in Ibsen: Letters and Speeches, ed. Evert Sprinchorn (New York, 1964), 337.

2) Speech to working men of Trondheim in 1885: “The transformation of social conditions which is now being undertaken in the rest of Europe is very largely concerned with the future status of the workers and of women. That is what I am hoping and waiting for, that is what I shall work for, all I can.”

3) In his notes to A Doll’s House: “A woman cannot be herself in contemporary society, it is an exclusively male society with laws drafted by men, and with counsel and judges who judge feminine conduct from the male point of view.”

Ibsen's Connections:

- the Norwegian feminist Camilla Collett

- Mother-in-law, the Danish writer Magdalene Thoresen, was a "New Woman" (term used in 1890s)

- In 1879 tried to open post of secretary and secure voting rights in the Scandinavian Club in Rome to women

Discussion Questions: Doll House

I. FAMILY: How many different familial tragedies occur in Ibsen’s drama? What is ‘family tragedy’ according to Ibsen? What does the play say about fatherhood and motherhood?

II. SETTING: What problems happen in the outside world the audience cannot see but hears about? How does this reflect on the meaning of the drama’s title?

III. PERFORMANCE: How do you see Nora “performing” throughout the play? In other words, is she just pretending to be naïve in the first act, or does she actually evolve/change by the end? Does that change your (feminist) evaluation of the play?

IV. CLASS: What is the role of class (a.k.a. work and money relations) in the play? Is the cause of women at all related to the cause of workers in general?


Under strong pressure, and very reluctantly, Ibsen wrote an alternative ending for the German theatre. Both Maurice in Hamburg and Laube in Vienna pressed for a 'conciliatory' ending, as also did Frau Hedwig Niemann-Raabe who was to play Nora on tour. In the end, ibsen himself provided the following additional dialogue:

NORA.  . . . Where we could make a real marriage out of our lives together. Goodbye. [Begins to go.]

HELMER. Go then! [Seizes her arm.] But first you shall see your children for the last time!

NORA. Let me go! I will not see them! I cannot!

HELMER. [draws her over to the door, left]. You shall see them. [Opens the door and says softly.] Look, there they are asleep, peaceful, and carefree. Tomorrow when they wake up and call for their mother, they will be--motherless.

NORA. [trembling]. Motherless . . . !

HELMER. As you once were.

NORA. Motherless! [Struggles with herself, lets her travelling bag fall, and says.] Oh, this is a sin against myself, but I cannot leave them. [Half sinks down the door.]

HELMER [joyfully, but softly]. Nora!

[The curtain falls.]" (287-88)

From The Oxford Ibsen. Trans. James Walter McFarlane. Vol. 4. New York and Toronto: Oxford UP, 1961.

The Master Builder

"Our whole being is nothing but a fight against the dark forces within ourselves." -- Henrik Ibsen

I. What's in a Name?

II. Discussion Questions

Free Write on Trolls: What do you think Ibsen means by acting "like a troll" (Ibsen 333; cf. also 350, 356, 369, 378)? How would you describe "the troll inside" you (or your worst enemy) (Ibsen 369)?

  1. What does it mean that Solness is a Master Builder?
  2. Why does Solness let his wife believe that he's having an affair with Kaja, or take responsibility for a fire he could not foresee?
  3. Why does Solness give in to Hilda's fantasy that he kissed her? (331)
  4. What do the women in the play represent? What aspects of Solness might they resemble?
  5. What is the role of the doctor?
  6. Why does Solness insist that his wife is so sad b/c of the twins' deaths?

Works Cited

Calderwood , James L. "The Master Builder and the Failure of Symbolic Success." Modern Drama 27.4 (Winter 1984): 616-636. Print.

Ibsen, Henrik. "The Master Builder." Henrik Ibsen: Four Major Plays. Trans. R. Fjelde. Vol. 1. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Stanton, Stephen S. "Trolls in Ibsen's Late Plays." Comparative Drama 32 (Winter 1998/1999): 541-80. Print.