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Henrik Ibsen and A Doll’s House Ibsen, a nineteenth century playwright, is noted for both breaking away from Romanticism and establishing Realism in drama. He also anticipated concerns of Modernism. Romanticism stresses imagination over reason or formal rules and shows a love of nature, sensibility, and idealization for rural life and the past. Realism is a technique of representing reality as it is, or creating a “verisimilitude” of reality, usually portraying middle-class life. Modernism is a literary movement that focuses on the individual’s inner life and self, is experimental in form, and shows a sense of alienation, loss, and despair. Ibsen broke away from Romanticism and established Realism through his: Realistic portrayals of individuals Focus on psychological concerns Investigation into the role of the artist in society He anticipated Modernism by addressing: The individual’s feelings of alienation and actual alienation from society The pressures to conform that society puts on the individual The barriers to living heroically that modern life presents The inner pressures and conflicts that occur in individuals, often because they have internalized society’s values The conflict between the “social self” (pressured by society to conform) and “the essential self” (inner, private self). Tragedy according to Ibsen A major value for Ibsen is freedom, which an individual needs for self-fulfillment. His later plays, such as Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House, show “contradictions between ability and desire, or between will and circumstance, the mingled tragedy and comedy of humanity and the individual” (Melani). This means that for Ibsen, tragedy results when characters cannot fulfill their desires or dreams because of their circumstances. Society often presents barriers and pressures, either actual or perceived, that inhibit individuals from fulfilling their purpose or goals in life, and this causes tragedy. This lack of personal development or fulfillment can also result from moral corruption and limitations, such as dishonesty. Ibsen’s New Dramatic Form of Realism Natural Dialogue. Ibsen’s plays demanded new methods of staging and acting. Plays of Romanticism were delivered in “declamatory,” or lofty, style, but Ibsen used natural dialogue, sentence fragments, and exclamations, which we take for granted in movies and on TV but which were revolutionary for his time and often upset audiences. Portrayal of Everyday Life. He used this “natural” language and portrayed common, everyday life to show the serious matters that can hide behind “trivial” everyday life. (This is a common element of modern drama—think Desperate Housewives—but was also revolutionary in Ibsen’s time.) Ibsen is said to have invented this type of “realistic” or “social reform” play (“Henrik”; Melani). Retrospective technique. “As the play progresses, the past events leading to the climax are gradually brought to light through the words and acts of the characters” (“Henrik”). For Ibsen, the past is not dead; the future is greatly affected by past events. Visual Imagery. Instead of using the poetic dialogue of Romanticism, Ibsen used set, costume, and stage direction to make his drama come alive visually instead of through the more elaborate language of Romanticism. Historical and Social Background— Social Responsibility: Patriarchal ideals were supported and reinforced by a social structure in which women had little overt political or economic power. They were economically, socially, and psychologically dependent upon men and especially dependent upon the institutions of marriage and motherhood. Motherhood within marriage was considered a woman’s highest possible achievement, a social responsibility, a duty to the state, and thus, a full-time job. No longer something that came naturally, mothering was something that had to be learned. High infant mortality rates, particularly in urban areas, were unilaterally blamed on mothers. Working class mothers were labeled neglectful, when in truth they struggled with both child care and feeding a family. Marriage: • It was illegal to marry a deceased wife's sister. • Marriage was encouraged to be with someone of the same class. • A man had to prove that he could give his future wife a life in the manner to which she was accustomed. • A woman had to have a dowry. • A family could set up a trust to protect a woman's inheritance. • Marriage was considered a business deal. • An unmarried woman could inherit money and property after age 21, but upon marriage control of her money went to her husband. • A woman could not have a will for her personal possessions. • A man could will his wife's possessions to his illegitimate children. A Doll’s House • Concerns the collapse of a middle class marriage. • Sparked debates about women’s rights and divorce. • Considered innovative and daring because of its focus on psychological tension instead of external action. • Created a new acting style that required emotion be conveyed through small, controlled gestures, shifts in action, and pauses. • Groundbreaking in that it caused drama to be viewed as social commentary and not merely entertainment.
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